Dogs die in hot cars every year. Here’s what to do if you see a dog in a hot car and how to advocate for pups everywhere.

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You're out with your pup and need lunch. The problem: The deli doesn't allow dogs. Is it OK to leave your dog in the car?

Maybe you're in a parking lot and notice a dog who's been left in a hot car. You feel angry and think, "Dog in hot car. Break window." But should you?

A veterinarian shared what to do if you see a dog in a hot car.

Is It Ever OK to Leave a Dog in a Hot Car?

Katy Nelson, DVM, the senior veterinarian at Chewy, always tells pet parents: Don't leave your dog in the car on a hot day—even if you're just running into the store for two things.

"It's never two things," Nelson says. "It ends up being 10. You run into one of your neighbors and end up chatting. That two minutes becomes a while."

Sometimes, people think they can keep dogs cool by cracking open the car windows. Unfortunately, this theory isn't a good solution.

"You are still going to have those windows mostly closed, so it's not going to make much of a difference," Nelson says.

Nelson says a dog's temperature is usually between 101 to 102.5 degrees. The longer a dog is trapped in a hot car, the greater the risk of heat exhaustion. It varies based on the dog, but heat exhaustion usually occurs when a dog's body temperature rises to 105 degrees. Dogs may begin to experience organ damage at that temperature but can usually recover, Nelson says.

But heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke, usually when a dog's internal temperature hits about 108 degrees. "That's when the body starts to shut things down," Nelson says, adding it can affect all of a dog's major organs, including the heart and lungs.

She points out that pets perishing from heatstroke is not only sad but unnecessary. "Dying of heatstroke is one of the most preventable things," she says.

How Hot Is Too Hot to Leave a Dog in a Car?

A 70-degree day may feel mild to humans, but it can quickly become dangerous for a dog locked in a vehicle. Nelson suggests pet parents refrain from leaving dogs in hot cars for any amount of time. This chart from the American Veterinary Medical Association provides even more perspective.

Here's what happens on a 70-degree day:

  • After 10 minutes, the temperature inside a car rises to 89 degrees. 
  • A dog in the car for 30 minutes is experiencing 104-degree heat.

Of course, the warmer the weather, the worse the problem. Say it's 95 degrees outside.

  • The temperature inside a car will climb to 114 degrees after 10 minutes.
  • After more than an hour, the temperature in the car is 140 degrees.

You'll notice the AVMA chart starts at 70 degrees. So, is it OK to leave your dog in the car if it's only 60 degrees that day?

"It's going to depend," Nelson says. "Are you sitting in the sunshine? Do you have a black car? It's going to depend on the pet, too. [Smush-faced dogs] like pugs and bulldogs are not able to dissipate heat very well because they have shorter respiratory tracts. There are a lot of factors to go into [how your dog] handles being locked in a hot car."

The best thing to do? Don't leave your dog in the car on hot days—and maybe not even on warm ones.

dog in hot car peeking out of the crack in the window
Credit: Comugnero Silvana / Adobe Stock

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

Your instinct may be to try to rescue the dog immediately by trying to get the car open. But your actions may be illegal—or futile. Your best bet is to try to locate the car's driver quickly.

Start by noting the street address where the car is parked. The Humane Society of the United States also recommends writing down the car's make, model, and license plate. That information will help you explain the identity of the car as you seek help.

Go to any nearby businesses and ask the manager or security team to page the car's driver. "Many people are unaware of the danger of leaving pets in hot cars and will quickly return to their vehicle once they are alerted to the situation," the Humane Society writes.

If you can't locate the car's driver, call your local animal control service or the non-emergency number for local police. Wait by the car to guide the professionals to the correct place, and let them guide rescue efforts.

Nelson advises people not to break any windows. "Have the appropriate authorities deal with it," Nelson says. "If you were to do something like break a window open, you could potentially get charged for damaging property."

It helps to know your local and state rules about this before you encounter an emergency. In some states, there are circumstances where good Samaritans can legally remove animals from cars. But you should understand the laws in your area and follow any specific steps that those laws outline.

Keep your focus on the wellbeing of the pet; don't be tempted to confront the owner directly. You can also channel your concern into action with these tips from Nelson.

  • Avoid putting your own pet in this situation. Hire a pet sitter or plan a pet-centric outing. Pack a picnic or get curbside pickup. Find dog-friendly stores.
  • Learn the laws. Your town clerk should know the laws regarding dogs in cars in your area.
  • Advocate. Nelson says local chapters of the Humane Society often push for laws against leaving dogs in cars. They can tell you who to call to help advocate, too. You can also share the AVMA chart, articles about what happens to a dog left in a hot car, and this ASPCA infographic.