Helping A Dog That’s Locked in a Hot Car

We had a record hot summer in 2010, with many days in the 90’s and heat indexes in the 100’s. It doesn’t even take a day that hot for temperatures inside a parked car to spike. The interior of a car can heat up 40 degrees in an hour, according to a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine. If you had seen a dog left in a car on a hot day, would you have known what to do?

Dogs regulate their body temperature by panting and through the pads on the bottom of their feet. If a dog’s core body temperature rises above 108 degrees for a sustained period of time, a dog can die. Regulating body temperature is especially hard for older dogs. When a dog’s body temperature rises into the danger range, the platelets and neurons in the brain can be damaged, resulting in bleeding or seizures. Heatstroke kills cells lining the intestinal tract, leading to severe diarrhea, and affecting the blood’s ability to clot.  Dogs suffering heatstroke will exhibit restlessness, heavy panting, a dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting and weakness (especially in the hind legs.)

What should you do if you see a dog locked in a car on a hot day and you believe he is in imminent danger of dying?  Here are some steps to take:

  1. Write down the make and model of the car, the license plate and a description of the dog. If you are at a mall or shopping center, see if you can track down security and have them page the owner of the car on the PA system. Remember, time is of the essence – every minute that passes makes the car hotter. If you are not immediately successful, call the police department or local animal control.
  2. If officials don’t respond fast enough and you want to break into the vehicle, remember that you can be prosecuted. It is illegal for a private citizen to break into a vehicle to rescue a dog even if its health or safety is at risk. There is no federal law that prohibits locking a dog in an unattended car. However, there are anti-cruelty laws that were created to prevent the needless suffering of animals. Leaving a dog confined in a car on a hot day can certainly be construed as cruel. So if you are prepared to face the possible consequences…
  • Ask people nearby to be witnesses.
  • Document the rescue with a cell phone or video camera.
  • Break a window and remove the dog.
  • Perform first aid. When a dog is suffering from heatstroke, his body temperature must be lowered as quickly as possible. The best way is to move him into the shade and soak him down with cool (not cold) water from the nearest spigot. Leave a note on the car for the owner(s) and get the dog to a vet.

About yelodoggie

C.A.Wulff is an author, artist and animal advocate. She has been involved in pet rescue for over twenty-five years. She has written two books about her true-life adventures living with an ever-changing house full of pets: Born Without a Tail, and Circling the Waggins, and a guide to animal advocacy using the Internet as a tool: How to Change the World in 30 Seconds". Wulff also writes a pet column and book review column for the Examiner, and is a contributing editor for She attributes her love of animals to having been raised by Wulffs.
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8 Responses to Helping A Dog That’s Locked in a Hot Car

  1. lacithedog says:

    I just saw a dog locked in a car in Philadelphia on 14 July 2011 at 10AM on South 18th Street between Delancey and Pine and the outside temperature was 78 degrees. I heard a dog a dog barking and it sounded as if it were coming from a car. The dog also sounded as if it were in distress. I went to find where the barking was coming from and found it was a dog in a car with the windows up.

    I took out a piece of paper and wrote a note that “Dogs Die in Locked Cars!–Leave a window open!” As I was getting ready to put the note on the front windshield a short, thin, blonde woman came out and told me it was her car. It was a silver grey SUV with NJ licence plates that proclaim she was a friend of animals!

    The person said that she was a professional dog walker. I said that makes it worse since she should know better than to leave a dog in a car with the windows closed (as this post points out). She pointed out that the window was cracked, but the crack was less than a centimetre in width and hardly noticable until she pointed it out. She claimed that she had only been gone for 3 minutes to which I said that was BS since I walked down the street and didn’t see her leave the car. Additionally, it took at least two minutes to locate the dog and write my note.

    I said that I would tell anyone I could that she left a dog in a car with the windows closed in summer and advise them not to use her services. She replied that her name was Mary Duty. Although, I can’t find a record of her name.

    I would like to point out that Studies say that:

    • Even on seemingly mild days, an enclosed car can be deadly. A Stanford University study, when it was 72 degrees outside, a car’s internal temperature climbed to 116 degrees within one hour.

    • Enclosed cars heat up quickly. In a study by San Francisco State University, when it was 80 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car rose to 99 degrees in 10 minutes and 109 degrees in 20 minutes.


  2. David says:

    What do you do when a cop tries to make you lock your dogs in your vehicle?

    I’m a truck driver. On July 13, 2011, I parked at a truck stop in Dallas TX. The temperature was over 110 degrees, and there was a heat advisory. I left my truck’s engine running so the AC would keep the truck cool. As I was getting ready to go in the truck stop, a Dallas City Marshall pulled in front of my truck and tried to make me shut the engine off. I told him I had my dogs with me and that they could die from the heat. His EXACT word were “It doesn’t matter” before he wrote me a $500 ticket for idling. I’ve contacted the City Marshall’s office, the Dallas court house, the Dallas SPCA, Dallas TV news stations, the Dallas Mayor’s office, and the TX Governor’s office about this. The Marshall’s office said there’s nothing they could do about it. The court house supervisor said it’s against the law to idle a truck, so even though I had my dogs with me, the ticket stands and there’s nothing they can do to stop the police from writing these tickets. The Dallas SPCA said they have no authority over law enforcement, so there’s nothing they can do about it. Dallas news stations are either too afraid of making waves, or don’t feel animal cruelty is ‘news worthy’. The Mayor and Governor will not reply to me about this issue.

    So now what? How is someone supposed to protect their animals against animal cruelty, when it’s the ones that are supposed to be helping protect animals that are trying to create a situation where an animal is in danger, and none of the city officials will get involved?


    • Scientist says:

      NOx emissions from idling vehicles contribute to air quality hazards, particularly on hot stagnant days. The law in Dallas might not make sense for someone who chose to cart around their dog but it makes sense from an atmospheric chemistry and health perspective. You’re in the wrong here.


      • Possmguts says:

        Go hug a tree and forget a living creature right? You’re not a very smart person. Do you realize how many hours and days and miles a driver is away from home? Your global warming BS has been de-bunked a million times over already.


    • Dudeman says:

      Don’t take your dogs with you when it’s too hot to leave them in a non-running vehicle.


  3. KG says:

    The only thing missing here is a warning that the dog might want to protect his space and bite you !


    • Matt says:

      Yes, this is definitely needed!
      Especially if the dog is in distress, act quickly BUT BE CAREFUL.
      A panicking dog would easily lash out at their owners by mistake. This doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is aggressive so please don’t immediately jump to that conclusion.


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