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What to Do If You See a Dog Left in a Hot Car

Layne has worked in veterinary medicine for almost 10 years and is a licensed veterinary technician.

What to do if you find a dog in a hot car.

What to do if you find a dog in a hot car.

How to Rescue a Dog Stuck in a Hot Car

Hot cars kill! Hot cars kill kids and kill people's beloved pets. I've seen dogs have seizures and collapse from heat stroke and die on the spot. It's no joke and it's heartbreaking. These situations are emergencies!

Hot Cars Can and Will Kill a Dog

According to the Humane Society:

  • Cars can reach 116 degrees Fahrenheit from just 72 degrees within an hour.
  • In 80-degree weather, a car can reach 99 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 minutes.
  • Cracked windows are ineffective.

If in doubt, call the police!

Act fast and get help.

Act fast and get help.

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

  1. Look: Is the dog alert? If the dog is still alert you have some time to act. Look immediately all around you to see if someone is walking away from the car.
  2. Call out or yell: Ask the closest person if the dog or car is theirs or if they know who the car belongs to.
  3. Notify the nearest major business: Google the direct number of the store/building/facility you are at and have someone page the entire clientele/building OR send someone in to relay the message. (I once called a public library to report a case and the librarian paged the entire library asking for the owner to return to the car immediately.)
  4. Call the police: You can call the police's non-emergency line and report it as an emergency. Give your location. Take down the car information—license plate, make/model, any other identifying information, the dog breed/size, and any other details. Document everything! TAKE PICTURES to document the situation as evidence (or a video).
  5. Don't leave! Recruit someone willing to help to be your relay person or the individual who Googles, calls, or contacts authorities. Keep eyes on the dog at all times!
  6. If the dog is dying, take action: If the dog is indeed dying, you need to get it out of there fast. Try the door first or try the window. BE AWARE THAT A SCARED DOG CAN BITE. You must proceed at your own risk. Always try to enter first without breaking.
  7. Administer first aid: Offer the dog water or immediately pour water on the dog or get them to the shade. Pouring water on the major circulatory areas—the jugular/neck and the inguinal region (groin) will cool a dog off fast. Also, alcohol pads or alcohol is an amazing first aid item you can use to cool a dog off fast. By applying alcohol to the dog's paw pads, you can cool down their body temperature.
  8. Report the event to authorities and educate the owner: This owner needs to be educated about the dangers of heat stroke. Report all of your documentation and note-taking to the responders so that they know you acted in good faith. You may have just saved a life.

28 U.S. states have laws that deal with pet endangerment and confinement in hot cars. Many of these states protect individuals from being sued if they are to intervene. Some of these states allow good samaritans and law enforcement to intervene to prevent heat-related deaths. These conditions are typically defined as follows:

  • the animal is confined or unattended in extreme hot or cold
  • the animal lacks ventilation, food, or water
  • the animal is in immediate danger

12 States That Allow You to Rescue a Dog From a Hot Car

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Indiana (rescuer must pay half of the damages)
  • Kansas
  • Massachusettes
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin

Indiana requires the rescuer to pay half of the damages for forced entry. New Jersey and West Virginia criminalize leaving your dog locked up in a car but do not provide immunity for rescuers. For more information about state-by-state allowances and restrictions, read "Table of State Laws that Protect Animals Left in Parked Vehicles"

Avoid Bites

Brachycephalic breeds are prone to heat stroke.

Brachycephalic breeds are prone to heat stroke.

How Can You Cool a Dog With Heat Stroke Down?

Dogs don't sweat! They pant to try to cool off by circulating cooling air through their bodies. The hotter it is, the faster they pant. Dogs can sweat through their paw pads—you may have noticed nervous, sweaty paw pad prints on floors and tables at the vet or groomer. If you ever need to cool a dog off fast, apply alcohol or cold water to the dog's paw pads!

Do Not Cool Them Off Too Fast!

There is risk involved if you try to cool of a hyperthermic (too hot) dog too fast. Do not plunge a heat-stroke dog into an ice bath or cause their body temperature to change too quickly—they can go into a state of shock or experience DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation) which can cause sudden and massive bleeding.

