Over 75% of dog owners use their car to transport or house their dog, but cars get hot. The ‘Dogs in Hot Cars’ campaign sends out a clear message every year that leaving a dog in a hot car is dangerous and potentially fatal for a dog. Despite this, over 8000 calls were made to the RSPCA in 2018 over concerns for dogs left in hot cars. The risk period tends to be associated with summer, and the campaign normally starts around May time. With an increasingly unpredictable climate and increase in intensity and frequency of heatwaves, the year round risk of car temperatures needs further investigation.
Our latest study looked at temperatures falling outside the range of 8-25°C . Broadly speaking, 25°C is the upper comfortable threshold for dogs to control their body temperature, slightly above the upper limit for some brachycephalic dogs to cool themselves unaided. This range is also the temperature threshold for the storage of many veterinary and human drugs, outside of which they can lose their efficacy with potentially dangerous consequences. An additional threshold over 35°C was included, at which point all dogs struggle to thermoregulate, particularly when enclosed in a car with no air movement.
The internal temperatures of four cars were monitored over a two-year period. This allowed us to monitor the temperatures 24 hours a day (no dogs were kept in the cars for the purposes of the study!). By the end of the study period, we had between 7300 and 17800 individual temperature readings for each month of the year. This allowed us to look at the impact of time of day and seasonality on internal car temperature.
UK car temperatures
Internal car temperature ranged from -7.4°C to 54.5°C with temperatures dropping below 8°C in every month except June and July. Temperatures exceeded 25°C in every month of the year and above 35°C from April to September. And whilst early mornings were generally cooler, temperatures over 35°C were recorded between 8am and 9pm.
The highest temperature recorded was 54.5°C
It is also worth bearing in mind that the risk may extend beyond stationary vehicles. Sitting in traffic on a hot day, or an air conditioning system failure could also be lethal for dogs trapped in the car.
This study highlights the year round risk to dogs in cars and the need for constant vigilance. This is particularly the case for those breeds and types of dogs considered more at risk of heatstroke, such as brachycephalic, overweight and older dogs.
The study highlights that the risk to dogs in cars is year round, not just restricted to the traditionally warmer summer months. Heat-related illness can be fatal so whenever dogs are in cars, owners should be cautious. Whilst traditionally the advice is to avoid exercise during the midday heat, peak car temperatures occurred between 14:00 and 17:00 hours from March to October. So late afternoon, from spring to autumn is the most at dangerous time for dogs in cars.