Warning to pet owners as temperatures expected to soar

·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

Soaring temperatures could claim the lives of beloved pets this weekend due to “irresponsible” conduct from their owners, the RSPCA fears.

With the mercury expected to extend into the high 30s and low 40s across many Australian states, pet owners are being asked to ensure they provide adequate shade and water access to their animals.

Dogs are particularly susceptible to heat stress when left in cars, with RSPCA South Australia responding to 214 calls to assist trapped animals in 2020.

Zoe was lucky to survive after being rescued from a hot car in South Australia. Source: RSPCA SA
Zoe was lucky to survive after being rescued from a hot car in South Australia. Source: RSPCA SA

This figure is line with data stretching back to 2015, showing inspectors in that state are consistently called to assist around 300 animals locked in cars annually.

Dog saved after being locked in hot car

Despite the regular callouts, one particular rescue remains etched in the mind of RSPCA South Australia spokesperson Carolyn Jones.

In 2017, a woman in the state was convicted on animal cruelty charges and banned from owning any animals, after she left her two Maltese dogs in a car for five hours while visiting her daughter in hospital.

The dogs’ owner faced court after Police and RSPCA received a call in March the previous year, when a member of the public spotted the pets inside a vehicle.

Testing has shown that even during mild weather, temperatures can soar inside cars. Source: Getty / RSPCA SA
Testing has shown that even during mild weather, temperatures can soar inside cars. Source: Getty / RSPCA SA

First responders smashed the car’s window, but were too late to save one of the animals who had succumbed to the heat.

One RSPCA worker described the situation as a “tragic site”, and an inspector reported being “shocked” at how much heat was radiating from the deceased dog.

Rescuers then focused their attention on the surviving animal, Zoe.

She was suffering from severe heatstroke, so quick thinking rescuers placed a cold towel on her and managed to revive her.

Zoe received veterinary treatment and was eventually brought back to health by dedicated carers.

Heat inside cars exceeds temperatures outside

Further north, in Australia’s sunshine state, rescue numbers remain worryingly high according to Michael Beatty from RSPCA Queensland where he says inspectors attend to 1000 heat stressed pets a year.

Mr Beatty is frustrated that many animal owners remain ignorant to how vulnerable to temperature are, noting dogs, particularly short-nosed breeds can die inside a car in under 10 minutes.

He points to testing by the RSPCA which found heat inside vehicles can escalate well beyond outside temperatures, meaning pets inside are susceptible even on mild weather days.

Wildlife will also benefit from having access to clean, fresh, water. Source: Getty
Wildlife will also benefit from having access to clean, fresh, water. Source: Getty

“If it’s 30 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can potentially rise to well over 40 degrees in less than five minutes,” Mr Beatty said.

“We tested a light-coloured sedan and the temperature rose to 57 degrees in 12 minutes.

“Any animal left inside would have been dead.”

Dogs left on the back of utes are also susceptible to heat stress, especially when left without shade.

“We’ve seen dogs with their paws severely burnt from the hot metal,” Mr Beatty said.

“Can you imagine the heat reflecting off the metal tray!

“Some people simply seem to have no common sense.”

Tethered dogs another common victim of heat stroke

Despite high-profile animal rescues from cars, Mr Beatty said dogs tethered in backyards are probably the most common heat stress victims RSCPA Queensland responds to.

He told Yahoo News Australia that tethered animals often become tangled around plants or garden furniture, leaving them unable to return to shade and water.

Without access to water they quickly become dehydrated, suffer from heart palpations and then die.

“If you see a dog in that sort of condition it’s got to get veterinary help immediately,” he said.

“It needs to be put onto a drip.”

Flat-nosed dogs are particularly susceptible to dehydration. Source: Getty
Flat-nosed dogs are particularly susceptible to dehydration. Source: Getty

As temperatures soar, pet owners are encouraged to treat their animals as they would wish to be treated, by following a few simple steps:

  • Supply multiple sources of clean water for pets.

  • Ensure animals have access to shade throughout the day.

  • Avoid transporting pets in vehicles.

  • Don’t walk dogs in the heat of the day - if you cannot hold the back of your hand on the surface of the ground for five seconds then it’s too hot for your pet’s paws.

‘Summers hotter and more dangerous’ for wildlife

While pets are reliant on their owners to keep them cool during heatwaves, many Australians are becoming increasingly aware that wildlife increasingly will need human help.

As the country becomes hotter and drier, native animals can struggle to find clean, fresh water, and providing hydration for them can be necessary for survival.

The safest way to do so is to leave containers of water in a safe, secluded environment that predators cannot access. By placing a rock in the centre of the bowl, it will help prevent drowning.

Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) campaign manager Basha Stasak said last summer many people witnessed images of heat stressed birds, koalas, possums and kangaroos in the media.

As a result, many Australians indicated that they wished to do more to help.

ACF says wildlife are often distressed or injured because of heatwaves and bushfires. Source: Annette Ruzicka
The Australian Conservation Foundation says wildlife are often distressed or injured because of heatwaves and bushfires. Source: Annette Ruzicka

“Climate change is making summers hotter and more dangerous for humans and pets and also for native animals,” Mr Basha said.

“Whether we live in cities, towns or the bush, many of us will come in contact with wildlife that needs help.”

Where native animals have been impacted by extreme weather including drought and bushfire, they can venture onto roads and into towns where they come into contact with pets and cars.

Motorists are advised to be careful of wildlife that may be disorientated over the weekend, and provide assistance when it is safe to do so.

ACF have released a free guide on assisting wildlife which can be ordered online, and further information on helping animals affected by bushfires can be found here.

Anyone who witnesses a domestic animal in distress during a heat event is urged to contact the RSPCA or police on 000.

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