Nfld. & Labrador

Leaving a pet in a parked car can have consequences — and not just for the animal

A St. John's veterinarian is warning pet owners that leaving an animal in a vehicle unattended — or forgetting to secure it while driving — can both hurt the pet and cause legal and other problems.

Dogs can suffer heat exhaustion, stroke, if left inside a hot car

A person with multicoloured hair sits in the backseat of a vehicle with a dog. The dog is wearing a red harness secured to a seatbelt.
St. John's vet Heather Hillier, left, and dog Quincy demonstrate how to secure a seatbelt harness inside a vehicle. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

After a particularly warm month in St. John's, a veterinarian is warning pet owners about the dangers of leaving a pet alone in a car or truck. 

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Dr. Heather Hillier, shelter veterinarian for Humane Services, noted pets — like humans — who live in St. John's aren't used to hot temperatures. 

"They really can't be left in the vehicle in these summer days," Hillier said.

"Direct sunshine into the car will heat the interior of the car quite quickly, and heat exhaustion and heat stroke is a real concern."

Hillier said direct sunshine can create a "greenhouse" effect inside the vehicle even on cooler days — and cracking a window isn't enough to prevent heat exhaustion or potential heat stroke for dogs, which don't perspire like humans.

She said short-nosed, overweight and older dogs can suffer heat exhaustion more quickly, especially if they have difficulty breathing.

Signs of heat exhaustion in dogs:

  • Panting.

  • Pink or red gums.

  • Enlarged eyes.

  • Heavy breathing.

  • Anxious movements.

  • Dullness.

  • Unable to stand.

In extreme cases, she said, dogs experiencing heat stroke could pass out or have a seizure.

WATCH | Heather Hillier, a St. John's veterinarian, and Quincy, a dog, demonstrate how to use a seatbelt harness. 

Making sure your dog is safe while riding in a car

5 months ago
Duration 1:20
St. John’s veterinarian Heather Hillier shows how to secure a dog in a vehicle.

On a hot day, Hillier said, the temperature inside a vehicle can double after just 10 minutes — which is why even a quick stop at a store could prove dangerous for a pet left in a vehicle.

Getting help

Hillier said leaving a pet unattended in a hot vehicle can also result in legal consequences under the Health and Protection of Animals Act, since causing an animal to be in distress is illegal.

St. John's Coun. Maggie Burton said if someone sees a pet in an unattended vehicle near a store, they can ask the business to page the owner of the vehicle. Alternatively, she said, they can call 911 and alert police.

"The goal should be to have someone respond as quickly as possible to a pet in distress," she said.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. James Cadigan said police get at least one call a day during warmer months about pets left alone inside vehicles.

A Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer wearing a uniform stands in a parking garage with his hands folded, looking at the camera.
Const. James Cadigan says the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary gets at least one call a day about a pet inside an unattended vehicle during warm months. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Cadigan said the RNC also receives reports of distracted driving due to pets sitting on laps or who are otherwise not secured in a vehicle.

"Another important thing to consider is that in the case of a collision, a pet becomes a projectile in that vehicle and can not only hurt the persons in the vehicle, but the pet is in danger," he said.

Not securing a pet while driving is a ticketable offence, resulting in a fine, under the Highway Traffic Act.

Hillier said there are several options for securing a pet in a vehicle, ranging from netting across a hatch for bigger dogs, to booster seats for small pets. She noted, however, that putting an animal in a trunk is also illegal.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Darrell Roberts is a reporter for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

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