Dogs in Hot Cars


Summer is here and we’d like to remind everyone to NEVER leave anyone, especially children and animals, in a closed, parked vehicle.

Sadly, last year alone, 30 children died of heat stroke in the US; all preventable deaths. It doesn’t have to be warm outside for a car to become dangerously hot inside.

An independent study published in Pediatrics (2005) showed that the interior temperature of vehicles parked in outside temperatures ranging from 72 to 96°F rose steadily as time increased.

Elapsed time Temperature rise inside vehicle
10 minutes 19°F
20 minutes 29°F
30 minutes 34°F
60 minutes 43°F
1 to 2 hours 5-50°F


What does this mean? It means on an 80°F day, the temperature in the car can rise to 99°F in just 10 minutes. Ten minutes after that, it will be 109°F!

Cracking the windows does not help.

Dogs regulate their temperature by panting, expelling heat out. If the dog cannot expel the heat fast enough, the body temperature rises. At 104°F, a dog can no longer cope with reducing body heat and the oxygen demand goes up to where the dog’s temperature continues to rise. At 108°F, the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and intestinal tracts begin breaking down, and the damage can progress at an alarming rate.

Rapid breathing, dry mouth and nose, rapid heart rate, and gums that become a dull, greyish-pink, or red, are all early stages of heat stroke. And, these symptoms can be followed in minutes by collapse, seizures, coma and death. See below for signs of heat stroke and learn more at

“When you do an autopsy on a dog that died this way [in a hot car], the organs are soupy.”
Shawn Messonnier, Veterinarian – Plano, Texas


Why can’t dogs handle heat?

Unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat. To cool down, they pant — they take quick, shallow breaths through open-mouths, often with their tongues sticking out. This helps to evaporate water from the moist lining of the oral cavity, cooling the animal. However, panting can actually add to the heat in a parked car and speed up overheating. To learn more about Thermoregulation and how dogs are ill equipped to handle the heat inside a parked car, please visit My Dog is Cool.


What To Do If You See A Pet Left In A Hot Car

(Source: My Dog is Cool – Help! I See a Dog In a Hot Car)

  1. Take down the car’s make, model, license-plate number and its specific location. Note a description and condition of the dog(s). Quickly use your smart phone or camera to film the situation, especially if any signs of distress are observed (see below). Also note the time and outside temperature if you have access to that information.
  2. If the owner can’t be found, call the non-emergency number of the local police or animal control and wait by the car for them to arrive. If you don’t have the local numbers, call 911. Along with getting help, this will create a “record” of the event (311 can also route you to the best agency to help). Some locations, such as malls, amusement parks or office buildings, will have on-site security that may be able to help take action.
  3. If there are businesses nearby, ask their managers or security guards to make announcements using the vehicle’s make/model to locate the dog’s guardian.
  4. Return to the vehicle to monitor the dog’s condition and help responding authorities locate the vehicle.
  5. If you need to take immediate action to save the dog’s life and remove the animal from the car, make sure you’ve gathered as much evidence of the situation and dog’s condition as you can, including involving near-by witnesses. Remember this is a last resort if it looks like the animal won’t live until officers arrive – even if you save the animal, you can still be charged with a crime and face repercussions.

If your town doesn’t have a law prohibiting leaving pets in parked cars, contact your local representatives or attend a town hall meeting to start lobbying for one. Learn more at HSUS: What to Do If You See a Pet in a Hot Car.

Minutes can be the difference between life or death.


Signs an animal is in heat-related distress:

  • Anxiety
  • Wide eyes
  • Fervent barking as if in distress
  • Intense scratching or digging at windows or doors trying to escape
  • Excessive panting with exaggerated long tongue
  • Extreme drooling, salivating
  • Change in color of the gums (blueish purple, bright red or pale from lack of oxygen)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Labored or trouble breathing
  • Disorientation, stumbling or poor coordination
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Coma

Sidenote from My Dog is Cool: If a dog does become overwhelmed by heatstroke, it is not advised to submerge the entire dog in water or pour ice-cold water over the dog as the different temperatures are too much to regulate quickly (use tepid or cool water). Additionally, long-haired dogs can become waterlogged causing the fur to hold in the heat and not let it escape. As you pour water over a dog, wipe off the excess with your hand, helping to remove the heat as well and not let the dog’s fur trap in the heat.


p.s. No, we do not encourage you to break every car window with a dog/cat/child inside. This is our most-shared poster — shared more than 110K times thanks to Rob Ruckus​ of Bad Ink on A&E​ — and the copy was meant to grab your attention, not to incite mass window smashing. 🙂 Always use common sense & proper channels first: find the owner, notify the store/business and call the police. In some cases, you can be arrested for damage to property.

Currently, only 16 states (AZ, CA, IL, ME, MD, MN, NC, NV, NH, NJ, NY, ND, RI, SD, VT, and WV) have statutes that specifically prohibit leaving an animal in confined vehicle. While not all states have laws that address animals in parked vehicles, numerous local ordinances prohibit this and consider leaving an animal in an enclosed car to be animal cruelty. (Source: Michigan State University, Animal Legal & Historical Center)

Learn your local laws and act accordingly.