Seasonal Care

The Danger of Leaving a Dog Alone in a Car

The Danger of Leaving a Dog Alone in a Car

You'd never intentionally put your dog's life at risk. But when you run to the store to get one thing and decide to pick up a few more and the lines are very long...

or when you need to collect someone at the airport and the plane is delayed... or when the gang goes on summer vacation and stops for a meal and bathroom breaks, you could be putting your four-legged family member in jeopardy.

Cars Heat Up Quickly

Whatever the temperature outside, parked cars heat up quickly in the sun. Their metal frames work like a solar collector to raise the temperature and turn the interior into a giant oven.

Even when you think it's cool enough outside, don't leave your dog alone in an enclosed car. A parked car in the shade also can get very hot very quickly. And leaving a window open a crack doesn't help.

According to research from San Francisco State University, when the outside air temperature is a mild 70 degrees, within 10 minutes the temperature inside a parked car will rise to 89 degrees. After 40 minutes, it shoots up to 108 degrees and it's likely the dog will die of heat stroke.

When it's 90 degrees out, just 10 minutes in a car can be fatal to a dog.

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time

Elapsed Time
Outside Air Temperature (F)
70 72 80 85 90 95
0 minutes 70 72 80 85 90 95
10 minutes 89 94 99 104 109 114
20 minutes 99 104 109 114 119 124
30 minutes 104 109 114 119 124 129
40 minutes 108 113 118 123 128 133
50 minutes 111 116 121 126 131 136
60 minutes 113 118 123 128 133 138
> 1 hour 115 120 125 130 135 140

Courtesy Jan Null, CCM; Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University

Signs of Heat Stroke

A dog's normal body temperature is in the 101-102.5 degree range. Dogs and cats trapped in cars with rising heat begin to pant in an attempt to cool off. Unfortunately, their bodies aren't able to do so fast enough. It's likely that a dog will die of heat stroke if it's not rescued before its temperature reaches 107-108 degrees.

The progressively heartbreaking symptoms of heat stroke are excessive panting, high body temperature, darkened tongue and gums, dizziness, vomiting, collapse, multiple organ failure and death.

An animal rescued from a heated car should be brought to a veterinarian immediately. On the way, offer a small amount of water. You can also apply cool, wet towels to a pet's fur but never immerse the body in cold water or surround it in ice.

Can You Save an Overheated Dog?

If the dog's exposure to high temperatures was limited and you can get her to a veterinarian's office quickly, it's possible she can be helped.

To that end, the dog will be cooled down and given fluids, supportive care and receive professional supervision.

If You See a Dog Trapped In a Hot Car

Call the authorities immediately if you notice a dog that appears to be in distress or who has been left alone in a car for more than a few minutes when it's hot outside. Your vigilance can make the difference between an animal's life and death.

Illegal in Many States

In nearly 20 states leaving an animal in a confined vehicle when it endangers the animal's life is a crime. Contact your state to see if a law exists already.

Your Summer Travels

Do you have a road trip coming up? If you intend to bring your pet, make sure that he is not left alone in the car. Have someone keep him company when you stop. Offer your pet cool water and give him bathroom breaks away from traffic. Treating him thoughtfully will keep him safe and he will remain a good companion for all your travels ahead.