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Dogs in Hot Cars: What You Need to Know

Dogs in Hot Cars: What You Need to Know

It’s completely understandable. We love bringing our dogs everywhere with us, but even on a relatively mild day, a quick errand can be fatal for your dog if left in the car. 

There’s no getting away from it — dogs die in hot cats. 

It’s estimated that worldwide hundreds of dogs die this way every year, and it’s made all the more tragic because of how easily preventable these deaths are. Dogs should never be left in hot cars, not even for “just a minute,” “with the AC on,” or “with the windows cracked.” Be prepared for a “dog trapped in a hot car” emergency so you know what you can do to help.

Why you should never leave your dog in a hot car

Most people might already know that dogs left alone in parked cars are at risk for heatstroke, but may not realize how deadly this can be even in mild temperatures. According to a study by San Francisco State University, inside a parked car, 70-degree weather can climb to 100 degrees in just 20 minutes. On very hot days, inside temperatures can reach 140 degrees in under one hour. A study by the Louisiana Office of Public Health found that even leaving the windows open does very little to affect these temperatures. 

Dogs are especially vulnerable to heatstroke because they are only able to cool off through the pads in their feet and panting. This inherent susceptibility means that a dog can die of heatstroke in just 15 minutes. High temperatures are even more dangerous for brachycephalic breeds, or short-faced dogs, like pugs and bulldogs, who are particularly susceptible to heatstroke because they can’t pant effectively.

How to tell if a dog is suffering from a heat-related illness

There are some physical signs that a dog is suffering from heatstroke. Heatstroke is a type of hyperthermia, which occurs when a dogs’ body temperature is above their normal range. Heatstroke can strike quickly, and it’s a life-threatening medical emergency that can cause severe internal damage, multi-organ failure and death. 

When dogs experience prolonged exposure to extreme heat, all of their organs shut down at once. Signs of heatstroke in dogs include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive panting, strained breathing
  • Dry nose
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate, a racing heartbeat
  • Disorientation
  • Collapse, falling over, or loss of consciousness
  • Mild or violent muscle tremors such as twitching, stiffening, or shaking of certain body parts or the whole body
  • Blood coming from mouth or in stool
  • Seizure symptoms, in addition to those listed above, including strange behavior such as chasing tail or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Whining or growling
  • Respiratory arrest, stopped breathing

What should you do if you see a dog left in a hot car? 

If you see dogs (or any other animals) in a hot car, there are a couple of things you can do to ensure they get the help they need: 

  • If you see any dogs left behind in cars on a warm day, quickly evaluate their wellbeing by checking them against the signs listed above. If you believe a dog is in immediate danger, call 911. Keep in mind that an outside temperature of just 70 degrees is hot enough for the inside of a car to become dangerous.  
  • See if you can locate the guardian. Write down the car’s make, model, and license plate. Go inside the nearest businesses and ask the manager to make an announcement. 
  • If the guardian cannot be located or is not cooperating, call the police, local animal control, or a rescue league. Make sure you reach a live person and leave your name and number with whoever takes your call. This is an important step so that if they need more information they will be able to contact you.
  • Familiarize yourself with your state's “hot car” laws. Some states have laws protecting Good Samaritans who rescue animal companions in distress.

If I see a dog or other animals in need, can I legally intervene and rescue them?

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit leaving an animal in a confined vehicle under dangerous conditions. Some have provisions for law enforcement and first responders to break in to rescue animals, while others go further and provide civil immunity for an individual who rescues an animal in need, under what are  known as “Good Samaritan” laws. Most of these laws note that the animal must be confined or unattended in a parked or stationary vehicle and that the animal's life must be endangered, and some states have specific provisions for rescuers. Find out more about your state’s specific requirements. 

What can you do if you live in a state with no laws regarding dogs in hot cars?

While many states might not have laws that make it illegal to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle, all 50 states have laws against animal cruelty. It can be argued that a dog left in a car without protection from extreme heat or cold is a victim of cruelty. 

Therefore, if you see an animal in need but live in a state where there are no laws against it, the guardians can still be charged with animal cruelty. If you see a dog left in a hot car, call the police or your local animal control agency and wait by the car for them to arrive. If the situation is dire, you may wish to directly intervene, but know that you may experience negative legal consequences.

What else can you do? Action is always needed to help influence laws about leaving dogs in cars in states that do not have them.

There are a couple of other ways you can create change within your state:

  • Speak up: If your state or town doesn't have a law against leaving animals in parked cars, contact your local representatives or attend town hall meetings to start lobbying for one. If your state already has laws, work to see if they can be strengthened! 
  • Spread the word: Share guidelines with your local law enforcement officials for how to investigate hot car-related deaths.
  • Encourage local involvement: Contact local store managers, restaurants, and other businesses to post signs asking for their customers to not leave their animal companions in cars. A big part of solving this problem is raising awareness.

What are alternatives to leaving your dog in the car? 

If you can't leave your dog at home or your home isn't a safe option, consider some of these alternatives: 

  • Shop at an animal animal-friendly store. You might beYou might be surprised to find out that your favorite stores are dog friendly...... call ahead and ask! 
  • Bring friends and family members with you. Having other people with you can be a great alternative to leaving your dog in the car. They can go for a walk, hang out outside, or sit in the car with the AC on while you run your errand. 
  • See if there is a drive through option. Pharmacies, banks, and even coffee shops now have drive through options that are dog friendly!
  • Instead of eating indoors, try an outdoor cafe. Many allow dogs to sit underneath the table and will even offer your dog a bowl of water!

What’s the Bottom Line?

As you can see, leaving dogs in hot cars is never an option. While some states have addressed this, there’s a long way to go before the laws regarding dogs in hot cars reflect the simple fact that dogs suffer and die in hot cars. 

You have the power to change that. Educate your local representatives, community and fellow dogs guardians on the dangers. Moreover, don’t be afraid to step in if someone is leaving a dog or other animal in distress. It’s only through education and action that we can protect our pooches and keep our furry friends cool.

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