Dogs In Hot Cars

By: Lisa Harper

With the recent spate of warm weather not set to end, we thought it was important to reiterate the dangers of leaving dogs in hot cars. 

When the weather is good, there is nothing better than getting out and about with your four-legged friend. However, it is important to make sure you never leave your dog in the car in hot conditions, even if it only for a couple of minutes.

That's because, in hot weather, the temperature inside a car can rise rapidly. For example, when the outdoor temperature is 22°C, the car temperature can rise to 47°C within an hour. Therefore, leaving your dog in a car can result in rapid overheating, and if a dog's internal temperature exceeds 41°C, it can prove fatal.

Dogs control their temperature through panting, however, in extreme temperatures, this isn’t enough to stop them from overheating. The hot conditions of a car can quickly cause your dog to become dehydrated, get heatstroke or even die.

This means in hot weather, there is no safe option when it comes to leaving a dog in the car, even if you park in the shade, use sunshades or leave your dog with access to water. 

Signs a dog has heatstroke

It is important you are aware of the common signs of heatstroke in dogs so you can take appropriate action. Common symptoms include:

- Heavy panting

- Dribbling

- Drowsiness

- Vomiting/diarrhoea

- Weakness

- Collapse

It's not just our own dogs we need to look for though, it is important to take action whenever you see a dog in a hot car.

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

If you see a dog in a hot car, you should take immediate action. Dogs can deteriorate rapidly with heatstroke, so can appear ok one minute but quite quickly show signs of distress.  Which is why even if the dog appears to be comfortable, you should act as you do not know how long it has already been in the car or how much longer it will be left for. 

If the dog appears distressed or shows signs of heatstroke: 

Dial 999 and ask for the police. Give them as much detail as possible and follow any actions they give you.

Many people call the RSPCA helpline first, but in cases where the dog is already showing symptoms, they are unlikely to be able to help quickly enough or have the authority to act, so it is best to just phone 999.

If the dog is showing no signs of distress: 

In a supermarket/shopping centre car park – Make a note of the car type, colour, registration number and rough location. Find a staff member and ask them to make a tannoy announcement to get the owner to return to their vehicle. 

In a small carpark – Do the same but try and find a parking attendant and let them know. If there is no parking attendant try and ascertain whether anyone else in the car park knows the owner. 

In all cases, if you can’t track down the owner, you should call the RSPCA 24-hour cruelty line on 0300 123 4999 and get advice on what to do. Or, if you are worried about the dog, or its condition worsens you should call 999 to get more immediate help.

Is it against the law to break someone’s window to free a distressed dog?

If the police are unable to attend and the dog is in danger, some people believe that it is acceptable to break the car window.

However, unfortunately, it is not that simple. Even if you are acting in the dogs best interests, smashing a window can be classed as criminal damage and lead to you having to defend your actions in court. 

Criminal Damage Act 1971 section 5 (2)(a) states you:

“have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to damage if they knew the circumstances.”

Therefore it is always advisable to call the police to seek advice before taking action. If it is necessary to rescue the dog from the car, you should document your actions in case you need to defend your actions further down the line. If possible:

- Take photos or get video evidence of the dog in the car

- Take down the names and numbers of any eyewitnesses

- Try and get someone to video you breaking into the vehicle and get them to send you the video as evidence

- Stay on the phone to the police so you can give them a running commentary

- Write a report of the event as soon as you can after the event

Is it illegal to leave a dog in a hot car in the UK?

In the UK it is not actually illegal to leave a dog in the car, even in hot weather. However, if the dog became ill or died as a result of your actions you could be charged with animal cruelty. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, drivers can be jailed for six months and slapped with an unlimited fine.

How to help a dog that has overheated in a car

When cooling a dog suffering overheating or heatstroke, it is important not to cool them down too quickly, which could send them into shock. Instead, follow these top tips:

-    Move the dog out of the heat and into a shady area

-    If possible lay them on a cool surface

-    Offer small drinks of room temperature water to drink and avoid giving icy water if possible

-    Fan them with cool air

-    Pour room temperature water onto the dog or sponge them down paying attention to the neck, tummy and inner thigh areas

-    Call a vet for advice

If the dog is very distressed or unconscious, it will need to be seen by a vet as soon as possible. When transporting the dog, put the air conditioning on or travel with a window down, so it benefits from the cool breeze.

For more information on how to keep your dog safe in the hot weather consult your vet. 

Please note we record all our calls to ensure that we give you the service you deserve.

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