What to do if you see a dog trapped in a hot car

Sabrina Barr
·4-min read

As people make the most of the sunshine this summer, many may choose to go on days out, bringing their pets in tow.

It is important for dog owners to take proper care of their pets if travelling in the heat, with the majority of calls the RSPCA receives in the summer months about dogs left in hot, stationary cars.

If you come across a dog that’s been left alone in a car on a hot day, the RSPCA recommends taking action if you suspect that its health could be in danger.

According to the organisation, when it’s 22C outside, a car’s temperature can drastically increase to 47C in as little as an hour.

Here’s what to do if you see a dog that’s been trapped in a hot car this summer, as outlined by the animal welfare charity:

Check for signs of heatstroke

First, you must check if the dog is displaying signs of heatstroke, which is when they’re unable to reduce their body temperature.

The most apparent signs of heatstroke in a dog are heavy panting, excessive drooling, if the dog appears drowsy or out of sorts, if it’s collapsed or if it’s being sick.

If you believe that the dog is in a seriously grave condition, then the RSPCA advises contacting professional help as soon as possible.

Seek professional help

If a dog is visibly suffering from inside a locked hot car, then the RSPCA has suggested that onlookers dial 999 for help.

The police will then be able to reach the RSPCA, who will be able to provide assistance swiftly if needed.

Alternatively, you can call the charity's 24-hour cruelty phone number for advice, which is 0300 1234 999.

You can also make contact with your local dog warden for help by visiting the government's website and entering the postcode of the area for more information.

If you do call the police, you'll be asked to explain the details of the situation thoroughly, including the condition of the dog and the registration number of the car.

Make sure that you take photos of the dog or take videos at the scene, also making a note of the names of witnesses.

Break into the car

If you choose to break into a car to free an overheated dog, then you could be at risk of being charged for a crime.

However, according to the Criminal Damage Act of 1971, if you believe that the owner of the property that you’re about to damage would give their permission for the damage if they understood the situation, then you have a lawful reason to do so.

Therefore, if a dog is displaying clear signs of heatstroke and professional help hasn’t arrived yet, then breaking the car window could be a wise decision.

Once the dog has been taken out of the car, you may have to then perform emergency first aid depending on its condition.

Perform emergency first aid

First, make sure that the dog has been placed in a cool and shaded area.

Next, pour water onto the dog. However, you must make sure that the water is cool, not cold, as cold water can cause the dog to go into shock.

You could also use wet towels and a fan to cool them down further.

Give the dog small amounts of cool water to drink and continue to douse it with cool water until its breathing has slowed down.

If the dog begins to shiver, then they have been cooled too much.

Once the dog is sufficiently cool and their breathing has returned to a steadier pace, then you're advised to take it to the nearest vet straight away.

What to do if a dog in a hot car isn’t showing signs of heatstroke

If you’ve come across a dog in a hot car that isn’t showing signs of heatstroke, there are still several steps that you can take in order to ensure its wellbeing.

Try to figure out how long the dog’s been left in the car for, perhaps by searching for a “pay and display” ticket on the dashboard.

Even if the owner returns to their car soon thereafter, the situation could still warrant a police report. With that in mind, it could be worth taking note of the car’s registration number.

If you’ve found the dog in a parked car by a shop or event, the RSPCA says to ask a member of staff to make a public announcement in order to notify the owner.

It’s unwise to leave a dog that's been left in a hot car alone, even if it’s not suffering from heatstroke. You should be prepared to dial 999 if needs be or have someone else stay by the dog to keep an eye on it.

If you need further advice on animal cruelty, then you can call the RSPCA hotline on 0300 1234 999, which is open 24 hours a day.

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