Ask the Vet: Can dogs get hurt sticking their heads out of car windows?

Q: On my way to your office today, I saw a car traveling at a pretty fast rate. In the passenger seat was a dog with his head out the window. No one was holding him, and the driver was not really glancing at him at all. What do you think of that? It looked like the dog was enjoying it, but it seems a bit dangerous.

A: Sometimes humans, even older non-teenagers, make bad choices. They see how much their dogs appear to enjoy this activity — tongue out, ears flapping and drool flying onto the car behind them.

Every activity seems to be fun and games until someone gets hurt, and it does happen. We see a few traumas every summer called “HOW” — Head Out of Window.

What injuries could ever occur in these dogs, you ask? Read on, and hopefully this will change your mind about letting your beloved dog stick his head out the window of a moving car.

Starting from the top: the ears. Ears tend to flap, sometimes quite violently depending on how fast you are driving. This quick and forceful motion can rupture a blood vessel in the ear pinna, or flap, causing an ear hematoma to form. Hematomas need to be surgically repaired under anesthesia. It can be expensive and quite uncomfortable for the dog.

In addition to hematomas, foreign bodies can lacerate an ear or become lodged in the ear canal itself. Flying insects, sticks and pebbles are common flying obstacles on our streets and highways. You know what a pebble can do to your windshield? Think about your pet’s ears or face.

Down to the eyes: Again, foreign bodies can penetrate the cornea (the delicate outer front part of the eye) and cause a corneal ulcer that can take a week or so of treatment to repair. If the foreign body is bigger, it could penetrate an eye and result in so much trauma that the entire eye needs to be removed.

Wind can affect eyes even without a foreign body. The constant force of warm air against the eyes can often be too much for the tear film to keep up with and the eyes will become dry and irritated. That is why, if you watch closely, dogs with their heads out are actively blinking in an attempt to keep their eyes moist.

Down to the mouth: There is still the threat of a foreign body striking the teeth and causing a fracture. Little incisor teeth in the front and the larger canine teeth are more at risk because they are not protected by the lips, as dogs keep their mouths open often when their heads are out of the car.

Their tongues are at risk too. Dogs put their tongues out to pant — it’s hot out there — and if a driver goes over a pothole or a bump, tongues can get bitten. (FYI, coming from someone who does a bit of oral surgery, tongues bleed a lot, and blood is hard to get out of automobile seats and carpet. It could be a mess, not to mention lowering the resale value of your car.)

Moving down to paws: If the dog is really hanging out with his paws on the outside of a door, his paws could be burned on the hot metal or smashed from another car. Some mirrors stick out farther that others and could strike a paw or another part of your pet if they get too close to your car.

Pets with their heads out windows can also step on the window controls and start to raise or lower the window by themselves. A rising window will absolutely choke a pet, and a lowered window is an undeniable invitation to leap out of the car, whether it’s moving or not. Dogs will chase balls, cats or other dogs if they see them and have the instinct to launch. It just happens that quickly.

I can’t forget to mention the obvious issues with dogs sticking their heads out of a window. They are unrestrained in a moving vehicle.

We restrain ourselves and our children without thinking about it. Any unrestrained dog will become a flying missile in a car if an accident occurs. They can be ejected or crash around inside the automobile causing sometimes catastrophic injuries. In a turn, an open window — even if not opened fully — can cause a dog to lose his footing and fall through the opening. It’s always a tragedy.

After all this soapbox banter it is pretty plain to see that I am not a fan of HOW dogs. I believe in protecting pets and educating owners about the dangers of letting this behavior continue.

Dogs don’t know any better, but hopefully now we do. Have a pet-safe and wonderful summer. The good thing is, it’s just getting started.

Send questions for Dr. Allison Dascoli to “Ask the Vet,” Charleston Gazette-Mail, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston, WV 25301 or email them to Comments or suggestions can be submitted the same way.

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Akers, Trela - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.

Cochran, Jacob - 3 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Cosby-Matthews, Hattie - Noon, First Baptist Church of Charleston, Charleston.

DeMarino, Jane - 1 p.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.

Gunther, Jewell - 1 p.m., Calvary Baptist Church, Chapmanville.

Hall, Betty - 1 p.m., St. Andrew United Methodist Church, St. Albans.

Holbrook, Linda - 1 p.m., St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Pinch.

Johnson Jr., Delbert - 11 a.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

King, Edna - Noon, St. Christopher Episcopal Church, Charleston.

Kiser, Kenneth - 6 p.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Lawrence, Mamie - 2 p.m., O’Dell Funeral Home, Montgomery.

McCutcheon, Alice - 1 p.m., Old Greenbrier Baptist Church, Alderson.

Mills, Melinda - 5 p.m., New Baptist Church, Huntington.

Rannenberg III, Thomas - 2 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Ray, Sandra - 1 p.m., Crooked Creek Church of Christ.

Roach, James - 1 p.m., First Baptist Church, Ravenswood.

Tyler, Gloria - Noon, Grace Bible Church, Charleston.

Ulbrich, Sandra - 11 a.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Williams, Laura - 2 p.m., Stockert-Paletti Funeral Home, Flatwoods.

Wood, Ruby - 11 a.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.