'Six Minutes To Die': Calls To Protect Pets As Australia Heads Into Heatwave

The RSPCA has repeated calls for pet owners to take precautions with their animals as a heatwave sets in. 

In the first week of December alone, RSPCA Queensland received 230 reports of heat-affected animals in cars and backyards.

Spokesman Michael Beatty told 10 daily the call centre had been swamped.

"The figures since the beginning of the year are even more alarming," he said.

"We've had 1,126 reports of animals being left in hot cars and 2,026 of animals being left with no shelter or shade."

READ MORE: 'Look Out For Each Other': PM Urges Queenslanders Amid Heatwave Conditions

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Last summer, the NSW centre received almost 300 reports of animals with potential heat stress and around 80 complaints of pets locked in cars.

One dog died after being left in an underground car park -- despite owners leaving the windows open.

Scott Meyers of the RSPCA NSW said it was a common misconception that opening car windows made it safe to leave pets inside.

"It only takes six minutes for an animal to die from heat stroke," he told 10 daily.

"Cars parked in the sun can reach temperatures in excess of 80 degrees Celsius, and can remain dangerously hot even if the windows are open."

Tinting, parking in the shade or leaving the windows open do not help to significantly reduce the car's inside temperature.

"Even cars parked in the shade --  in an underground carpark -- can reach lethal temperatures," Meyers said.

"A dog cannot sweat in these conditions and panting increases the heat in the car."

He also cautioned leaving dogs on ute trays following the deaths of four dogs that were left in the back of a ute canopy in Gulgong, NSW, last summer.

"Parked cars are death traps. Just don't do it."

Most of the country is hovering at an 80 percent chance of soaring above median temperatures between December and February, according to the weather bureau’s latest outlook

The RSCPA is urging pet owners to have plans in place.

Meyers and Beatty suggested walking your dog in the early morning or evening to avoid blistered feet pads during the heat of the day.

If animals need to be left in the backyard, they must be able to access shelter and at least two or three separate containers of water.

"A dog can survive for a few days without food, but in this weather, if it has no shade or water, it will die," said Beatty. 

“A rope or a chain can easily become entangled in furniture or plants and that can be fatal. It’s far better to make the yard or courtyard secure and then it won’t be necessary to tether the dog in the first place."

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What does heat stress look like?

Dogs suffering from heat stress may pant, drool and become restless. Over time, they might appear to become weak and the colour of their gums may change.

Staggering, vomiting, diarrhea or seizures are also common symptoms.

Dogs with short faces, such as pugs and bulldogs, have difficulty breathing and are particularly prone to the effects of heat stress. 

Any kind of panting or increase in breathing for cats, birds, rabbits, ferrets or guinea pigs could also indicate distress.

According to the RSCPA, vet treatment is essential. Causing animals to suffer can also result in fines or time in jail.

RSPCA tips to keep pets cool this summer
  • Put out extra bowls of water in case one is accidentally tipped over.
  • Fill takeaway containers with beef/chicken stock, frozen overnight and give to outdoor animals.
  • Put ice cubes in water bowls. Be careful, as some animals will avoid drinking the water if they are concerned about the floating ice cubes. A good alternative is to freeze half a water bowl the night before and top the remainder up with cool water when putting out.
  • Fill up paddle pools and supervise your animals using them.
  • Never leave dogs in cars, even with the windows down, and even in the shade.
  • Always walk your dog in the early morning or late evening to avoid the heat of the day.
  • Ensure pets have easy access to shade and water throughout the day, including extra shade areas in your backyard using shade cloths and umbrellas.
  • Spray pet birds with a mist pump spray bottle (only if they like it!) or install a bird bath for supervised use.
  • Cool a ceramic tile or oven pan in the fridge or freezer and put it out for small dogs and cats to lie on.
  • For pocket pets, use little bags of ice wrapped in small, wet towels provide heat relief.
  • Allow your outdoor animals to come inside the house and share the air conditioning or an electric fan.

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Featured image: Getty