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What to Do if You See a Dog in a Hot Car: 8 Vet-Approved Steps

Written by: Rachel Giordano

Last Updated on March 21, 2024 by Dogster Team


What to Do if You See a Dog in a Hot Car: 8 Vet-Approved Steps


Dr. Amanda Charles Photo


Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Did you know that temperatures inside a car can reach up to 116°F when it’s 72°F outside? Imagine how hot it gets when the outside temperatures are in the 80s or 90s. It’s a sickening feeling to see a dog trapped inside a parked car with the windows up and the engine off, leaving you concerned about the dog and whether you should intervene. Will the owner be right back? How long has the dog been inside the car? Does the dog look distressed? What should you do?

It’s always best to have a plan of action for this scenario before you are placed in this situation, and know the laws in your state that protect dogs left unattended in parked vehicles.

In this guide, we’ll discuss eight steps you should take if you see a dog trapped in a hot car.

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The 8 Steps to Take When You See a Dog in a Hot Car

1. Know the Laws

Before you can devise a plan of action, you must familiarize yourself with your state’s laws regarding such issues. As of 2023, 31 states have laws addressing animals left in vehicles, but the laws differ significantly.1 Certain states have “Good Samaritan” laws that allow anybody to rescue an animal from a vehicle, but only if they follow certain steps first. Acting without understanding the laws in your area could result in you being liable for damage to property, as well as the safety of the dog.

2. Try to Find the Owner

If the engine is off and the windows are up, finding the owner is dire before the situation becomes deadly. You can try to have the owner paged if you know what business the owner may be in, but if the dog looks distressed, you can bypass this step and call 911. However, if the owner can be located and comes to the dog’s aid, this is the best outcome for everyone, and it also gives you the opportunity to explain to the owner how dangerous it is to leave a poor, helpless pup in a hot car, even for 5 minutes.

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Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor, Unsplash

3. Have Essential Phone Numbers Ready

It’s an excellent idea to have essential phone numbers handy if you need to call someone to resolve the situation, especially if the owner cannot be found. You can call your local animal control or your local police station to report the situation. Of course, you can also call 911 if you feel the situation is dire, which will likely be faster to receive help.

4. Stay With the Dog

If the owner cannot be found and the police or animal control is on the way, you should stay with the dog until help arrives and monitor them for signs of distress.

Image Credit: Gorloff KV, Shutterstock

5. Know the Signs of Danger

Knowing the distress signs of heatstroke is crucial in deciding how quickly action needs to be taken. If the dog is in distress then call 911 immediately and follow their advice.  Signs to watch for are:

  • Heavy panting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Bright red gums and tongue
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Dilated pupils
  • Muscle tremors

6. Make Sure the Dog Is in Danger Before Acting

Sometimes, a person may assess the situation wrong and take action when no action is needed. For example, some cars, especially hybrid or electric cars, run quietly, and it may be where the engine is on and you just don’t hear it. Other scenarios could be the owner accidentally locked themselves out of the car and may be waiting on a locksmith.

If the car is parked in a shaded area, this may keep the situation from escalating; still, stay with the dog until some form of help arrives and ensure the dog doesn’t go into distress.

Image Credit: Andrey Popov, Shutterstock

7. Get the Vehicle’s Information

It’s an excellent idea to write down the make and model of the vehicle and the license plate. You can also snap photos and take videos of the situation for proof. Taking down the vehicle information will help locate the owner, and taking photos and videos will provide evidence of the owner’s neglect. Penalties for leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle under dangerous conditions vary from state to state. Even without a state law the action could still constitute cruelty in some circumstances.

8. Make a Decision

You should always contact law enforcement before taking action and follow their instructions. Not every state has laws that either prohibit leaving unattended animals in vehicles, or allow individuals to rescue animals from hot cars. Even in states that have “Good Samaritan” laws that allow you to rescue a dog from a vehicle, there are specific requirements that need to be met before doing so. The details vary between states but usually include:

  • Evidence that the animal is in immediate/imminent danger.
  • Ensuring that the vehicle is locked and forcible entry is the only way to remove the animal.
  • Contacting law enforcement before attempting to enter the vehicle.
  • Using no more force than is necessary.
  • Remaining with the animal in a safe location until law enforcement arrives.

If you do need to rescue the dog, consider what you have to secure the dog (e.g. lead/ belt) and document your actions as well as possible. Take photos and videos, and you can also grab a witness to back you up should legal actions ensue after the incident.

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Photo by NordWood Themes, Unsplash

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First Aid Tips for HeatStroke

  • Move the dog to a cool shaded or air conditioned area.
  • Pour cool water (not ice cold) on them.
  • Offer them small sips of water if conscious (do not force them to drink).
  • Contact a vet and take them to the clinic as soon as possible.

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Final Thoughts

We hope these suggestions help you in the event you find a dog trapped inside a hot car. Remember to assess the situation correctly and contact law enforcement before acting, or you could end up in legal trouble. Prepare for such a scenario by understanding your state’s laws about rescuing a dog from a hot car.

Never leave your dog in a hot car, even for just a few minutes, regardless of the outside temperatures. The inside of a vehicle can get extremely hot very quickly, resulting in a dire situation for a dog. If you have errands to run, the best choice is to leave your dog at home in the cool.

Featured Image Credit: Here Now, Shutterstock

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