Protecting our canine companions: understanding the laws and risks of leaving dogs in hot cars

Happy Jack Russell terrier dog looking out of car window. Trip with a dog

One of the largest animal welfare charities in Scotland, the Scottish SPCA, revealed they get around 1,000 reports of dogs in hot cars every year and have prosecuted irresponsible owners in the past.

Dog owners need to be aware that even if you’re just nipping to the shops for a few minutes, you shouldn’t take the chance of leaving your loved pet in a hot car, as it only takes a dog a few minutes to overheat in a car.

When in direct sunlight, temperatures can rise at an alarming rate, and keeping windows open doesn’t help as much as some believe.

An outside temperature of just 22°C can easily equate to 44°C in a car.

It takes only a short time for dogs to develop heatstroke or have a cardiac arrest if they overheat.

Here are the laws surrounding dogs in cars.

Is it against the law to leave a dog in a hot car?

To leave a dog in a hot car isn’t illegal; however, owners are legally responsible for their pet’s health and welfare.

If the owner’s actions pose a serious risk to their pet’s safety and it can be proved, then the owner may be prosecuted.

What to do if you see a dog in a car on a warm day

Animal charity The RSPCA advises that you should call 999 at once if your dog is showing any signs of heatstroke.

They explain: “If it’s an emergency, we may not be able to get to you – and the dog – quickly enough. And as we have no powers of entry, we’d need to ask the police to help us rescue the dog. Don’t worry – the police will soon let us know if the dog needs our help.”

Can I break a window to help a dog?

It should be an absolute last resort to break a window, as it could be classified as criminal damage.

If you think there is no other choice, the RSPCA recommends that you make sure to notify the police of what you intend to do.

You should also take pictures and videos of the dog and the contact information of any witnesses.

What if the dog looks ok?

On the advice of the RSPCA, if the dog doesn’t seem in distress, you can leave them in the car but still act to ensure the dog stays healthy. 

You can work out how long the dog is likely to have been in the car if there’s a ‘pay and display’ parking ticket. You should make a note of the registration so you can inform the police if you think the dog has been put in danger.

Ask staff to make a tannoy announcement asking the person to return to their car if you’re at an event or if there is an obvious venue or shop nearby.

You can also stay with the dog, or ask somebody else to, to monitor its condition.

What are the signs of heatstroke in dogs?

Heavy panting, breathing issues, excessive drooling, lethargy, loss of coordination, collapsing, and vomiting are all signs of heatstroke in dogs.

What should I do after the dog is rescued?

According to the RSPCA, you should immediately move the dog to a shaded area and pour cool (not cold) water over them, preferably tap water.

Don’t pour water on their head or mouth, as they might inhale the water, but instead, try to get them to drink a little.

Pour cool water on the dog repeatedly until their breathing begins to normalise, but not so much that they begin to shiver.

Due to it trapping heat, you should not place wet towels over the dog.

Once the dog is cool, take them to the nearest vet for further treatment.

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