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Dogs die in hot cars - Why you should never leave your dog in the car unattended

Dogs die in hot cars - Why you should never leave your dog in the car unattended

Health & Safety

All dog owners within the UK are surely aware of the RSPCA’s “Dogs Die in Hot Cars” awareness campaign, that runs every year to highlight the risks of leaving dogs closed in cars during the warmer months of the year. Nevertheless, every year, the RSPCA receives around 6,000 calls from concerned members of the public who find dogs left languishing inside of stuffy cars in the heat, and every year a significant number of dogs actually die from heatstroke or other complications as a direct result of being closed into a vehicle that rapidly overheats.

As the summer months are now upon us and the weather is heating up, it is more important than ever to be aware of the risks of leaving your dog in the car, and to understand the reasons behind why every year, dogs die in hot cars; and how to prevent it.

Why is leaving your dog in the car a problem?

When the weather is hot outside, the temperature in a closed parked car is even hotter. Even when the outside temperature is just 20 degrees Celsius, the temperature inside of a closed car in the sun can rise to 45 degrees Celsius or even more in a matter of minutes.

Dogs regulate their body temperatures by panting, and in a small enclosed space such as a car, a panting dog will simply not be able to get enough fresh air to keep their body temperature at a safe level.

Dogs can become dangerously overheated inside of a vehicle (or a shed or any other enclosed space) within just a few minutes, potentially leading to dehydration, sunstroke, and even death.

Dogs that are overweight, have a thick, heavy coat or have a squashed up face and brachycephalic muzzle will overheat faster than other dogs, but no dog is immune to the high risk of heatstroke when left in an overheating car.

Heatstroke in dogs

The progression of heatstroke in dogs begins with heavy panting, excessive salivation and a raised pulse rate, and quickly progresses to lethargy, fainting or collapse and unconsciousness, eventually resulting in death if untreated.

If you find that your dog or another dog is suffering from heatstroke, your immediate course of action should be to remove your dog to a cooler area and work on reducing their body temperature by offering water to drink and bathing them in cool but not cold water. You should also contact your vet for further advice, and take your dog to the vet immediately if they have passed out, become sick or lost control of their bowels or bladder, or do not begin to cool down and recover within a short space of time.

How long can I leave my dog unattended in the car for on a sunny day?

There is a really simple answer to this question, and that answer is “no time at all.” It is not safe to leave your dog unattended within a car for even a couple of minutes while you pop to a shop or run an errand. The temperature within a closed car without air conditioning will climb rapidly, even if parked in the shade, and heatstroke can occur within just a few minutes in this environment.

Plus, even if you only plan to be gone for a minute or two, what would happen if your errand took longer than expected, you were unable to return promptly, or something happened to you and no one was aware that your dog was locked in the car alone?

It’s simply not worth the risk.

Is it ok to leave my dog in the car with a window open?

Many dog owners assume that they can counteract the onset of heatstroke and leave their dog in the car safely by leaving a window partially open or providing a bowl of water. This is not the case. An open window will not provide enough cooling or ventilation to keep the car cool for your dog, and a bowl of water may help to stave off the early stages of dehydration but it will do nothing to prevent heatstroke.

Put simply, open windows, bowls of water, sunshades and other means of attempting to keep your dog and your car cool will not prevent the onset of heatstroke, or make your car any safer for your dog to be left alone in.

What to do if you see a dog closed inside of a car

Hopefully by now all dog owners will understand why it is not appropriate to leave their own dogs unattended within a car, but what should you do if you spot a dog locked in an unattended car in hot weather?

  • Your first course of action should be to try to find the owner of the car and the dog. If the car in question is parked at a supermarket or shopping centre, asking them to make a tannoy announcement to contact the owners of the vehicle is the first step to take.
  • If the owners of the car cannot be contacted or do not return to the car quickly, contact the police as an emergency to attend the vehicle.
  • If the police are unable to attend, contact the RSPCA’s cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.
  • Where you stand legally if you break into a car to rescue an overheating dog is something of a grey area; you should not take any action to gain access to the car without first speaking to the police.
  • Try to locate the owners and escalate procedures to have the dog removed from the car via the police and/or RSPCA as soon as you find a dog in a hot car. Even a dog that appears ok upon your arrival can quickly become distressed, and you should begin taking action to have the dog removed from the car as soon as possible to minimise the chances of this happening.

Dogs, hot cars and the law

If a dog suffers or dies as a result of being left in a hot car, their owner or caregiver can be prosecuted for neglect or cruelty under animal welfare laws. Successful prosecution for neglect or cruelty can lead to jail time, fines and being banned from keeping animals in the future.

Don’t leave your dog unattended in a car for any reason; it’s just not worth the risk.