First Aid Tips

  • If they are conscious, offer them water
  • Pour water around their head, neck, in their mouth, in their groin, or on their paw pads
  • Bring them into an air-conditioned car or in the shade
  • Take them to the vet as soon as possible

Signs a Dog Has Heat Stroke

A dog that is subjected to excessive heat and at risk of heat stroke and eventual death will exhibit the following symptoms:

Mild Heat Stroke (Provide water and cooling)

  • panting
  • thirst
  • lethargy
  • restlessness
  • whining
  • thick saliva

Moderate Heat Stroke (Needs first aid)

  • Heavy panting
  • Thick saliva
  • Drooping, red tongue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Whining
  • Restlessness and nervousness OR
  • Loss of energy, extreme lethargy

Severe Heat Stroke (Emergency)

  • Rapid heartbeat or cardiac arrest
  • Rapid breathing or sudden apnea
  • Seizure
  • Bright red gums and tongue (injected)
  • Dry mucus membranes
  • Unconsciousness
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Collapse
  • Sudden death
Make the responsible choice as a dog owner—don't chance it.

Make the responsible choice as a dog owner—don't chance it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Laynie H


Terry Carroll on August 20, 2020:

I am trying to find a guide to temperatures for a car that would allow me to rescue a dog I do have a thermometer but no guidelines I live in WI where thankfully it is legal to rescue a dog in a hot car however a kindly officer told me he would arrest me if I did I did not HAvd a thermometer then it was my word against his Tgr dog was not yet in distress but by the time he would be there isn’t much I can do in a parking lot no way to keep cold water in your car in the summer When this happened

Ed I was in a cast in most of my leg and using a knee scooter and he was ready to arrest me if i intervened Luckily the owners came out I did all the right things had the store make an announcement about the dog Thank you

Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 30, 2019:

Lora—Thank you so much for the read and I am so glad to hear that you know what to do and you have taken the right course of action to intervene in these situations in the past. I do hope that one day all states grant immunity to individuals rescuing dogs (and children!) in this situation. I love the video that the vet created because 1. It's a vet (he's in the field!) and 2. If it's uncomfortable for us, imagine wearing a fur coat! Thank you for educating the owner and spreading the word. Not everyone knows. I also feel the same about seeing people walking dogs on hot pavement in the summer. Thanks for advocating for the animals!

Lora Hollings on April 30, 2019:

A few years ago, I encountered a situation in which a dog had been left in a grocery store parking lot on a hot day with temps in the 80's. The windows were cracked about 2 inches all around and the car was at least parked in the shade. The dog was alert but nervous and barking and with his nose trying to get air through the windows. The doors were all locked. Because the dog wasn't in immediate danger, I went very quickly into the grocery store and gave them a description of the car and they made an announcement for the owner of this car to get the dog out of danger immediately. I also made sure that the owner returned to his car to tend to the dog and I told him about the dangers of leaving a dog even for a few seconds on a hot day in a car. If the dog showed any signs of heat stroke, I would have broken a window to get him out. In my state it is legal to do this to save the life of an animal. Your article is one that not only dog owners should read but people who don't have pets should read also so that they can quickly act, if they see a dog in this terrible situation! Thank you for your article on such an important topic and doing such a great job enlightening people about the dangers of leaving a pet in cars on warm and hot days. It always shocks me when I hear the frequent stories on the news on how often pet owners put their dogs in such a dangerous and frightening situation for them! The video done by the vet on how hot a car can become in just a few minutes was very effective in getting this most important message across.

Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 26, 2019:

Ellison—totally. I encountered this a few summers ago. I was sweating myself and noticed a dog in a car. I had to have the college page everyone in the bookstore! I've also seen a dog drop and seizure (pit bull) and die bc an owner walked it in summer on asphalt. It was so sad. That hit me pretty early. Kids and babies—terrifying. The vet's video is really effective. It's important for everyone to know.

Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on April 26, 2019:

I know this is a reality, but I hate to think about it. Just like I hate to think about those stories of parents forgetting their babies in the car seat.