Dogs in Hot Cars: What to Do if You Find a Dog Locked in a Hot Car

by | Reading Time: 6 minutes

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We claim to be a nation of animal lovers. Yet, every year countless people leave their dogs in hot cars while they go about their business.

Even in mild temperatures, your car can become an oven, killing your dog at frightening speed.

There have been several hard-hitting campaigns published by various charities over the years. Still, thousands of us are willing to put our dogs at risk every year.

This is one of them from the Dogs Trust;

Dogs Die in Hot Cars: The SHOCKING Facts About UK Dog Owners

Despite these campaigns, the problem is getting worse;


More Than 1 in 10

People know of a dog that has come to harm after being locked in a parked car in hot weather.


Almost Half (48%)

Believe it’s ok to leave a dog in a car if they park in the shade or open their windows a few inches.


28% of Brits

Are more likely to leave their dog alone in their car than their phone (10%).


Over a Quarter

Of UK dog owners admit to leaving their dog alone in parked cars.


8,290 Calls

Were made to the RSPCA in 2018 reporting dogs had been left in hot cars.


20% Rise

In reports made to the RSPCA since 2016 about dogs left in cars.

(Statistics provided by The Dogs Trust)

How Long Does it Take For the Inside of a Car to Get Hot?

Some studies show that it takes around 30 minutes for your car to reach 40 degrees Celsius. This temperature can be fatal for your dog.

Other experts claim that it can take as little as 6 minutes.

The fact is, it depends very much on the outside temperature.

So as an experiment, we decided to lock Ben in our van to see how it felt. What happened was shocking:

What Happens to a Dog When Locked Inside a Hot Car?

The speed at which a dog will start to feel the effects of heatstroke will vary depending on a number of factors. These include;

  • The outside temperature
  • The colour of the car
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Level of ventilation etc.

Long-haired breeds, double-coated breeds and dogs with short noses are more at risk of heatstroke. Also, dogs that suffer from existing medical conditions might also be at higher risk.

The temperature in your car starts to rise quickly. Your dog’s cooling mechanism kicks in and he starts to pant. In an attempt to dissipate the heat, his heart rate increases to push more blood to the surface of his body.

5-10 Minutes

The blood vessels on the surface of your dog’s body dilate, expelling heat into the atmosphere. This causes his core blood pressure to drop, meaning less blood can be pumped around his body. As a result, his core temperature starts to soar.

10-15 Minutes

Your dog’s blood vessels start to clot in an attempt to repair the thermal damage which is being caused. The reduced blood flow to the kidneys, caused by reduced blood pressure and micro-clotting, means they’re starved of blood. Similar damage occurs to the liver and gastrointestinal tract.

15-20 Minutes

As the internal temperature of your car continues to rise, the thermal injury your dog suffers gets worse. This reduces blood flow even further. The thermal demands on your dog’s body and the damage to his kidney cause hypoglycaemia.

20-25 Minutes

Extensive cell damage to multiple organs causes your dog’s blood to clot. The damage caused to his gastrointestinal tract worsens. This results in loss of blood through vomit, diarrhoea and gastric ulceration. Micro-clotting in the kidney and the release of toxins into the blood also cause renal failure.

25-30 Minutes

Massive loss of blood pressure and extensive micro-clotting starves your dog’s vital organs of oxygen. As his core temperature reaches 42° Celsius (109° Fahrenheit), thermal trauma causes multiple organs to fail.

30+ Minutes

Your dog suffers irreversible damage. The heat trauma and lack of oxygen to the brain causes an altered mental state. He’ll show signs of disorientation, and depression and he might also go into a seizure and/or coma. If he hasn’t died already, the chances of him surviving are tiny.

What to Do if You See a Dog Locked in a Hot Car

Being the person who finds a dog locked in a hot car can be a difficult situation to find yourself in.

Trust us, we’ve been there!

So what should you do if you end up there?

First, only proceed if you feel you have the confidence to deal with the situation. Many people who leave their dogs in cars will come back angry when they see you interfering.

If you don’t have the confidence or the emotional stability to deal with the situation, ask someone to help.

Assess the Dog’s Health

You need to look for signs of heatstroke. Is the dog;

  • Panting heavily?
  • Drooling excessively?
  • Disorientated, lethargic or drowsy?
  • Collapsed or vomiting?

If so, dial 999.

The RSPCA might not have an office in the area. Even then, they don’t have the power of entry and would need police assistance.

If the police aren’t available, what happens next is your call.

What the Law Says About Breaking into a Car to Rescue a Dog

Many people’s instinct would be to break into the car and free the dog. If you decide to do this, be aware that without proper justification, you could find yourself in court for criminal damage.

Before you take any action, tell the police what you intend to do and why and ask for their name and badge number. Take photographs, and a video of what happens and take the names and phone numbers of any witnesses.

The Criminal Damage Act 1971 Section 5(2)(a) states that you have a lawful excuse to cause the damage if at the time your break in;

“…If at the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence he believed that the person or persons whom he believed to be entitled to consent to the destruction of or damage to the property in question had so consented, or would have so consented to it if he or they had known of the destruction or damage and its circumstances;.”

In plain English…

If you think the owner of the dog would accept their car being broken into if they knew their dog was about to die, the law could be on your side.


This is our interpretation and is not meant as legal advice. We are not lawyers. Every situation is different and we cannot be held responsible for the actions we may or may not take. This is simply what we would do.

Emergency First Aid For a Dog With Heatstroke

We’re very aware that no one leaves the house thinking, ‘I’d better get some gear together, just in case I find a dog in a hot car…’

But by getting some help from witnesses or passers-by, this is very doable.

The steps are simple and could just save a dog’s life.

  • Remove the dog from the car – be very careful! If the dog is displaying signs of panic or stress it could be unpredictable. You don’t want to get bitten so proceed with caution.
  • Take him to a cool, shaded area – a grassy verge under a tree will do.
  • Pour small amounts of room temperature water over the dog – or if you have a towel, soak it in the water and wrap the dog in it. If you need to get some bottled water from the shop DO NOT get it out of the fridge. Putting cold water on the dog at this point is likely to bring his body temperature down too quickly and send him into shock. We need to bring his temperature down gradually. He should never shiver. If he does, stop.
  • Give him a drink of the water – this is a case of little and often. If he gulps too much down he could vomit and bring it all back up making dehydration worse.
  • Creating a breeze would help – if you have the means, fan him. A magazine, piece of card would work.
  • Keep him cool with the water – pouring small amounts of water on him or by soaking the towel until his breathing stabilises. Again, he shouldn’t shiver. Stop if he does.
  • Get him to the vet as soon as you can – even if he seems to have fully recovered.

What the Law Says About Leaving Dogs in Cars

While the act of leaving your dog in a car isn’t illegal, animal cruelty is.

Dogs die in hot cars as a result of negligence. If a dog suffers or even worse, dies as a result of being left in a hot car, its owner could be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

People have been sent to prison, fined and banned from keeping animals for leaving their dogs in hot cars.

Help Us Raise Awareness

At Pet Checkers, we’re doing our best to help educate dog owners and raise awareness about the dangers of leaving their dogs in hot cars. In doing so, we’ll hopefully reduce the number of dogs that die.

So please, share this article on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media. Please link to this page from your own websites and blogs and help us spread the word.

Thank you.

Photo of author

Ben Doyle

Ben Doyle co-owns Pet Checkers with his wife, Vicki. He spends his days looking after all kinds of animals, from dogs to eagles. When he's not taking care of animals, he's writing about them.


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