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Summer Car Safety For Pets [10/06/2004]

More and more people travel with their pets these days and now that the sun is starting to grace us with its presence, travelling safely with your pet during the warmer weather needs extra preparation and care.

All too often during the hot weather there are sad stories about pets being left in cars suffering from heat stroke. In some cases the outcome is fatal.

But this can be avoided by taking the following precautionary measures when travelling with your pet to ensure you both have a safe and enjoyable journey:

• Safety – the most important thing to remember is that your pet must be safe and secure in a car. If travelling with a cat or small dog, they should be in a proper travelling basket. Some pets may be distressed when travelling in a car, but self-scented material put at the bottom the carrier can help. For dogs, a travel cage or crate of the correct size is best. There should be plenty of space around it for ventilation, and it should be secured with a seatbelt. In a hatchback or estate car, the cage could be attached to anchorage points. Remember that a dog guard will keep the pet away from the driver but will not protect the pet in a crash. PDSA and RoSPA produced a leaflet on Carrying Pets Safely, which can be obtained from the Communications Department, PDSA Head Office, Whitechapel Way, Priorslee, Telford, TF2 9PQ.

• Over heating - Unlike people, who can shed a layer of clothing in the warmer weather, pets don’t benefit from this luxury. If your dog is long-haired it might be worthwhile thinking about getting him clipped shorter before a long journey. When travelling in a car, heat is much more concentrated. So, make sure that windows are opened and air is allowed to circulate. If you have air conditioning, then you will have much more control over the internal temperature of the car.

• Overweight pets or those with a heart problem and dogs with a short nose (like a bulldog) need additional care when travelling, so it is always a good idea to ask the vet’s advice well in advance of the proposed journey.

• Rest stops – driving isn’t just tiring for humans, pets also need a break to stretch their legs, cool down and go to the loo. Never, leave a pet for any period of time alone, in a car, during warm weather. Even if a window is left wide open, the temperature inside can soar to unbearable levels for pets extremely quickly. When taking a rest stop, do try to park in a shady spot, so that when you and your pet return to the car the temperature will have cooled somewhat. If you have a cat with you, try finding a shady spot under a tree where you could sit with the basket for a few minutes so your cat can get some fresh air.

• When travelling, make sure you take plenty of cool water with you for your pet to drink. This will cool the body, as well as replace any fluid the pet may lose through panting. Dogs and cats rely heavily on panting to lose heat, as they do not have significant numbers of sweat producing glands as humans do. This means that they cannot easily regulate their body temperature when they are kept in hot environments. The initial signs of heat stroke include extreme panting by the pet to try and lose more heat from the body. The heart rate will increase in an attempt by the body to lose further heat by shunting the pet’s blood to the limbs. As the condition worsens, the pet will have a weak pulse, have pale mucous membranes lining the mouth and may vomit. These are all signs of an impending organ failure, leading to seizures, coma and even death.

• In cases of heat stroke a pet’s internal temperature needs reducing by immersing the patient in cool, not ice cold, water and gradually decreasing the water temperature. Owners can also put water soaked towels over the pet and place the pet near, but not too close to, a cooling electrical fan, making sure there

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