Is There a Safe Temperature to Leave a Dog in a Car?

August 15, 2016

By Linda Cole

For many responsible pet owners, their dog is an important member of the family. So it’s natural to want to take your four legged friend with you in the car. There’s nothing wrong with bringing your dog along for a car ride, as long as you have no plans to make any stops where you have to leave him in the car. It doesn’t take long for a car to heat up in summer temperatures or cool down during the winter. But is there a safe temperature to leave a dog in a car?

Currently, 22 states have laws that either make it illegal to leave a dog unattended in a parked vehicle, or grant private citizens immunity from being held liable for damages resulting from freeing the dog, if it’s obvious the dog is at risk of injury or death. The language in most of these laws state that for a pet owner to be in violation of the law, an animal must be confined or left alone inside a parked car under certain conditions that put the pet at risk. Some laws specifically state that it’s unlawful to leave a pet alone in a car in extreme hot or cold temperatures, while others are written more generally and only say conditions that are likely to result in injury or death.

In states with no laws on their books addressing pets left in vehicles, city governments are enacting ordinances and it’s likely others will follow suit. So it’s important for pet owners to be aware of their local ordinances and be aware of laws in other cities when traveling with your pet. Stopping for a bite to eat, to go shopping or any stop that requires leaving your pet alone in the car could cost you. Penalties for violating these laws can range from fines and/or jail time to having your pet taken away from you. Even if there are no laws concerning pets in hot or cold vehicles, animal cruelty charges are a possibility if a pet is put in harm’s way.

Heat and humidity affect our furry friends the same way it does us. Humidity accompanied by 90 degree or higher temperatures make us feel miserable. Even lower temps with humid air can be dangerous for pets trapped inside a car. It doesn’t take long for a vehicle to heat up, and cracking the windows open even on a mild day doesn’t really help. The hotter the temperature is inside a vehicle, the harder it is for a dog, or any pet, to stay cool when hot air is the only thing they have to breathe. That puts them at risk of heat stroke. A dog’s age and health can also be a factor in how well he handles extreme temps.

When the outside temperature is 70 degrees, a car can heat up to 89 degrees in just 10 minutes, and to 104 in 30 minutes. At 80 degrees outside, you’re looking at 99 degrees inside a vehicle in 10 minutes and 114 in 30 minutes. At 95 degrees, it only takes 10 minutes to reach 114 degrees and the temperature soars to 129 degrees in 30 minutes.

We wouldn’t want to stay in a vehicle and endure any of those temperatures for very long. Yet every year we read about pet owners who leave their dog alone in a vehicle while shopping, dining out, going to the movies or doing other things. This is putting their pet at risk. To understand the heat your pet experiences while waiting in the car, sit in it for 10 to 30 minutes with the windows cracked. Keep in mind, your dog is also wearing a fur coat.

As much as a car can heat up in summer temps, it can cool down to under freezing just as fast. Pets that don’t normally spend a lot of time outside in the winter are more susceptible to the cold when left alone inside a vehicle. Hypothermia can become a risk at 50 degrees.

Leaving the motor running is a bad idea, even if you’ve cracked a window to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in winter or leave the air conditioning running in the summer. An unrestrained pet can accidentally put the car in gear, which is what happened recently in a Walmart parking lot in West Virginia. Another reason why it’s a bad idea to leave the car running is if the engine dies, the cool air or heat goes away. Meanwhile, a dog is put at risk of becoming too hot or too cold while their owner is unaware there’s a problem.

Is there a safe temperature to leave a dog alone inside a parked car? Not really. It’s best to leave your pet at home where you know he’s safe. If you do need to take your dog along, use common sense and pay close attention to outside temperatures and how long he’s been in the car.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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