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IC Animal Services warns pet owners of heat

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | JULY 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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For Iowa City resident Shannon Lizakowski, 27, keeping Cody, her spoiled 6-year-old golden retriever, out of the heat as much as possible is common sense.

"I rarely have him outside," she said, sitting on a bench with three friends with Cody lying on the ground beside her. "I usually keep him in air conditioning."

But some pet owners aren't aware of the dangers of leaving their furry companions in vehicles or unprotected in sunlight for periods of time. So Iowa City Animal Services is issuing its "Pledge to Keep Your Pet Cool" campaign in response to the ongoing heat wave.

"The safest place for a pet is to leave their pet at home," said Willa Hamilton, an animal-services officer. "Pets aren't able to cool themselves off as efficiently as we can."

Pets could suffer strokes, brain damage, or death if locked in a hot car, officials said, noting that leaving a pet inside a car for even a few minutes can be fatal.

"When the body temperature goes up, the tissues inside the body overheat and become damaged," said Debra Conant, a doctor of veterinary medicine at Bright Eyes & Bushy Tails, 3030 Northgate Drive. "We can see organ failure and bleeding problems where [the animal] can't clot blood anymore."

Typical temperatures inside a vehicle with the windows up can reach 120 degrees or more when outside temperatures are just above 85 degrees, according to animal-services officials.

"Vehicles act like greenhouses and trap heat, and the temperature rapidly rises," Hamilton said.

Though considered "normal," the center has received at least 20 calls this summer from concerned citizens about animals usually left in vehicles.

However, Hamilton said, the heat wave makes the situation scarier because of the more extreme possibility of death.

Conant noted that animals don't perspire like humans do.

"The only way a dog can cool itself is by panting or by finding someplace cool to lie down," the veterinarian of 30 years said. "And it's worse on days when it's humid."

Cats are better at staying quiet and move around less in the heat, she said, so a majority of cases to involve dogs.

And some dogs with short faces, long hair, or dark hair coats are more susceptible than others.

"Dogs with shorter faces have smaller airways and don't pant as effectively," explained Conant, who hasn't seen any cases in the past week.

"I think when it gets real hot for [most] people, they think this is too hot for pets," she said. "But we'll still see people out walking their dogs when it's too hot."

And, Conant said, when animal suffers from heat stroke, the mortality rate can reach 50 percent.
Leaving a pet impounded, confined, or tied in a place where it lacks adequate food, water, or shelter is illegal and considered abuse, according to Iowa City pet regulations.

An owner charged with animal neglect could receive a simple misdemeanor for the offense. A citation is usually given requiring a court appearance and a fine.

Hamilton said Iowa City Animal Services usually issues at least 10 animal-neglect charges a year.

"Part of the problem results from a lack of education," she said, and owners will leave pets in a hot vehicle without thinking and run into the grocery store for a few minutes. "Just leaving the animal in a situation that would be dangerous to the animal could be cause for animal neglect."


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