Most children are left in vehicles accidentally, when a parent forgets the sleeping child in the back seat or in a car seat.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a child dies from heatstroke about once every 10 days from being left alone in a hot vehicle, and heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle fatalities for kids 14 and younger.
A study from one source cited an examination of media reports about the 561 child vehicular heatstroke deaths for a 14-year period (1998 through 2012) showing the following circumstances:
•51 percent of deaths (288 children) were from children "forgotten" by caregivers
•29 percent of deaths (163 children) were playing in unattended vehicles
•18 percent of deaths (101 children) were intentionally left in vehicle by adult
•2 percent (9 children) the circumstances are unknown
Tips for remembering the child include putting a stuffed animal in the car seat and moving it to the front when the baby is in the car seat, putting items necessary for the upcoming activity in the backseat next to the child or even removing your shoes and placing them in the backseat with the child.
Pets are often intentionally left in the vehicles, as owners think they will only be gone for a short time.
“It just slips peoples’ minds,” veterinarian Robin Roberts of Animal General said. “They think they are just running in for a minute, but with no air movement and no way to cool themselves, it only takes a short amount of time for the animal to become distressed. Even in the shade, those cars become extremely hot in a very short time.”
Roberts said that the effects of the extreme heat aren’t always obvious immediately and can sometimes show up as late as two or three weeks later. “Pets just shouldn’t be left in the car, even if you think you are just going to be inside for a minute, time passes much faster than you think,” Roberts said.
He also recommends that outside dogs have shade and cool drinking water so they can stay cool during the extremely hot summer days.
Roberts said that he usually sees five or six cases of heat-related illness in dogs each summer, but stresses that there is no way to really know how many animals are impacted locally each year.
“There are five vets around here, so if we each see five or six a year, and we already know that approximately 20 percent of animals in need of vet care actually get it, we are looking at a pretty large number,” Roberts said. “And, of course, we don’t see the ones who are already deceased.”
Signs of heat-related issues in dogs are much the same as in people:
•Unusual breathing - rapid and loud
•High rectal temperature
•Weakness and/or fatigue
•A bright red tongue and pale gums
•Skin around muzzle or neck doesn’t snap back when pinched
•Collapse or coma
•Increased heart rate
Roberts said anyone with an animal showing these signs should cool the animal off and seek veterinary treatment immediately.
Leaving the engine running is no safeguard against the dangers, the vehicle could overheat or stop running for another reason or the child or pet could hit the vent or air controls, turning them off.
Anyone who sees a child or pet left in a vehicle should contact the local police immediately and stay with the vehicle until help arrives.