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Doctors, veterinarians urge adults to be mindful of children, pets in the heat

An average of 37 kids and hundreds of pets die each year after being left in hot cars.
Posted at 8:52 PM, Jun 24, 2024

DENVER — Highs will reach near triple digits on Tuesday, marking the beginning of what could be another toasty summer in Colorado.

According to the National Safety Council, around 37 kids die each year after being left in a hot car. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports hundreds of pets every year die from the same circumstance.

It's already been a busy summer for Hampden Family Pet Hospital.

"I have seen a large volume of dogs that their parents have told us that they were vomiting on the [hiking] trail, and that is a very obvious sign of overheating," said Dr. Emily Begin, medical director of Hampden Family Pet Hospital. " I do know of a few pets who have passed away by being left in cars."

It may seem obvious to most people to never leave a pet in a hot car, but it still happens.

"Dogs can experience heat stroke, clinical signs or symptoms, in a car ranging from temperatures between 72 degrees and higher," said Begin.

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Denver7 asked a Denver Health ER physician how often they see kids who were left in hot cars during the summer.

"Unfortunately, we don't because they generally don't get to us," said Dr. Jeff Sankoff, emergency physician with Denver Health. "The reason being that being left in a car is often fatal."

It's a heartbreaking outcome for oftentimes the most well-intentioned parents.

"People just are so preoccupied with other things that they're doing, they just simply forget that they have someone back there. And if the child's asleep, then there's no audible reminder," said Sankoff.

He described how children have a very low body surface area compared to their weight, so they can't shed heat as efficiently as adults.

"Once the core temperature starts to increase, you start to see a breakdown of different organ processes, and the organs that are most sensitive to temperature are the liver and the brain. And once we start to see failure of those organs, then it's very rapid deterioration to death," said Sankoff.

Experts agree that cracking the window makes no significant difference whatsoever. According to the AVMA,a car left alone in warmer temperatures can rise 30 degrees in just 20 minutes. If that car is in direct sunlight, it can be even worse.

If your dog shows signs of heat stroke — excessive panting, rapid heart rate, staggering — give them small amounts of water. Avoid the urge to force your dog to drink water or submerge them in cold water.

"That can drop their body temperature too low too quickly and can have extremely, extremely serious consequences," said Begin.

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