Leaving your dog in a hot car – is it illegal?

Dog left alone in hot car

The UK heatwave is upon us, which can come with danger for dogs who are left in a hot car. 30 minutes is all it can take for the temperature inside a car to reach extremely dangerous levels. A lot of us wouldn’t know what to do if faced with a pooch left in a boiling car. In fact, it’s estimated that 3 million of British motorists wouldn’t interfere if they saw a pooch in a hot car.


Is cracking a window open enough for a dog?

With 8 more heatwaves due this summer in the UK, motorists need to be more aware of the dangers that come with leaving their pet in the car. Some people think that cracking the window open will allow the dog to be more comfortable and let some air in. However, the RSPCA warns:


“It can still be a very dangerous situation for a dog. A car can become as hot as an oven very quickly, even when it doesn’t feel that warm”.


Unfortunately, these serious incidents are still happening across the UK. The RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty hotline took 745 calls between Saturday 20th May and Monday 29th May. All of these calls related to animals overheating during a hot weather spell.

Dog abandoned in hot car with window cracked open

Signs of heatstroke in a dog:

  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Look tired, drowsy or uncoordinated
  • The dog has collapsed or is vomiting


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

It can be difficult to know what to do if you come across a pooch in a hot car. According to Confused.com, only 1 in 100 people would attempt to break into a car and save the dog. “Whether or not they are showing signs of overheating, we strongly urge passers-by to look for the owners, or even call 999 to save the pooch’s life” If the dog is showing signs of overheating, call 999 immediately, not the RSPCA as they do not have powers of entry. The RSPCA has a 24-hour emergency cruelty line which can be used to seek advice only. You can call 0300 1234 999.


Should I smash the car window?

Before smashing the car window, there are some things that you should do first.

  • Look to see if the dog is showing any signs of heatstroke.
  • Try to establish how long the dog has been in the car – a parking ticket might help
  • If you need to smash a window, you may be asked to defend your decision in court. Make sure you take photos of the dog and get contact details of any witnesses.
  • Ensure that there is someone with the dog at all times
  • If there are any shops or cafés nearby, get a member of staff to make an announcement about the dog, including the car’s registration number.
  • Call the police and inform them of the situation. If they’re unable to attend and you need to take action, explain what you intend to do.
  • If completely necessary, you are permitted to take action.

Infographic about what to do if you see a dog trapped in a hot car

What to do once the dog is out of the car

So, the dog is out of the car… now what? Take the dog to a shaded area and pour cool water over them. It’s important that the water isn’t too cold as this can cause shock. Let them have a drink and wait until their breathing starts to settle. Then take the dog to the vets as soon as possible to seek urgent medical attention.

Dog rescued from hot car, drinking cool water

What does the law state?

In the UK, it’s not illegal to leave your dog in the car. However, it is illegal to abuse or mistreat your animal. Leaving your dog in the car on a hot day is deemed as animal cruelty and you could be faced with a fine. If your dog dies or becomes ill after being left in a hot car, you could potentially be prosecuted for animal cruelty and jailed for six months.

Back in June 2016, 66-year-old Jonathan Theobald left his three pets in the car for almost 5 hours on a hot day while attending the gym. He said that he “misjudged the weather” and, unfortunately all three dogs died from heatstroke. For this, he was given 18-weeks in jail, a fine of £1,900 and was banned from keeping animals for 10 years.


If you are travelling with your dog, make sure you don’t leave them in the car. Ensure you have plenty of water, and that the car stays at a comfortable temperature. To avoid unnecessary breakdowns or problems with your car while your dog is in the back, be sure to book your car in for a service. You can use our quick, easy and free online booking tool.


Libby Simmons

Libby has been working for BookMyGarage writing articles, creating newsletters and handling the social media platforms. She works closely with ex-mechanics and subject matter experts to provide weekly blogs: essential advice on how to care for your car, need-to-know news and developments in the motoring world and helpful tips on how to cut the costs of running and maintaining your car.

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