A LEADING Cumbrian vet is warning of the dangers dogs face if left in hot cars.

Graham Lewis, a veterinary surgeon at Paragon Vets in Carlisle, has seen five fatalities in the last seven years.

Temperatures are set to rise this weekend, putting animals at greater risk of heat stroke.

The RSPCA says it had 89 reports of dogs suffering after being left in hot cars in Cumbria last year and nationally reports are at a three-year high.

A British Veterinary Association survey found three in five vets in the north of England had treated animals for heat stroke, while almost a third had seen dogs with heat-related breathing difficulties, heart conditions, burnt paw pads and sunburn.

Mr Lewis said: "It is something we can see whenever there is a hot spell and, unfortunately, in a fair number of cases it can be fatal."

He warned that even leaving a pet in a vehicle for 20 minutes while you nip into a shop is enough to cause heat stroke.

Some breeds are even more vulnerable to the heat - including bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese dogs and shih tzus - as they cannot regulate their body temperature as easily as others.

Mr Lewis added that very hairy breeds not native to the UK, such as huskies, often struggle in hot weather, while working farm dogs are also at risk.

Signs of heat stroke include heavy panting, appearing distressed, foaming at the mouth, vomiting and diarrhoea. Dogs should be cooled with water, a fan or cold towel, given cool water and taken to the vet.

Mr Lewis advised keeping dogs out of the sun, taking walks at the start and end of the day, keeping them off hard hot surfaces and giving them some shade and plenty of water when outdoors.

If you do come across a dog that has been left in a hot car, the RSPCA's advice is to call the police rather than break into the vehicle yourself.

Many people’s instinct is to break into the car to free the dog. But it warns that without proper justification, this could be classed as criminal damage.

The organisation advises that in an emergency, tell the police of your intentions first and take photos or footage of the dog, as well as names and numbers of any witnesses.

The RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency cruelty line is 0300 1234.