Golden retriever sitting in the passenger seat of a truck with a young female and male.

The danger of leaving a dog alone in a car

Keep your dog safe by keeping him OUT of an enclosed automobile

You’d never intentionally put your dog’s life at risk. But …

  • When you run to the store to get one thing, decide to pick up a few more, and the lines are long …
  • When you need to collect someone at the airport and the plane is delayed …
  • 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 serious jeopardy.

Cars heat up quickly

Whatever the temperature outside, parked cars heat up quickly in the sun. Their metal frames work like solar collectors 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. Leaving a window open a crack doesn’t help.

According to research from San Francisco State University1, when the outside air temperature is a mild 70 degrees, the temperature inside a parked car will rise to 89 degrees in about 10 minutes. 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 inside a car can be fatal to a dog.

Estimated vehicle interior air temperature versus elapsed time

Table showing air temperatures in a closed vehicle relative to outdoor temperatures

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.

Once in professional care, the dog will be cooled down, given fluids, and provided with supportive care and professional supervision.

Illegal in many states

In many states, leaving an animal in a confined vehicle when it endangers the animal’s life is a crime.2 Contact your state to see if a law exists already.

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. State laws vary in terms of who is allowed to enter a locked vehicle and under what circumstances, so make sure your first act is to call local authorities.3 Your vigilance can make the difference between an animal’s life and death.

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.


  1. McLaren C, Null J, Quinn J. Heat stress from enclosed vehicles: moderate ambient temperatures cause significant temperature rise in enclosed vehicles. Pediatrics. 2005 Jul;116(1):e109-12. doi: 10.1542/peds.2004-2368. PMID: 15995010.
  2. Table of State Laws That Protect Animals Left in Parked Vehicles | Animal Legal and Historical Center.
  3. Acts Against Leaving Dogs Locked in Hot Cars. Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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