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If your pup is like most dogs, he probably loves car rides — the breeze in his face, sun on his fur, new smells. You love to indulge him whenever possible, but taking him along with you inevitably means leaving him alone in the car for at least a few minutes. Is leaving your dog in the car ever safe? And what should you do when you see a dog left in a car on a sweltering day? Here's what you need to know to keep your pooch safe.
How Quickly Does it Get Too Hot or Cold for a Dog?
On a mild day of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside your car can quickly rocket to over 115 degrees, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics; most of this heat rise occurs within just 30 minutes. And dogs can experience heat exhaustion when their body temperature hits just 103 degrees.
Cracking a window and parking in the shade makes little difference. The problem is that cars are temperature conductors. Even in the shade and with the windows down, cars conduct and amplify the outdoor temperature — it doesn't need to be very warm outside for the inside of your car to become unbearably hot.
Leaving your dog in a freezing car can be just as dangerous as leaving him in a hot car, says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When the heater isn't running, cold temperatures can basically turn your car into a refrigerator and could cause your dog hypothermia.
Is It Ever Safe to Leave My Dog in the Car?
It's generally safe to leave your dog in the car for a maximum of five minutes, and when the outside temperature is above freezing and below 70 degrees.
Here are other tips to safely leave your dog in the car:
- During daylight hours, crack a window and park in a shady spot.
- Be sure not to get sidetracked. A five-minute errand can easily turn dangerous for your dog if you become distracted from returning to your car right away.
- If you have a passenger in the car with you, have them stay in the car with your dog and keep the heat or air conditioner running.
Alternatives to Leaving Your Dog in the Car
You can always ask the business you're visiting if you're allowed to bring your dog along while you do your shopping or get a bite to eat. You may be surprised to learn how many businesses are happy to allow dogs inside, as long as they're on a leash or in a carrier. Due to health codes, not all businesses are legally able to do this, but it never hurts to ask.
Some businesses are even incorporating temperature-controlled dog kennels in front of their stores. This allows you to pay to put your dog in the kennel, safely locked, while you do your shopping. When you're done, you can let your dog, pay and head on your way.
If you're driving with someone else, they could wait with your dog — as long as he's on a leash — in a shady spot outside of the car, while you do what you need to do inside.
The safest option, however, is to leave your dog at home (or drop him off at a boarding kennel) on warm or cold days, especially if you'll be making stops at places where he's not allowed inside.
What to Do When You See a Dog Left in a Car
If you notice a dog left in a car under dangerous conditions — keeping in mind that an outside temperature of just 70 degrees is hot enough for the inside of a car to become dangerous — your first step should be to locate the owner of the car. Take down the car's make, model and license plate, and ask someone inside the business to help track down the owner.
If they can't be found, or if they continue to ignore the dog, your next step should be to call the authorities. Many states have laws against leaving pets in parked cars, so the dog parent could face fines or other legal consequences.
Keep in mind that you should only consider breaking into a locked car to rescue a dog as a last resort. While legal in some states, it's generally best to leave such action to the authorities — as doing so can be dangerous to you or the pet.
Keeping Your Dog's Safety in Mind
As much fun as it can be to take your pup along on errands, his safety comes first. While leaving your dog in the car might be OK under certain conditions, generally speaking, it's best to leave your fluffy bud at home when you're going somewhere he's not allowed.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.