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Home > Dogs > What to Do If You See a Dog in a Hot Car: Vet Reviewed Considerations

What to Do If You See a Dog in a Hot Car: Vet Reviewed Considerations

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Hundreds of dogs die each year simply because they were left in a parked vehicle1 that became too hot. Many more suffered the effects of heat stress. These deaths and illnesses are preventable by leaving pets at home when they can’t accompany you inside when running errands.

If you come across a pet left in a hot vehicle that’s showing signs of heat stress, your first instinct may be to break the window and free the dog. Before making that bold decision, be sure to step back, evaluate the scene, and take the proper steps to limit your legal liability while protecting the pup.


Why Leaving Dogs in Parked Cars Is Dangerous

According to the Humane Society of the United States, the temperature inside a vehicle can climb to 116° F within one hour on a 72° F day. When it’s just 8 degrees warmer outside, on an 80° F day, it takes only 10 minutes for the inside of a vehicle to reach 99° F.

There are many myths about leaving dogs in cars, such as leaving a window rolled down for ventilation or parking in the shade. However, studies have shown that these have minimal effect on the inside temperature of a vehicle. Even leaving the air conditioning on may not be effective, as dogs are known to accidentally switch off things like heating and cooling as they move around the vehicle, especially as they become frantic.

maltese dog sitting in the car
Image By: Monika Wisniewska, Shutterstock


What to Do If You See a Dog in a Hot Car

1. Avoiding Liability

Even with the extreme danger of leaving pets in parked cars, Good Samaritans can sometimes still be held legally responsible for damages caused by removing the dog to save them. Depending on the state, it could be paying for the broken window or facing criminal charges for property damage.

It’s essential to protect yourself by taking the steps defined by your State’s Good Samaritan laws.

While the steps below are not legal advice, they are meant to offer a quick checklist of things to consider if you are faced with a dog in need.

2. Evaluate the Situation

Just because you notice a pet in a parked vehicle does not always mean they are in immediate danger. It’s essential to evaluate the scene to determine if action must be taken and how quickly. Consider answering the following questions:

  • Is the dog already showing signs of heat stroke?
  • Is the driver already at the scene, perhaps waiting for a locksmith or talking with a friend?
  • Has someone else called for help or has animal control already arrived?
dog sitting inside the car
Image Credit: Piqsels

3. If There Is Imminent Danger

To determine if the dog is in danger of significant danger or even death, you’ll need to look for signs of heat stroke. These include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Collapse

If the dog seems to be suffering from any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately and inform them of the situation, your location, information about the vehicle and dog, and the dog’s signs.

It is recommended to take photos of everything at the scene or have someone else nearby take photos and videos as you focus on speaking with emergency services and the pet in danger.

4. If You Have Some Time

The pet may show early signs of heat stress. If they are panting but active or relaxed inside the vehicle, then you should have a few minutes to take additional steps and help save the pup.

  • Look for the owner: Get some help and ask them to go and look for the owner while you monitor the dog. Nearby shops may be able to put out a tannoy call to help locate the owner.
  • Call for help: Contact animal control services or law enforcement’s non-emergency number to inform them of the situation.
  • Gather Information: Take photos or videos of the vehicle, its license place, and the dog inside. Sending a picture of the dog or car and your location to a friend gives you a timestamp.
  • Recruit witnesses: Having others on the scene can provide help and support
  • Monitor the dog: Keep an eye on the dog to watch for signs that their condition is worsening if you need to take further action to prevent injury.
Dog in a car with seat belt restraint gear
Image By: Andrey_Popov, Shutterstock

divider-dog paw

What Not To Do

When deciding whether it is necessary to rescue a dog who may be suffering from heat stroke, you should also consider what not to do.

  • Break a window before checking to see if a door is unlocked
  • Reach through a rolled down window (you don’t know the dog’s temperament)
  • Get into a verbal or physical altercation

Caring for The Dog After Rescue

Once the dog is removed from the parked car, you’ll need to provide some first aid for heat stroke. If animal control or EMS services are on-site, they will be able to take over and get the dog to a vet for more urgent care.

First, be sure to have a way to restrain the dog and keep them from running off, especially if you are in a parking lot where cars will be driving by. There may be a leash for them inside the vehicle, or you can fashion something that will suffice for the few minutes you are waiting for emergency care

Then, get the dog to a shaded area or even inside a store or other building where it’s cool if a manager will allow it. Poor cool water over the dog slowly to help bring their body temperature down. Do not use cold water since it can cause shock, and don’t place wet towels over them as it can trap body heat and worsen their condition. If the dog is interested in drinking water, allow them to drink in small amounts.

sick dog examine by vet
Image By: IgorAleks, Shutterstock

Good Samaritan Laws

Many states have now passed laws making it illegal to leave a dog in a parked car alone. Some states have also passed laws protecting the Good Samaritans who rescue pets in hot cars. As with most rules, stipulations state what steps should be taken for the Good Samaritan law to apply.

For example, in Arizona, a Good Samaritan must notify law enforcement, medical responder, or animal control of the situation and prove they’ve already checked for unlocked doors before they are protected from legal liability for destroying a vehicle’s window. In Colorado, a Good Samaritan must also make a reasonable effort to locate the vehicle’s owner.


Final Thoughts

We hope that you never come across a dog left in a parked vehicle that is suffering. However, if you do, you now know some of the steps you could take to help protect them as well as yourself. Remember that the laws regarding pets left in vehicles and the Good Samaritans rescuing them are different in every state, and understanding the specific laws governing your region is essential, ideally leave it to the professionals if time allows.

Featured Image Credit: Christine Bird, Shutterstock

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