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Can I Leave My Dog in the Car?

Never Leave Your Dog in the Car

My family had this incredible Miniature Schnauzer when I was in high school.  She was the first schnauzer we had and is a Great, Great, Great, Great (something) Grandmother to my Lorelei.

It’s fair to say that Cindy is responsible for my family’s ongoing love affair with Miniature Schnauzers.

She was my Dad’s companion everywhere he went.

If he went for a walk, she went for a walk.  If he sat on the porch, she sat on the porch.  If he had to run out for one of his service jobs, Cindy was his Gal in the Cab.

The exceptions?

If Dad was going somewhere that Cindy wouldn’t be welcome indoors, she stayed home.  That was Dad’s Golden Rule with dogs… they NEVER sit in the car if you can’t leave the door open for them.

Not a window… the door.

He’d even leave the door open in the winter… with the truck running and the heat cranked up!

Cindy was probably as important to my father as my siblings and me.  So, he’d NEVER risk her health.

And leaving a dog in the car in nearly ANY weather is a huge risk.

I wish more people understood how huge the risk is that they’re taking with their dog’s life.  So, today, we’re looking at why you should leave your dog at home… unless you can leave the door open for them.

Is It OK to Leave Your Dog in the Car?

Bull dog in back of car with head looking over the back seat towards the camera

Every summer, those videos start making the rounds again.

You know the ones… people breaking car windows to rescue dogs with heat stroke.  I’ve shared a few of them to Patch Puppy’s Facebook page.

I know some people who are horrified at the destruction.  They have no idea how dangerous the situation is for the dog.  They only see the broken window.

But leaving a puppy in the car on nearly any day can be dangerous.  Cooler weather is just as bad in its own way, but we’re focused on warmer days here.

Did you know that a lot of those videos happen in 70-degree weather?

In my research, I found a study done by a pediatric research team looking at the effect of leaving children in the car.  They found that the temperature in a closed car rises an average of 19 degrees in the first ten minutes after the doors close.

One study that caught my eye even said that cracking the windows did nearly NOTHING to stop this temperature rise.

How Hot Does the Inside of a Car Get?

So, if you leave your car closed on a 70-degree day, ten minutes later it’s nearly 90 degrees in that car.  After 20 minutes, that car is 29 degrees hotter… or nearly 100 degrees.

And it’s worse than that.

Dogs pant to process heat and keep their body temperatures normal.  They pant faster the hotter it is.  But this panting causes them to dehydrate fast.

And even if the day itself isn’t humid, that car will become humid quickly.  So, their panting becomes less effective fast!

It can take less than five to ten minutes for a dog’s body temperature to rise to dangerous levels in 80 degrees.

This part differs from breed to breed and dog to dog though.  Some will struggle faster, others may have a few more minutes before they’re in distress.

The reason for the difference is about more than fur.  It has to do with their muzzles, weight, size, and their general health.  So, a small pug will suffer heatstroke faster than a medium sized Labrador.

woman pushing grocery cart full og items looking at grocery list

Imagine going to the grocery store.

You need bread, milk, butter, and eggs for French toast.  Three of those ingredients are in one aisle together in most grocery stores.

This should be super quick, right?

Not so much.

I timed it.  I dashed into my local grocery store for just those things.  I started the timer when I closed my car door and stopped it when I opened the door at the end of the trip.

25 minutes.

Think about it.  You have to walk in, that takes a couple of minutes.  Then, the stores are laid out to keep you in there as long as possible (it’s so that you buy more).

Until I grabbed my French Toast ingredients, checked out and bagged my groceries, and walked back to the car, it took 25 minutes.

Can you imagine what would have happened if I ran into someone who wanted to say, ‘Hi!’??  Or if the lines had been any longer?

Can I Leave My Dog in the Car on a Cool Day?

Black and white dog inside of a car with its nose poking out of a slightly cracked window

The temperature that day was 76 degrees.

In the 25 minutes, I was gone, the temperature in my car went from 76 to between 105 and 110 degrees. That’s HOT!

Even if the temperature had been lower to start with the car could have gotten hot really quickly. A cool day does NOT make leaving your dog in the car OK.

This is why many states have expanded their anti-cruelty laws to include endangerment by leaving an animal in the car when it endangers their health.

Others have made it illegal to leave them in the car at all when it’s dangerous!

At the time I’m writing this, my State Senator has legislation moving toward a vote on this very topic.  Fingers crossed that PA laws get stricter to protect pets on this issue.

What About Leaving a Dog in a Running Car?

Brown dog panting inside car with window slightly down

Most of the time people do this when it’s hot out with the air conditioning on. Generally speaking it’s not a good idea to leave your dog in a running car unless you are also in the car.

Even if you leave the car locked, idling cars waste a lot of fuel and there is no guarantee that your dog won’t knock a control and create trouble.

What About Leaving a Dog in a Car at Night?

small dog standing in car with paws on sill of open window

This is safer because the sun isn’t creating a greenhouse effect that heats the car up. But it’s still never a good idea to leave a dog unattended in the car. It’s hard to leave enough water for them in a vehicle, and they may get dehydrated even if the car doesn’t get too hot.

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

In the meantime, what do you do if you see a dog in distress in a car?

Before I get into that, let me point out that the laws are different in every state.  Some states will allow you to break the windows on a locked car.  Others will charge you with a crime if you do that.

So, my advice today is going to err on the side of caution.

The first thing you do is try to find the owner.

Go into the establishment and find a manager to help you find the owner.  They may be able to page the owner of the car if you provide a description and the plate number.

If you’ve made the effort to find the owner or the dog appears to be in real distress, your next step should be to call the police.

Ask the operator what to do.  If they have an officer nearby, that officer will have the authority to break the car window if necessary.  They’ll also have a partner who can help speed up the search for the owner.

If you just can’t wait for help, you may feel it necessary to break the window.

Pug laying on passenger seat of car panting with door open

But do so knowing you may be charged with destruction of property or another crime.

Personally, I’d do it.  I think it’s worth the risk to my pristine arrest record to save a dog’s life.

Some pet parents don’t realize the danger their dog was in.  These parents might just drop the charges… but don’t count on it.

There are some people out there who will be convinced that they did nothing wrong and that you overreacted.

I’ve read stories about 911 operators telling you to go ahead and break the window if they can’t get someone to you.  In that case, I doubt that you’d be charged with any crime since you followed the instructions of the emergency operator.  But I don’t know how often that happens.

And if you’re a pet parent who thinks it’s cruel to leave your dog home when you run errands, this post is for you.  Leaving your dog home on a hot day is a kindness, not a punishment.

Please leave your dog at home if you will have to leave them in a car.

For more information on health & safety, Fireworks Safety and Your Dog – 6 Ways to Soothe & Protect Your Pup or Should Your Dog Sleep With You?

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