Dogs die in hot cars

Many people believe it’ll never happen to them, yet every year people gamble with their beloved dog’s life and every summer dogs die in hot cars.

Warm weather offers the perfect opportunity to get out and about with your four legged friend, but don’t forget that a warm day for us is even hotter when you have a fur coat on!

Put yourself in their paws. Even parked in the shade with the windows open, a car can quickly become an oven. When it’s 22°C outside, within an hour the temperature in a car can reach an unbearable and deadly 47°C. If your dog’s internal body temperature exceeds 41°C, it can be fatal. Think how frightening that must be, with no way of escape.

If you’re out and about this summer, we wouldn’t recommend taking your pooch with you if it’s likely you’ll have to leave them in the car. Look for dog friendly days out, or find alternative care for your dog. Even if you're popping to the shop for a minute or two, a delay or an unexpected occurrence could lead to tragic consequences for your dog – it’s really not worth the risk. If you are taking your dog out in the car with you, remember to make regular stops if you need to and keep the car as cool as possible while driving as well as making sure they’re secure with a seatbelt or crate.


What to do if you see a dog in a hot car

Dog in distress?

What is the dog doing? Is it showing any of the following signs of heatstroke?

  • Is the dog panting heavily?
  • Is the dog drooling excessively?
  • Does the dog appear lethargic, drowsy, or uncoordinated?
  • Is the dog collapsed or vomiting?

If you see a dog in a hot car showing any of these signs, dial 999 immediately.

Many people’s instinct in this situation would be to call the RSPCA, or other welfare organisations. In an emergency, RSPCA inspectors may not be able to attend quickly enough and because they have no powers of entry, they would still need police assistance. Don’t ever be afraid to dial 999 – the police deal with hundreds of such incidents each year.

If the situation becomes critical for the dog and the police are too far away or unable to attend, many people’s instinct will be to break into the car to free the dog. If you decide to do this, please be aware that, without proper justification, it could be classed as criminal damage and you may need to be prepared to defend your actions in court.

Make sure you tell the police what you intend to do and why, and take images and/or footage of the dog and the names and numbers of witnesses to the incident. The law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to the damage if they knew the circumstances (section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971). If you need legal advice, please speak to a lawyer.

Dog not displaying signs of heatstroke?

If the dog is not yet showing signs of heatstroke, here’s some steps to follow:

  • Look out for the owner of the vehicle. If you’re at a shop, supermarket or event, ask the staff to make an announcement to let the owner know about their dog’s condition.
  • Look for indications of how long the car has been there for. For example, a parking ticket or a pay and display ticket could help.
  • Take note of the car’s registration number. If you’re worried about the dog’s welfare, you may wish to report the incident to the police.
  • While you’re seeking help, try and get someone to stay and monitor the dog’s condition. If they show signs of heatstroke, dial 999 immediately.
  • You can call the RSPCA’s cruelty line for help and advice. But if the dog is in danger, dial 999 immediately.


Emergency first aid

For the best chance of survival, dogs suffering from heatstroke urgently need first aid to have their body temperature lowered gradually.

  • Move the dog to a shaded/cool area.
  • Immediately pour small amounts of room temperature (not cold, to avoid shock) water onto the dog's body. If possible, you can also wipe the dog down with wet towels (never leave them wrapped as this can actually trap heat) or place the dog in the breeze of a fan.
  • Allow the dog to drink small amounts of lukewarm water.
  • Continue to pour small amounts of room temperature water onto the dog until their breathing starts to settle but never so much that they begin to shiver.

Once the dog is cool, take them to the nearest vet immediately, even if they seem to have made a full recovery.


Event safety

Are you organising an event this summer? Whether dogs are welcome at your event or not, we recommend you may want to consider having a zero tolerance policy on dogs being left in cars. Make sure any staff in the car park are aware of this so they can inform any owners who seem to be intending on leaving their dog in the car.

When the weather is good, attending or running dog friendly events can be its own reward.

If you are welcoming dogs at your event, remember to provide plenty of water and shade for all dogs on site. Make sure you have a vet or vet nurse on site and make anyone attending aware of the support you have available for their pets. You can read the event organiser full guidance here.


Keep your pets safe this summer

With temperatures soaring and the sun beating down, it’s important to remember that our pets can struggle with the heat at any time, not just when they’re in a car.

Some pets are more prone to struggle with high temperatures; if they’re overweight, a youngster, elderly, a flat faced breed (such as Bulldogs), or have a thick dense coat, they can quickly overheat during walks on hot days or when exposed to the sun without shade.

It’s important to avoid walking pets at the warmest parts of the day; so skip those lunchtime outings. On days when the temperature barely drops, keep walks to a gentle stroll in the early morning and late evening.

For trips away from home, check weather forecasts for your planned day out and consider alternatives for your dog if the temperature is due to soar. On hot days, pets will be happier left safely at home where it’s cool and there’s fresh water available for them. 

We’ve got lots more top tips for keeping pets cool in hot weather, including how to travel safely with them in summer. So, check out our summer pet care advice and keep your pet happy and healthy in the heat.

We’re working in collaboration with many other organisations to raise awareness of this important issue and protect our nation’s dogs. Want to get involved? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, share our posts on this campaign and help us spread the word.