Helping A Dog That’s Locked in a Hot Car

We had a record hot summer in 2010, with many days in the 90’s and heat indexes in the 100’s. It doesn’t even take a day that hot for temperatures inside a parked car to spike. The interior of a car can heat up 40 degrees in an hour, according to a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine. If you had seen a dog left in a car on a hot day, would you have known what to do?

Dogs regulate their body temperature by panting and through the pads on the bottom of their feet. If a dog’s core body temperature rises above 108 degrees for a sustained period of time, a dog can die. Regulating body temperature is especially hard for older dogs. When a dog’s body temperature rises into the danger range, the platelets and neurons in the brain can be damaged, resulting in bleeding or seizures. Heatstroke kills cells lining the intestinal tract, leading to severe diarrhea, and affecting the blood’s ability to clot.

Dogs suffering heatstroke will exhibit restlessness, heavy panting, a dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting and weakness(especially in the hind legs.)

What should you do if you see a dog locked in a car on a hot day and you believe he is in imminent danger of dying?  Here are some steps to take:


  1. Write down the make and model of the car, the license plate and a description of the dog. If you are at a mall or shopping center, see if you can track down security and have them page the owner of the car on the PA system. Remember, time is of the essence – every minute that passes makes the car hotter. If you are not immediately successful, call the police department or local animal control.
  2. If officials don’t respond fast enough and you want to break into the vehicle, remember that you can be prosecuted. It is illegal for a private citizen to break into a vehicle to rescue a dog even if its health or safety is at risk. There is no federal law that prohibits locking a dog in an unattended car. However, there are anti-cruelty laws that were created to prevent the needless suffering of animals. Leaving a dog confined in a car on a hot day can certainly be construed as cruel. So if you are prepared to face the possible consequences…
  • Ask people nearby to be witnesses.
  • Document the rescue with a cell phone or video camera.
  • Break a window and remove the dog.
  • Perform first aid. When a dog is suffering from heatstroke, his body temperature must be lowered as quickly as possible. The best way is to move him into the shade and soak him down with cool (not cold) water from the nearest spigot.
  • Leave a note on the car for the owner(s) and get the dog to a vet.

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