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

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 07, 2021
3 min read

Even if it’s relatively cool outside, car temperatures can reach dangerous levels. So, a dog left in a hot car could be in danger even if it is not very warm out. Exposure to these high temperatures can cause organ damage and death in animals.

Hundreds of dogs die every year after being left in a hot car. Plus, dogs can get stolen when left in cars. It’s usually best to leave your dog at home instead of taking them in the car whenever possible.

Check with nearby businesses 

If you see a dog in a hot car near shops or offices, write down the car’s information including the make, model, and license plate number. Then, go door to door to see if you can locate the owner. Some people simply don’t know just how dangerous it is to leave their dog in the car on a hot day. Once you tell them, they will likely return to their car to help their furry friend.

Call a non-emergency number

If you can’t find the owner, call your local non-emergency police number or animal control for help with the pet.

Wait by the car 

Monitor the dog. If they seem to be in distress before the proper authorities arrive, you may want to rescue the dog yourself. Whether or not you can do this without penalties depends on your local laws and this should be done as a last resort.

Know your local laws 

Of American states, 31 have laws that actually make it illegal to leave your pet locked in a car in unsafe conditions.

Some states and cities have laws that allow you to rescue a dog trapped in a hot car without any legal penalty for breaking into someone else’s car. Currently, 14 states have laws that allow anyone to rescue an animal trapped in a car in unsafe conditions. Other states have laws that permit official personnel like firefighters, police officers, and animal control officers to do so.

Depending on local laws, you may have to follow a series of steps before you break into a car to rescue the animal, including calling 911 first or ensuring the car is locked before breaking in. You may also be required to leave a note letting the owner know the location of the animal, so do your research before breaking into someone's car.

Raise awareness 

Many people simply aren’t aware of the dangers of leaving a dog in a hot car. You can raise awareness in your community by:

  • Asking local business owners to post signs asking customers not to leave their dogs in the car.
  • Posting informational flyers in your community about the dangers of leaving your dog in the car.
  • Advocating for laws to prevent people from leaving dogs in cars if your area doesn’t already have one.

Even when it might be what you consider to be a cool day, your car can still reach dangerous temperatures. If it’s in the low 70s, after just one hour your car may be as warm as 116 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is 80 degrees out, your car can reach nearly 100 degrees in just 10 minutes.

In general, temperatures inside of a car can be as much as 40 degrees more than the temperature outside. Rolling down the window can help with air flow, but doesn’t help much to lower temperatures inside of a car.

Signs of heat stress in dogs include:

  • More panting than usual.
  • Fast pulse.
  • Staggering or unsteadiness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dark red or purple color on the tongue.

If you think your dog or a dog you have rescued has heat stress, start by sprinkling cold water on them. Don’t plunge them into a cold bath because it might cause their temperature to drop too quickly. Offer cold water to drink, and use cold, wet towels on the back of the dog's neck, groin, and legs. Wet their ears and paws as well.

Next, take the pet to a veterinarian. If your regular vet is not available, try an emergency pet hospital.