Critter Culture
Leaving Your Dog in a Hot Car Is a Total No-No

Leaving Your Dog in a Hot Car Is a Total No-No

Critter Culture Staff



In 2020, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) received 31 reports of pets that died in the U.S. due to heat-related causes. Sadly, many cases go unreported. Often, these fatalities are a result of leaving pets in parked automobiles. It's best to leave your dog at home where they can lay in the shade and have access to water. But if you do sometimes drive with your animals in the backseat, there are rules you need to be aware of.


What is the cardinal rule?

The rule of thumb is never to leave your dogs in a parked car, even if you only intend to pop into the shops for a short while.

In just 10 minutes on a mild day, temperatures within a closed vehicle can surpass the temperature outside, even when the windows are slightly open to let a breeze in. Parking in a shaded spot doesn't help much either. The risk is even more significant when an hour passes, and intra-vehicle temperatures can skyrocket to as high as 120 F.

Playful bulldog ready to jump out of the car marcoventuriniautieri / Getty Images


What is the risk?

When a dog's temperature reaches over 105 F, there is potential for hyperthermia and death. A dog may have heatstroke if you notice the following:

  • Heavy panting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Fast pulse
  • Agitation
  • Unsteadiness

If a dog is hyperventilating and has dilated pupils, muscle tremors, gums that have become pale or changed color, and diarrhea or incontinence, all signs point to heatstroke and dehydration.

When a dog loses consciousness in this state, it may go into a coma. There's a risk of brain damage too.

Dog sitting in the back seat of a black car PK-Photos / Getty Images


What should you do if you see a dog in an enclosed car?

On mild to hot days, you want to make a quick assessment. Consider whether it would be easy to find the owner who can open the door. Take a picture of the vehicle's license plate so nearby stores can get the owner's attention. Lastly, call animal control or 911, even if you believe that your state allows passersby to intervene forcibly.

Bear in mind that time is of the essence. The longer it takes for the dog to get medical assistance, the more dire the consequences may be. Still, if you enter someone's vehicle when the law does not permit you to, you could face significant repercussions, not to mention an imminent potential altercation with the dog owner. Wait with the dog until help arrives, or try and open the door latch if emergency personnel give you the go-ahead. If there are people around, make your intentions clear so you're not mistaken for a criminal.

dog inside car Jena Ardell / Getty Images


Which states allow strangers to break into cars to free distressed dogs?

These 17 states have Good Samaritan laws that offer legal protections to any bystander who breaks a car window to save animals left unattended. Other states allow only emergency responders to do so or have no relevant regulations.

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

The specifics differ by state, so get up to date with local regulations. For example, the types of animals you can lawfully rescue differs.

car window smashed open Whiteway / Getty Images


How can you assist a dog showing symptoms of heatstroke?

You need to cool the dog down. You can move it to a shaded or air-conditioned spot or use a portable fan to blow cool air in the dog's direction. Spritz the animal's underside with tepid, not icy, water, and try to arrange for it to see a vet ASAP. A vet would take the dog's temperature and provide fluids, medication, and oxygen.

Golden retriever cooling down under the water cunfek / Getty Images


How can you prevent heatstroke in dogs?

Dogs are known for getting overheated because they don't sweat in the way humans do. Remember this hot dog tendency, whether you're driving somewhere with your dog or simply playing. Keep your canine bestie well hydrated and protect its paws. Give it a haircut, but don't go overboard. Dogs need their coats to protect them from the sun.

pet groomer grooming poodle dog Edwin Tan / Getty Images


What kinds of animals are most at risk of overheating?

Short-nosed animals with flat faces, such as Scottish Fold cats or pugs, are more vulnerable because they can't pant as effectively as other breeds. Very old or very young animals and sickly or overweight ones are more likely to overheat, and animals with darker coats are also at greater risk.

Portrait of a pug dog with his tongue hanging out Codorniz / Getty Images


Which dog breeds are better at handling the heat?

Dogs with thin or short coats, such as Dalmatians, Great Danes, Chihuahuas, Dobermans, bull terriers, beagles, and dachshunds, may better manage heat, especially if they have lighter colored coats. Your local animal clinic or ASPCA will be able to give you more advice about the best breeds for your area's climate.

Dog licking face of young woman crouching on field during sunny day Westend61 / Getty Images


Educate others

Start with your friends and family members. And politely speak to an owner who arrives back at a car while you're assessing the situation. Some people are unaware of the dangers of leaving dogs and cats in cars—this doesn't make them bad people.

Print the informative flyers on animal protection websites and ask permission to stick them up at frequented places. There's no telling how many lives you could save.

Mature Women Having a Conversation in a Car with a dog in the back seat CasarsaGuru / Getty Images


What consequences can irresponsible owners face?

Leaving an animal in a car that poses a danger is illegal in 31 states. A car is considered a hazard if there's a lack of ventilation, food, and water and if the vehicle gets very hot or cold. You could face misdemeanor charges or be found guilty of animal abuse. Penalties vary by state but can include fines and jail time.

man in prison hands holding jail bars Rattankun Thongbun / Getty Images


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