Leaving Children and Pets in Hot Cars Can Turn Deadly Within Minutes
Image: NCCC

Leaving Children and Pets in Hot Cars Can Turn Deadly Within Minutes

The internal temperature of your car can increase by 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, even on a cloudy or overcast day

April 17, 2018

It'll only be a minute, you say. You crack the windows and lock the car leaving your sleeping infant cozy in her car seat.

The problem is that it's never just a minute. It's always longer than that and it only takes 10 minutes for your car to heat up to dangerous temperatures—potentially killing or permanently injuring your child.

It only takes minutes

In 10 minutes, the internal temperature of your car can increase by 20 degrees, even on a cloudy or overcast day. Children also overheat up to five times faster than adults.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that since 1998 there have been more than 700 deaths resulting from adults leaving a young child in a hot car. In 2014 alone, 30 children died. So far in 2017, six children have died—and summer isn't here yet.

This doesn't include all the countless close calls that don't result in death, but can cause permanent brain injury, blindness, and loss of hearing.

Signs of Heatstroke

Children left in hot cars, either on purpose or by accident, can easily suffer from heatstroke, a fatal condition caused by elevated body temperatures. Your child may begin exhibiting signs of heat stroke well after they've spent 15 minutes in a 105-degree car.

Symptoms include:

  • A body temperature of 103 degrees or higher, but no sweating. Babies can die if their body temperature reaches 107.
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache, which may make them irritable
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Unconsciousness

Heatstroke can also be caused by spending too much time outside a car and in the sunshine, like at the beach. Babies, especially, should be kept cool since their bodies can't regulate their temperatures as well as older children and adults.

Preventable Deaths

Death and injury caused by leaving a child in a hot car can be prevented by NOT leaving a child in a hot car. This may sound like common sense—but it's true!

Always take your child with you when you leave the car, no matter how short you think the errand will be. If possible, leave the child home with a sibling, babysitter or other caretaker.

To help prevent yourself from absentmindedly forgetting that your child is with you, place your purse or wallet in the back seat with your child.

Parents can also put a stuffed toy in the car seat when it is empty and move it to the front when it isn't. This is especially helpful for caregivers who are not used to traveling with a child.

Pets are No Different

Imagine sitting in your hot car in a fur coat and the only way you can cool down is by panting because your body is incapable of sweating. Sounds pretty miserable, right?

Unlike children, pets are generally banned from most places of business, like grocery stores and restaurants. It's tempting to leave little Fido in the car while you run into that café for an iced coffee, but the same rules of internal car temperature apply.

While you wait 20 minutes for the barista to make your double mocha macchiato, the temperature inside your car increased from 80 degrees to 100 degrees. Your dog pants excessively to cool herself down, sweating minimally from her paws as the temperature quickly rises.

Like with a child, signs of heatstroke in your dog may start to show well after you've returned with your frosty beverage.

Symptoms of heatstroke in dogs include:

  • Panting
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased body temperature - above 103 degrees
  • Reddened gums and moist tissues of the body
  • Production of only small amounts of urine or no urine
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irregular heart beats
  • Shock
  • Stoppage of the heart and breathing (cardiopulmonary arrest)
  • Fluid build-up in the lungs; sudden breathing distress (tachypnea)
  • Vomiting blood (hematemesis)
  • Passage of blood in the bowel movement or stool
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Small, pinpoint areas of bleeding
  • Changes in mental status
  • Seizures
  • Muscle tremors
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken gaitor movement
  • Unconsciousness in which the dog cannot be stimulated to be awakened

If you are going someplace that doesn't allow dogs, leave your furry companion at home!