Why It’s Dangerous to Leave Dogs in Hot Cars & 4 Safer Alternatives

It might not feel too hot outside to you, but the temperature in your car can rise to unhealthy levels in just minutes.

Published July 18, 2023
Brown Dog Looking Out Car Window

When you're out and about with your pup and want to run a quick errand, you might wonder if it's safe to leave your dog alone in the car. We hate to break it to you, but the answer is a resounding "No." The temperature inside your car can increase by 20 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 10 minutes, which can be incredibly dangerous for your pooch.

There are safe alternatives to leaving your pup in the car - and there are things you can do to help a dog who might be in danger because their owner left them in a car. Plus, Tesla has a cool feature called "Dog Mode" that's worth learning about.

Is It Ever Safe To Leave My Dog in the Car?

You should never leave your dog alone in your car. Even on days when it might not feel too hot to you, your fur-covered buddy is at risk of overheating. Plus, dogs use panting as their primary way of cooling, so they can't control their body temperature as effectively as we can. It doesn't matter if you crack the windows or park in the shade; leaving your dog in the car just isn't safe.

Car Temperatures Quickly Reach Dangerous Levels

A mild summer day might be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which doesn't sound too bad. But if the outdoor temperature is 70, the inside of your car can quickly rise to 90 degrees in just 10 minutes, then over 100 in less than half an hour. Temperatures this high are deadly to dogs, especially if they're trapped in a car with nowhere to go.

How vehicles heat up infographic

About Tesla's "Dog Mode"

Teslas have a special feature called "Dog Mode" that keeps the inside of the car cool with a climate control system. It also displays the temp to let passersby know that your dog isn't overheating. Other car makers are beginning to come out with similar types of features.

Remember, Dog Mode is only supposed to be used for short periods of time (think 5 to 10 minutes max) and only when you're in close proximity to your car (like running into the pharmacy to pick up your mobile order). Don't use these features for extended periods of time or if you're going to be far from your car. There's always a chance your dog could become stressed out and overheat, even with the temperature control on.

Laws in Place to Protect Dogs

Leaving your dog in the car alone might actually be illegal in your state. A total of 31 U.S. states have laws against leaving animals in confined vehicles. If the conditions in the car put the pet in imminent danger, you could get in big trouble. The penalties vary from state to state; some view it as a violation where you'd need to pay a fine, whereas a few have criminalized it, meaning potential jail time and a record.

Fast Fact

Leaving your dog in a hot car isn't just dangerous for them; it could even be illegal in your area.

4 Alternatives to Leaving Your Dog Alone

There will no doubt come a time when you'll have your dog with you and need to pop into a store. What should you do? Fortunately, there are a few alternatives to leaving them in the car.

  1. Use drive-thrus. It's not just fast food that has drive-thrus; even pharmacies and grocery stores have drive-thru or drive-up options. Choose one of these places so you can get what you need while staying in the car with your dog during your errand. Air-conditioner blasting, of course.
  2. Choose pet-friendly establishments. A lot more places allow pets than you might think, like some banks, hardware stores, bookshops, malls, and of course, pet stores. Find out which allows dogs (not just service dogs), but only bring your dog along if they're well-trained.
  3. Have a buddy hang out with your dog. If you have another adult with you, have them hang out with your dog while you do whatever you need to do. They can stay in the air-conditioned car with them, or have them take a quick walk in a shady area.
  4. Drop your dog off at home. It might sound inconvenient, but often the safest option for your little buddy is taking them home. That way, they can stay cool and stress-free while you run your errands. And you can take as much time as you need.

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

Now you know the dangers of leaving your dog in a car, but not everyone does. So what do you do if you see a dog in a hot car? Your first instinct might be to break the window, but before you do, know you could face legal action for damaging someone's property. That is unless you live in one of the 14 states that have Good Samaritan laws that allow you to break a window to save an animal. However, if you don't live in one of these states, here's what you can do:

  • Have local businesses make announcements. If the car is parked in a parking lot near any businesses, go inside and ask the employees to make an announcement about an endangered dog. If the owner is in any of these stores, they should be alerted and head out to tend to their dog.
  • Call the non-emergency police line or Animal Control. Let them know where you are, along with the make and model of the car and the license plate.
  • Stay by the car until help arrives. Wait by the car and monitor the dog for signs of heatstroke.

No, Cracking a Window Isn't Enough

Hundreds of dogs die from heatstroke each year after being left in vehicles. Cars can reach dangerously high temperatures in just a matter of minutes. The good news is it's preventable. Don't hesitate to use safer alternatives like drive-thrus whenever you can and call for help if you see a dog in a hot car. It could save their life.

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Why It’s Dangerous to Leave Dogs in Hot Cars & 4 Safer Alternatives