Car dangers on warm days

Border Collie sat in car

Is it dangerous to leave your dog in a hot car?

Yes. Never leave your dog in a parked car on a warm day. Dogs mainly control their body temperature by panting. When a dog is very hot, panting isn’t enough to stop them from overheating. In warm weather, the temperature inside a parked car can climb rapidly and will be much higher than outside of the vehicle. Dogs left alone in a car on a hot day can quickly become dehydrated, develop heatstroke or even die.

How long can I safely leave my dog in a car on a warm day?

We would not recommend that you leave your dog unattended on a warm day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Heatstroke can happen quickly and can be fatal.

If I park in the shade, or leave a window open, can I leave my dog in a car on a warm day?

No. The temperature in your car can still rise to dangerous levels, even if you leave the window open, park in the shade or put a sunshade on your window.

If I leave the dog a bowl of water, is it OK to leave a dog in a car on a warm day?

No. Heatstroke can still happen if your dog has access to water.

What are the signs a dog has heatstroke or is in distress?

Signs of heatstroke can progress quickly and can include:

  • Heavy panting, even when not exercising
  • Breathing problems, particularly in flat-faced dogs
  • Tiredness
  • Stiffness or an unwillingness to move
  • Dribbling
  • Confusion
  • Being sick, can be bloody
  • Upset stomach, can be bloody
  • Not walking in a straight line
  • Collapse
  • Fitting

If you think your dog may have heatstroke it is vital that you immediately contact your vet while cooling them down. Getting early advice and treatment is essential to saving a dog’s life. Research has found that in the UK, although 1 in 7 dogs that are taken to vets with heatstroke die, 98% that are seen early with mild signs are likely to survive.

Find out more about heatstroke, whether your dog is at increased risk, how to prevent it and when it's most likely to occur.

What should I do if I see a dog trapped in a hot car?

  • Even if the dog appears well, they can deteriorate quickly, so take action immediately
  • Make an assessment on the urgency of the situation. If the dog is distressed, or you are concerned that it could soon become distressed, dial 999 and ask for the police

If the dog is not yet distressed

  • If the car is parked at a supermarket, shopping centre or an event, see if you can find someone to stay with the dog while you look for someone to make an announcement on the tannoy. Don’t forget that you will need:
    • the car type and colour
    • registration number
    • rough location
  • Call the RSPCA's 24-hour cruelty line for further advice on 0300 123 4999
  • If you are unable to reach the owner, or if you are concerned about the dog at any point, dial 999

Can I legally break a car window to save the dog?

If the police are unable to attend and the dog is in distress, some people may begin to think about breaking a window to rescue the dog. Be aware that this may be classed as criminal damage and you may need to defend your actions in court.

The law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to the damage if they knew the circumstances (section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971).

Documenting your actions if trying to rescue a dog from a hot car

If you think the dog is in danger dial 999 and speak to the police first and ask for their advice. If it is necessary for you to rescue the dog, document your actions as best as possible, in case you need to defend yourself in court:

  • Take photos; or better still, a video of the dog in the car
  • Take the names and telephone numbers of any witnesses
  • Ask someone to video you breaking into the car on their mobile phone and ask them to send it to you afterwards
  • Remain on the phone to the police while giving a running commentary so that it is recorded
  • As soon as you are home, write a detailed report to document what happened

Helping a dog that’s been in a hot car

Any dog with heatstroke should be seen by a vet, particularly if they are very unwell or unconscious. If you don’t know where your closest vet is, you can find a vet near you here. It is important that you start to cool your dog as soon as possible - this can make a big difference to whether they survive.

Tips on how to help a dog with heatstroke:

  • Stop them exercising, move them out of the heat and into the shade
  • Call a vet for advice
  • Lay them down on a cool floor
  • Offer them small amounts of water to drink
  • Carefully pour water over the dog’s body, or sponge them if water is limited. Particularly focus on their neck, tummy and inner thighs. Ideally continue to do this until their breathing returns to normal. Make sure the dog doesn’t inhale any water while you’re trying to cool them down
  • Fan them with cool air or put them in an air-conditioned room or car if possible. The impact of fanning them, or putting them somewhere that’s air-conditioned, will be greatest if they’re already wet

It was previously thought that rapidly cooling an affected dog could cause them to go into shock. This advice is now being questioned, so always speak to your vet who can guide you through how best to help your dog.

Tips on travelling in the car on a warm day

  • Consider the weather and your journey in advance, especially if you don't have air conditioning in your vehicle. Think about whether the journey is absolutely necessary for your dog
  • Keep the air conditioning on or drive with the windows open
  • Make sure your dog has plenty of space and isn't squashed or forced to sit in direct sunlight
  • Use sun shades on your windows: even in an air conditioned vehicle a dog can become too hot if in full sun
  • Take plenty of stops with lots of water available to drink
  • Take cool water in a Thermos rather than a plastic bottle so it stays cold rather than being lukewarm. Ice cubes are helpful in a thermos for cooling too
  • Be aware of the signs of overheating in dogs, as detailed above

Tips on travelling on public transport on a warm day

  • If possible, avoid travelling on a warm day. If essential, then aim to travel during cooler times of the day
  • Always carry fresh water and a bowl. If there are any delays or malfunctions with air conditioning, a cooling drink for your dog will be essential
  • Carry a small battery-operated fan to keep your dog cool
  • If possible check that the public transport you intend to use is air conditioned

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We're not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information.

Find a vet near you

If you're looking for a vet practice near you why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.