It is illegal in 31 US states to leave your dog in a car if it harms or endangers their life. All 50 states have animal protection laws and these vary state-by-state. An in-depth understanding of just how quickly your dog’s life can become endangered when left in a vehicle, and why these laws exist, is crucial.
Veterinarians advise leaving your dog at home or having them with you and I explain why this is a responsible choice. When I first researched travel safety for my dog, the safety issues of leaving them in parked cars shocked me and you will soon be informed!
In this article, I provide information about both hot and cold temperatures, and how they affect dogs in cars. I discuss US state laws, animal rescue laws, the reliability of AC, and whether partially opening windows makes a difference.
Finally, I will outline who to call if you find a dog in an unsafe condition.
What Is A Safe Temperature To Leave Your Dog In A Car?
It is safe, in unavoidable circumstances, to leave your dog in a car between outside temperatures of 40°F and 70°F for a maximum of five minutes. Veterinarians and the Humane Society advise it is generally unsafe to leave a dog in a car, regardless of temperature. 70°F outside becomes 103°F in cars in less than 20 minutes, putting dogs at risk of hyperthermia. Below 40°F, dogs struggle to keep themselves warm and can develop hypothermia.
If you must leave the dog for a few minutes, leave the windows open, but it doesn’t mean you can leave the dog any longer.
Invest in a car temperature alert system for increased safety. The Waggle Pet Monitor measures temperature in the car and alerts you via app/text when harmful for your dog. Useful for extra precaution if you’re away from the car for a couple of minutes, even if the heat feels bearable for you. (But, don’t rely solely on technology!)
San Francisco University demonstrates the speed at which cars heat to dangerous temperatures for a dog; at 106°F dogs are at risk of fatal Heatstroke. It is no surprise that leaving a dog in these dangerous conditions is often made illegal. You can’t predict weather changes or distractions. Put your dog’s safety first – avoid leaving them in a car.
- Cars conduct heat
- Dogs pant to cool, this causes more heat and more harm
- When dogs are stressed, this also raises their temperature
- In cold weather, a car is like a refrigerator
- Dogs fur varies and this can impact their tolerance to temperatures
- Overweight dogs can suffer worse from the heat
How Long Can You Leave Your Dog In A Car?
Despite suggestions that temperatures below 70°F and above freezing are safe to leave your dog unattended in a parked car for a couple of minutes, veterinarians advise never leaving dogs in a vehicle unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. Hundreds of dogs suffer or die in hot cars each year, even with windows open. An intended few minutes can unintentionally turn into your dog being alone longer.
Running errands, you can’t guarantee you won’t get stuck in a queue, bump into a friend, or lose track of time. When unavoidable situations (such as paying for gas) arise such as a Long Road Trip With Your Dog:
- Buy a thermometer system to alert you
- Park in the shade
- Use sunshades on the windows
- Leave another passenger to regulate temperature
- Plan stops that welcome dogs and take them with you
Tesla does have a ‘Dog Mode’ function in their cars, however, RSPCA and PETA have warned against not relying on technology or using it to replace your responsibility as a dog owner.
When Is It Too Cold To Leave Your Dog In The Car?
Veterinarians have outlined that dogs suffer cold at 40°F, so leaving them alone in a car below this temperature is dangerous. Puppies and certain short hair breeds are more susceptible to cold, and may be unsafe even above 40°F. It is safest to not leave your dog in a cold car unless absolutely necessary, and at most for a few minutes. Possible health concerns include hypothermia and anxiety.
Cars have limited insulation leading to temperature drops:
- A cold car is as unsafe as a hot car
- All dogs regulate body temperature differently
- Don’t assume longer hair breeds are safe in cold cars
- Health problems in dogs impact tolerance to the cold
- In certain US states, leaving a dog in an extreme weather condition is illegal
Even if you don’t feel the cold, imagine how a child would feel and understand that dogs feel it too. Leave your dog home, or if on a long trip and you’re nipping out of the car (e.g paying for gas), provide blankets, crack windows slightly, and a hot water bottle with a softcover.
How Hot Is Too Hot To Leave A Dog In The Car?
An outside temperature of 70°F and upwards can create very dangerous conditions for a dog in a car within minutes. This is due to the effective trapping of heat from sunlight by the automobile glass of the windows. Despite counter measures such as opening the window, veterinarians advise that any temperature is too hot to leave a dog in the car for longer than a matter of minutes.
Anything 70°F and upwards is a definite no-go, but even below that, the inside temperature of a hot car rises higher than the outside temperature, especially in strong sunlight. It can become dangerous, and potentially fatal for a dog within a matter of minutes.
Even when the temperature feels mild to you, or there is cloud cover, it is impossible to navigate/guarantee a safe temperature. On a hot day, leave your dog home, or travel with another human who can walk it whilst you run errands.
- When it is hot and/or sunny, the car’s interior surfaces heat quickly and it can’t escape through the windows,
- When dogs pant to cool down, this leads to condensation and a hotter car.
Prepare well for long journeys using our Road Trip Packing List.
In Which States Is It Illegal To Leave Your Dog In The Car?
All 50 states have felony provisions against animal cruelty, 31 states (listed below) have specific legislation governing the protection of dogs left inside cars in unsafe conditions, including varying penalties. For example in Arizona, “It is illegal to leave an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result”.
15 US states (marked *) have ‘rescue laws’ allowing any person to rescue a distressed dog from a life-threatening condition (including hot and cold temperatures) even if using forceable entry. Always call 911 first before attempting forced rescue.
- Indiana* (person who rescues must pay half of any damages)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
(Source: Animal Legal and Historical Centre)
Should You Leave The AC Running With Your Dog In The Car?
Leaving the AC running with a dog in the car does not mitigate the risks caused by rising or falling in temperatures within the vehicle. It creates a false sense of security and is unsafe. Veterinarians advise against it due to air conditioner failures (including car gas running out) and dogs knocking it off accidentally. Protect dogs by never leaving them in your vehicle alone for more than a few minutes.
Unfortunately, dogs do die in hot cars even with the Air Con left running.
If your dog is secured in a crate to stop them from knocking it off, you can’t guarantee the cool air will reach them. Vets warn that if a failure occurs, the AC unit could blow hot air; it is not worth the risk of leaving your dog in a potentially fatal situation.
Have a look at our Questions For Couples for your travels!
Should You Leave A Window Open When A Dog Is In The Car?
When moving on the road with your dog in the car, keep the windows open or AC on and the temperature cool. When stationary, studies prove the difference in the temperature with windows cracked is insignificant and doesn’t make it safe on a hot day. Therefore, cracking windows does not justify that you should risk leaving your dog in a parked car.
Long road trips require planning for pet-friendly gas/toilet stops to take your dog with you and stretch their legs. If they must stay in the car, be no more than a few minutes, crack windows an inch or so (to avoid trapping their face or escape), park in the shade, leave a human companion with them.
Who Do You Call When A Dog Is In A Hot Car?
If you find a distressed dog in a hot car and have tried to locate the owner with no success, call the local police department’s non-emergency number. Otherwise, dial 911. Some states allow any person to forcibly rescue a dog from a car (listed above). Others only give immunity to law enforcement, therefore calling 911 could save you from criminal liability.
The US states (April 2021) that give you immunity to rescue the dog: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, IN (if any damage is made, half must be covered), KS, LA, MA, OH, OR, TN, VT, and WI. (Source Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Centre).
- Don’t leave the dog,
- Stay back and calm; don’t cause more panic
- Always try to find the dog owner before you call 911 or forced entry
Have a cat? Read this if you are curious about Road Tripping with A Cat.