Athens, Ga. – With summer temperatures on the rise, University of Georgia experts warn of the dangers of the Georgia heat-especially when caring for children and pets.
“It is never safe to leave a child unattended in a car for any length of time,” said Andrew Grundstein, a geography professor who researches climate and health. “Cars can get dangerously hot very quickly this time of the year.”
Grundstein has helped to create an easy-to-use temperature table of vehicle temperature changes that may help public officials and media remind the public about the deadly consequences of vehicle-related hyperthermia in children.
In hot weather in an open parking lot, the inside temperature of a car can rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit in five minutes, 13 degrees in 10 minutes, 29 degrees in 30 minutes and 47 degrees in an hour. This means interior temperatures can reach levels lethal to children and animals in less time than some drivers might think.
Already there have been 13 vehicle hyperthermia deaths involving children this year, including two in Georgia.
Each year around 40 children die in the U.S. alone from being left in closed cars during hot weather. Many studies have shown how such things as shading, ventilation and different meteorological conditions can affect temperatures inside cars.
“The danger of leaving young children unattended in vehicles has been well documented,” said Grundstein. “But it still happens, and it’s always the worst kind of tragedy. Most of the time, caregivers simply forget their children, but more than a quarter of deaths in this situation involve children intentionally left in cars. In some cases, parents just don’t want to disturb a sleeping child. Such behavior shows a clear lack of understanding about the dangers of leaving children unattended in vehicles.”
And even on days that aren’t excessively hot, pets can still be susceptible to heatstroke, said Benjamin Brainard, a small animal emergency and critical care veterinarian at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
“During those warm, not hot, times of year, we see many cases of heat-related illness because people don’t realize it’s as hot as it is and they leave their pets in closed cars,” Brainard said. “We see a fair number of cases every year, and it’s important for pet owners to know that closed cars can heat up inside very quickly-even on mild or cloudy days, although the heat is worse during the summer months.”
Once a pet starts feeling overheated, anxiety sets in, often making the condition worse. In a small humid environment such as a car, panting is less effective to decrease a dog’s body temperature.
“Animals stuck in cars will start getting anxious,” Brainard said. “They will start panting and pacing, and as they get hotter, they could start having diarrhea or vomiting. The best advice is, if you are questioning whether to leave your pet in the car, don’t do it.”
All animals, whether small pets or large farm animals, can avoid heat-related illnesses with the right environmental conditions.
“It’s pretty much the same for all animals,” states Kira Epstein, a large animal emergency veterinarian at the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “Making sure they have shade outdoors or a well-ventilated indoor space, and clean, cool water are the most important things that owners can provide.”
Most large animals adapt pretty well to the type of hot temperatures seen in the summer in Georgia, she said. The exceptions are animals with thick hair coats like alpacas and llamas, and pigs with minimal hair and little protection from the sun. Sheep, alpacas and llamas should be kept shorn. Pigs should have access to a muddy area, or water in a kiddie pool, in which they can wallow.
Additionally, horse owners should be aware that some horses have a medical condition, known as anhydrosis, where they do not sweat normally. An owner with a horse that seems to overheat easily and sweats less than expected should contact a veterinarian.
Contrary to conventional thought, small animals such as dogs and cats, do not necessarily need shorter hair to stay cool in summer months, according to Brainard. Since small animals do not sweat through their skin the way humans do, the hair on many pets acts as a protective layer for avoiding sunburn and heat-related illnesses. Keeping their coat brushed and void of mats is important to keeping air circulating throughout their hair, which has its own cooling effect.
Signs indicating an animal may be suffering a heat-related illness include lethargy or collapse, increased respiratory rate, and vomiting or diarrhea.
Brainard and Epstein suggest that if a heat-related illness is suspected, pour cool water on the animal and provide air circulation using a fan, if available.
“Giving the animal ice to eat or covering the animal in a wet towel are not advisable, because they will not necessarily result in adequate cooling,” Brainard continues. “If the animal is not responsive to the owner or is not able to stand or walk, immediate veterinary care should be sought.”
Tips for keeping pets cool in summer heat
• If a pet is outside, make sure there is plenty of shade for the pet to rest in and make sure the pet has access to cool, clean water at all times.
• Make sure inside pets have a well-ventilated space.
• Never keep a pet in a closed car, even during mild temperatures and/or cloudy days. If in doubt, leave the pet at home.
• Do not over-exert animals by participating in extreme exercise, sports or other activities when the weather is especially warm.
• Any domestic animal can experience heat-related stress, but older and larger-breed dogs and those acclimatized to heat, are more at risk of overheating quickly.
UGA experts available to speak on heat-related dangers are listed below. For more information, contact UGA News Service at 706-542-8083 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor of geography
Franklin College of Arts and Sciences
Research interests: climate and health, hydroclimatology, cryospheric studies
To talk to Drs. Brainard, Epstein or another veterinarian about heat-related dangers, please contact:
Cindy H. Rice
Hospital Communications Director
College of Veterinary Medicine
Director of Public Relations
College of Veterinary Medicine