Hot Cars Are Not for Dogs - but They're OK for Defrosting Fish

Heat stroke can be a life-threatening condition and requires immediate treatment

Revised: June 19, 2023
Published: May 02, 2014


Hey! You! Yes – you.

You know that feeling when you get in a hot car after it’s been sitting, baking in the sweltering sun all day? That cloying, sweaty, Corinthian-leather-sticking-to-the-back-of-your-thighs, tight in the chest, oh-when-will-the-A/C-kick-in feeling?

Well, add in a heavy fur coat and the inability to sweat and that’s your dog in a hot car.

Dogs die in hot cars – it’s even the name of a band (pretty catchy tunes, too). But beyond the funny band names, the reality of the situation is no laughing matter. I don’t want to dwell on the morbid reality of just what goes on inside the car when a dog is stuck in there on a hot day, so instead I’ll provide this list of alternate things you can do inside a hot car:

  • Bake a pizza
  • Soft-boil an egg
  • Defrost some fish filets for making lutefisk
  • Science experiment: Magically turn ice into flowing liquid water! (Take that, Nova!)
  • Produce certain kinds of eastern European cheeses.

Any of those would be better, ethically and pet-ownershipically speaking, than leaving your dog to suffer in the confines of a hot car. Your dog is better than lutefisk! And lutefisk is delicious, trust me.

What does a dog look like in a hot car? Miserable is what. It looks like a miserable, sad, melting dog. And they’re not just uncomfortable – after just a few minutes, uncomfortable slides over into wretched agony which then runs right the heck into blood-boiling deadly. And dogs don’t sweat to get rid of body heat – they can’t sweat. Mother Nature let the summer intern design the whole canine HVAC system.

Instead they pant to try and dissipate the extra heat. But since they are locked in with no ventilation, they only make more heat by trying to pant.

After a bit, they give up on panting and just sort of droop like an over-boiled noodle. And after that…well, you get the picture. Just how long it takes to go from happy tail-waggity pup to one who is peeing on heavenly fire hydrants depends on the size of the dog and the heat and humidity of the day, but it is safe to say that in just a few minutes, you can go from new-car smell to hot car hell.

So the first way to prevent this sad turn of events is to leave the pooch (or cat, or capybara or whatever) at home and ask Aunt Gladys to watch over them while you run to the store for more Mogen David (L’chaim!) or rutabaga to go with the lutefisk (Uff da!). In all the cases that I have ever treated ― and I have treated many, many, many, too many cases of heat stroke ― the situation was entirely preventable. The guilt and shame felt by those owners were immense, and they could have saved themselves a whole world of heartache (not to mention keeping a whole buncha dogs here on earth where they belong) if only they had stopped and thought for a sec about the dangers of heat stroke in a hot car, or made some alternate pooch plans.

Is it still even a thing? Sad to say, but – yes. Dogs are left in hot cars every day. The only way to prevent it is to raise awareness, as we here at VetzInsight are trying to do. Plus we are pushing lutefisk as a nutritious snack for Norwegians and non-Norwegians alike – this PSA has been brought to you by a generous grant from the North American Lutefisk Isn’t as Gross and Slimy as You’ve Been Led to Believe Council®.

If you do see a dog in a hot car, first try and (calmly, gently) find the owner and see if they will get the dog out. Go to the store that they are likely in and ask the management to make an announcement over the PA. Alternatively, you could hop the counter at Customer Service, grab the mic and start screaming “Will the troglodyte who locked their dog in a hot car please go get them out before I find you and go all Pompeii on your buttocks?” Either is an effective strategy, just one is more fun.

The NA Lutefisk IAGASAYBLTB Council® frowns on property destruction, so smashing a car window with a brick and busting out the dog all on your lonesome is a step best reserved for desperate cases and those with adequate legal counsel. Calling for help from the police is always a good idea when you see a dog in a hot car; let them deal with the troglodytes and window-smashing bricks. Wouldn’t that leave you with more time to go soak your whitefish in lye?

When you get the dog out of the scalding car, what do you do? Job #1 is to get them cooled down, and cold water is the best way to do it. Soak them, put a fan on them, and get them in the shade. Minus the lye, it is similar to preparing whitefish for lutefisk.

If they can drink (meaning, no vomiting and they are able to hold their head up) then drinking cool water will help. If they can’t get up, have trouble breathing or just seem droopy and melty, stop making lutefisk and get them to a veterinary emergency hospital posthaste! (Which means ‘now’ only sooner.) The faster they are cooled off and the sooner they get medical attention, the better their chances are for recovery. You could also use their erstwhile instrument of destruction – the car – to save the day. Crank the A/C, and drive them to a vet hospital! It has a sort of beautiful ironic symmetry to it (kind of like the palindromic Finnish word saippuakalasalakauppias, which means “lutefisk smuggler.” I did not make that up!)

Your course of action is now as clear as an unmuddied lake or a Norwegian fjord:

  • Don't leave your dog in a cool car on a hot day as the car will become hot. Remember: time passes and the earth rotates and the day warms up!
  • Don't leave your dog in a hot car
  • Help out those unfortunates who do by busting out the dog
  • Aid their inept owners by encouraging them to hit themselves in the forehead with a big hammer
  • Go home and enjoy some refreshing, cold lutefisk!

You don’t have to be a saippuakalasalakauppias to love it anymore – anyone can! (Just don’t share it with your dogs – they’ll think it’s totally gross.)

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