dogs in hot cars: facts, risks, and how to help

Dogs In Hot Cars | Poodle dog siting in hot car waiting for owner
Posted by fetch! blog editors on Aug 08 2014

Every year, countless dogs die in hot cars on summer days. Sometimes it’s not even that hot outside. Many times the window is cracked and the car is parked in the shade.

The startling truth is that even in seemingly safe conditions the temperature inside your car can soar to life-threatening heights in just ten minutes – about the time it takes to run into the post office or the coffee shop or the pet store.

How hot does it get in a parked car?

Even on a relatively mild day, your car can turn into an oven with frightening speed... a speed often underestimated by pet parents.

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vehicle temperature infographic

Watch as Veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward stays in a parked car on a summer day to show how dangerous it is to leave a pet inside a car. The car reaches 117 degrees within 30 minutes with all four windows opened 1 to 2 inches.

Dogs in hot cars facts

  • Even in the shade, the temperature in a car can quickly soar to dangerous levels.
  • Leaving the windows open has little effect on how hot it is inside the car.
  • Furthermore, dogs don't sweat the same way we do. Instead, they depend on panting to take in cool air and regulate their temperature. If they only have hot air to breathe, their temperature increases, putting them at risk of heat stroke.
  • That means on an 85ºF day, dogs can be at high risk of succumbing to heatstroke in less than 15 minutes. A pet parent can unknowingly do lasting harm to their four-legged friend in the time it takes them to run "a quick errand."

Heat stroke in dogs 

Heat stroke (or hyperthermia) is a condition caused by overheating in your pet. Early in heat stroke, symptoms may be easy to miss. Appearing distressed, panting, and acting restless are common signs, but you may just chalk them up to the excitement of the day. As heat stroke progresses, you may see your pet become unsteady on his feet. His gum color may also change from pink to blue or purple.

Heat stroke is an emergency which requires immediate veterinary care. It is treated with intravenous fluids and other supportive treatments, including possible plasma transfusions and treatments for kidney failure and gastrointestinal damage. Despite aggressive treatment, there is still a 50% mortality rate in patients who present with severe heat stroke, so remember that prevention is key to keep our furry friends safe from this danger.

signs of heatstroke in dogs inforgraphic

dog body temperature infographic

at risk dog inforgraphic

What to do if you see a dog trapped in a hot car

Take action! Every minute counts, so if you see a dog left in a hot car, notify a store employee to have the owner paged or call your local law enforcement agency or animal control immediately.

In the heat of the moment, you may also wonder if it is legal to break a car window to rescue a dog from a hot car. The laws on this are a bit unclear.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a majority of the states have some kind of “hot car” law, but they can vary widely in interpretation. Some states allow for law enforcement, first responders, or animal control officers to enter a vehicle, while other states have a “Good Samaritan” law that protects you from legal recourse if you take it upon yourself to free an animal from an unattended vehicle under certain circumstances.

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