Hundreds of pets are reported to die each year from an entirely preventable situation — being left in a hot car.
Tragically, it’s not difficult to see how it happens. For many pet owners, the everyday hustle and grind often means bringing animals along on errands and leaving them in the car as needed. In the hot months of summer, what feels like even a short period of time in a parked car can cost a pet their life.
Learn what all pet owners need to know about leaving cats and dogs in hot cars.
It doesn't have to be that hot to be dangerous
Ever get in your car and become startled by how sweltering it is compared to the outside air? Thanks to glass windows, surfaces that soak up heat and an enclosed space, it doesn’t take long for parked vehicles to transform into ovens. This is why leaving dogs and cats in hot cars for even a short time can lead to devastating consequences.
In fact, it doesn’t even have to be that hot outside for your car to reach temperatures capable of causing heatstroke in pets. For example, an outdoor temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit can rise to 94 degrees Fahrenheit inside a car after being parked for just 10 minutes. Wait 30 minutes and the car’s heat levels can reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leaving dogs in cars with the windows open: safe or not?
Some pet parents may feel more at ease with leaving animals in hot cars if the windows are cracked down. Nevertheless, the vehicle can still reach extreme temperatures in a short period of time. The perceived air flow from cracked windows is not enough to prevent this.
Leaving the air conditioning running with pets inside the car isn’t a good idea either. The air conditioning system could fail or the A/C could accidentally be turned off by the dog, leaving your pet at risk for heatstroke.
Can I leave my pet in a lighter-colored vehicle?
In recent years, some information has circulated through pet blogs and other sources that leaving pets in lighter-colored vehicles (particularly with light tone interiors) is safer because the color doesn’t get hot as fast. While it’s true that light colors take longer to soak up the heat, it isn’t true that leaving your dog or other pet in a lighter-colored vehicle is safe.
In a comparison of temperatures in dark sedans vs. light sedans, data from Consumer Reports shows that both types of vehicles still reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in under 30 minutes and over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in less than an hour.
Is it illegal to leave your dog in the car?
Leaving a dog, cat or other pet locked inside a hot car isn’t just inhumane — in many places, it’s against the law. As of 2022, 31 states have laws on the books that either prohibit leaving pets in parked cars under dangerous conditions (i.e. hot weather) or provide immunity for citizens who rescue pets under duress in vehicles.
If you live in a state with one of these immunity laws in place, that means you can’t sue someone for breaking into your car to stop your pet from suffering heatstroke.
Potential actions if you see a pet alone in a parked car
When you see a cat or dog locked inside a parked car during summer, it’s important to act quickly. Even if the pet appears to be okay for the time being, heatstroke can set in within minutes. Here’s what you can do:
- Look around you. The owner may be headed back to their vehicle at that moment.
- Call local animal control or 9-1-1.
- Don’t leave the side of the car. Have bystanders run in nearby stores to see if they can find the owner and/or have an announcement made.
- As much as you might want to smash the car window open, it may be best to wait for law enforcement or emergency services to arrive and assist as needed.
Help keep pets safe from the heat all summer
High temperatures can affect pets throughout summer, both inside parked vehicles and out during other routine activities. Fortunately, there are multiple things you can do to help keep dogs and cats safe through the hot months and beyond:
- Follow simple tips to keep the whole family cool this summer.
- Help prevent dehydration in pets by always providing access to clean, fresh water. Bring pet water bottles or pop-up bowls on outings and take frequent breaks.
- Check forecasts before heading out and know when to call trips short or leave pets home.
- Never leave your dog or other pet in a parked car, even if the temperature outside doesn’t feel that hot.
- Help protect the health of dogs and cats further with pet insurance (and encourage friends and family to do the same).
While you’re at it, share this article on social media to alert others about the dangers of pets in hot cars. Heat-related pet accidents can happen when we least expect them — spreading awareness and making safe decisions can help save lives.
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Vehicle temperature source: Inside Car Temperature Calculator.