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Whether or not you can leave your dog in the car is a hot discussion topic. Some people will tell you to never leave your dog in the car for any period of time, while others say it’s okay under certain temperature conditions. So, what’s the right answer?
There are certain temperature guidelines to be aware of when leaving your dog in the car. So, can you leave a dog in a car on a cool day? The short answer is yes, as long as the outside temperature is above freezing and below 70F/21C. It’s generally safe to leave your dog in the car for up to 10 minutes at a time.
It’s safer to leave your dog in the car if you take proper precautions. Taking a few steps of extra care and caution will ensure your dog is safe and comfortable. There are some tips and tricks you can follow for leaving your dog in a car.
Why not leave your dog at home?
This is a statement echoed in many a newscast and article every spring and summer. Your dog is not safe in the car, so leave him at home. While I’m not advocating for locking your dog in a hot car for hours on end (that would be considered abuse), I am advocating for keeping your dog safe and happy while still having the ability to take him on road trips. Taking your dog with you means occasionally, he might have to stay in the car. Dogs don’t like being left alone. Safe car trips mean being alone less often.
What temperature is too hot to leave your dog in the car?
We stated above that 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 degrees. Celsius is a good temperature benchmark for determining whether your dog can stay in the car. However, this guideline comes with a lot of variants, so it isn’t a hard and fast rule. Seventy degrees in the sunshine will heat up the car way faster than 70 degrees in the shade. With most new vehicles coming equipped with remote starters and locking mechanisms, what about leaving the car running with the air conditioning on? Or what about wintertime? We talk a whole lot about not leaving your dog in a hot car, but what about leaving him in the car when it’s -20 degrees outside (if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere it gets cold)?
Here are some other factors that vary the temperature inside your car:
- Pale colored interiors don’t heat up as fast as cars with black interiors
- There are a ton of available tools to help keep your dog cool and comfortable (we’ll talk about these below)
- If the air conditioner or heater is running, your dog is at the same temperature he would be while you’re driving
Making your dog safe when left in a car
There are several steps you can take to keep your dog safe while he’s left in the car.
- Park your car in the shade. Less sun beating in the windows means less greenhouse effect and an overall cooler interior.
- Provide water for your dog. This helps increase their comfort level and cool them off if they need it.
- Check infrequently. If you are going to be away from the car for longer than 15 minutes, check in on your dog every 15 minutes. If it’s cloudy and cool outside, you can increase this interval slightly. If the sun’s out, frequently check, even if the temperatures cool.
- Get white interior covers for your car and a reflective dashboard mat to place in your windshield.
- Put window shades on your side windows. They don’t market them for pets, but they do market them for children in car seats to block the sun from beating inside windows.
- Leave the air conditioner (or heater if it’s winter) on using a remote starter, spare key, or a steering wheel lock.
If you are going on a long trip and might need to leave your dog in the car frequently or for longer periods of time, you can consider some high teach options.
- A temperature monitor (see Amazon) installed in your car runs via remote sensors that can be read directly on your smartphone. While this doesn’t do anything to alter the car’s temperature, it can give you peace of mind while you’re away.
- Zoie + Chloe Car & Truck Window Pet Gate can be installed on side windows to “lock” your car but allow you to open all your windows fully while your dog is inside.
- Cooling pads or jackets for your dog can help keep your dog’s internal temperature down. There are also cooling mats that your dog can lay on to stay cool.
- Tailgate locks can be installed on car trunks to allow you to open your trunk for extra airflow. They’re secure and provide significantly more airflow than windows alone.
What do I do if I find a dog left in a hot car?
If it’s hot outside and you notice a dog sitting alone in a car, the first thing to do is not panic. As stated above, the majority of dog owners take great care of their dogs and are extra cautious about leaving their dogs in hot cars. It’s possible they have taken extra measures like the ones listed above to keep their dog cool. Sometimes leaving your dog in the car is completely unavoidable. So to start with, assume the best about the owner. Don’t immediately call the police, and definitely don’t break their car window.
Here’s what you should do if you find a dog left in a hot car:
- Leave the dog alone – Most dogs are content in their owner’s car and nap while they’re there alone. Hovering and banging on windows will only increase the dog’s level of distress or put him in a state of distress.
- Wait it out – The owner may have run in somewhere for a bathroom break and will only be gone for 5 minutes.
- Observe from a distance – If the dog is napping, he’s fine. Dog’s don’t sleep when they’re in a distressed state. If he’s panting lightly, he’s still fine. This is a dog’s natural cooling mechanism. If you’re sweating outside, the dog would be panting whether he was in the car or out of it.
If the dog is drooling excessively, appears incoherent, is frantically panting with his tongue hanging out, looks like he’s grinning, or is unconscious, it’s time to get help.
- Find the owner (if you can). Look for any contact information on the car. Many dog owners who frequently travel with their pets leave a note with a phone number. If you can’t find anything, take down a license plate number and head inside the nearest business. Ask them to overhead page the owner.
- If you are confident the dog is in distress and can’t find the owner, then call the local police for assistance.
- Only break the car windows if it is ABSOLUTELY necessary to save the dog. Before you do this, it’s a good idea to know the legal implications. Whether it’s legal to break out a dog varies depending on location.
Remember, most dog owners love their dogs more than you do. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is the best practice most of the time.
Can I leave my dog in the car in winter?
The short answer is no, not unless you leave the heater running. In the same way, dogs suffer from heatstroke in the summer; they can suffer from hypothermia in the winter. Cars cool quickly, so take extra precautions below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Your dog’s cold tolerance will depend on his breed, his coat, and whether he is regularly outdoors in the cold temperatures.
How long can my dog travel in the car?
Most experts agree that an adult dog can travel in a vehicle for no more than four hours at a time without breaks. Young dogs and puppies should be provided with walk breaks every two hours. This is assuming that you are traveling in a car with enough air circulation to keep everyone comfortable during travel.
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