What should you do if you see a dog in a hot car?

·5-min read
Happy ginger red mix breed dog smiling with his tongue hanging out, looking out of family car window. Sunset time summer wallpaper. Grunge solar bright effect. Pets travel concept.
What should you do if you spot a dog locked in a car and are worried it is overheating? (Getty)

It’s well known that leaving dogs in cars can kill them, with new research suggesting it’s a risk all year round rather than just in the summer.

But when it comes to helping potentially save a dog’s life if you spot it locked in a car, do you know you what you should do?

Here’s everything you need to know if you see a poorly pooch trapped in a vehicle:-

Who should you contact?

First check the animal’s health and condition to see if they’re suffering from heatstroke. If they are you’ll need to call 999 straight away.

The RSPCA says: “In an emergency, we may not be able to attend quickly enough, and with no powers of entry, we'd need police assistance at such an incident”, so urges people not to be afraid to dial 999.

Sign in car park warning against leaving dogs in car in the sun
Dogs can die in cars all-year round, new research has suggested. (Getty)

Along with panting, signs of heatstroke in dogs include red or dark gums and tongue, confusion and unsteadiness, diarrhoea, vomiting and agitation.

If the dog isn’t showing symptoms of heatstroke, try to establish how long it has been in the car, the RSPCA advises, possibly by checking any pay and display ticket in the car.

If you’re at a shop, venue or event, ask staff to make an announcement to try to find the owner, or you could try asking a manager if there are officers or places of employment nearby.

Read more: Dog found brain-damaged after being left in boiling hot car in US

Try to get someone to stay with the dog to keep an eye on their condition and call 999 if necessary.

Make a note of the car’s registration. Even if the owner comes back, if you think the situation was dangerous you can report the incident to the police.

You can call the RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty line for advice on 0300 1234 999 but if the dog is in danger, you should always dial 999.

Dog left alone in locked car. Abandoned animal in closed space. Danger of pet overheating or hypothermia. Owner's negligence and health threat.
The RSPCA says people shouldn't be scared to dial 999 if they see a dog in a car and are concerned. (Getty)

Should I smash the car window?

If the situation becomes critical, most people’s instinct will be to break into the car, the RSPCA says.

But the charity warns that if you do so it could technically be classed as criminal damage.

In its advice about dogs in hot cars, it instructs people to make sure they tell the police what they plan to do and why, as well as taking pictures or videos of the dog and names and numbers of witnesses.

“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),” it adds.

Read more: RSPCA reveals pet owners' most shocking excuses for leaving their dogs in hot cars

Last year ex-policeman Al Moore was praised for smashing a car window when he found a dog inside it in 22C heat in Fakenham, Norfolk.

At the time Norfolk Police said: “The dog had been taken out of the car by a member of the public. The owner was given advice, when they returned, on not leaving dogs in hot cars.”

What's the punishment for leaving a dog in a hot car?

In the UK, it’s not actually illegal to leave your pet unattended in a vehicle.

However, it is against the law to mistreat or abuse an animal in your care.

That means that leaving your dog in a hot car could be classed as neglect under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and you could be fined.

If your dog dies as a result of you leaving it in a car, you could be charged with animal cruelty.

"Dog apparently checking his wing mirror as he drives the car. Good business metaphor playing on the idea of being in the driving seat. Could also suit concepts of safe driving, road rage and animal welfare."
You could be charged with animal cruelty if your dog dies in a hot car. (Getty)

But isn’t it just a problem in summer?

Apparently not. Researchers have warned that leaving dogs in parked cars can be potentially dangerous all year round, even in the winter when outside temperatures are low.

A study by dog welfare experts at Nottingham Trent University found temperatures inside cars are hot enough throughout the year to pose a risk to dog health.

The researchers monitored internal temperatures of cars in the UK without dogs inside every day for two years.

They found temperatures could exceed 25C — high enough to cause some breeds to overheat — in every month of the year,

The team also found the highest internal temperatures in vehicles occurred between 4-5pm, and exceeded 35C between April and September.

Read more: Firefighters rescue cockerpoo left locked in shopping centre car park for more than hour in sweltering heat

Dogs need to pant to control their body heat in over 35C but in enclosed vehicles panting can be harder for because of humidity and lack of air movement.

Based on their findings, recently published in the Open Veterinary Journal, the researchers suggest annual campaigns to raise awareness of the risk of dogs becoming ill in hot cars, which usually begin in May, need to start earlier in the year.

Dr Anne Carter, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, and first author on the study, said: “Our work shows an even bigger risk to leaving dogs in parked vehicles than previously thought.”

She added: “People assume the risk is only midday during the summer, when in fact cars can reach potentially dangerous temperatures all year round, with late afternoon the hottest time period.”

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