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Why you should never leave your dog in the car!

Even on mild days, it’s dangerous for animals to be left in a car. Most people understand that if dogs are left in cars during hot weather they are subject to dangerous conditions, but there really is NO safe situation to leave your dog unattended in a vehicle. While it may not feel hot to you, weather conditions can change quickly, and with them, your dog’s chances of survival. Even if the weather stays mild, cars are made of metal and glass which absorb heat, so they can heat up quickly at any time of the year. Temperatures inside a car can climb to more than double the outside temperature in a matter of minutes.

The risks of leaving your dog in a car

To be on the safe side, never leave your dog (or any animal) unattended in a car. This way, you will protect them from the following risks:

Heatstroke is the worst-case scenario. This occurs when an animal’s inner body temperature rises above the normal range, leading to tissue damage and organ failure. Heatstroke causes severe suffering and animals will die quickly without urgent veterinary treatment. All dogs and other animals are susceptible to heatstroke, especially those who are small, young or old, short-nosed, obese or heavily furred, and those with medical conditions such as heart or breathing problems. It takes as little as six minutes for a dog to die in a hot car – less time than it would take you to queue up and pay for petrol. Dogs left on the back of utes are also at risk, especially in the sun.

Unlike humans, dogs have very few sweat glands, so these are not effective at cooling them down. Instead, they need to rely on panting, which produces moist air, but if the air around them is too hot, they are unable to get their body temperature back to normal. It is also important to know that no measures you take can prevent heatstroke if your dog is left in a car – leaving the windows down, parking in a cool spot in the shade, tinting glass windows or leaving water in the car only offer a false sense of security.

Dehydration is another risk of dogs being left in cars. This occurs when an animal is unable to replace lost body fluids (water and electrolytes) that are essential for healthy functioning. Dehydration can quickly become a medical emergency and contribute to heatstroke. The secondary effects of heatstroke are widespread, affecting the cardiac, respiratory, gastrointestinal, nervous and muscular systems. Dogs who experience heatstroke can be left with serious medical problems such as kidney damage.

Brain damage is another tragic outcome for some dogs who manage to survive heatstroke, usually after intensive veterinary treatment. This condition is life changing for both the dog and their human family.

What should you do if you find a dog in a hot car?

If you find a dog left unattended in a hot car or other vehicle, get help immediately. If the car is locked and you cannot identify the owner, contact emergency services (like your local Police on 000 or roadside assistance) as they have the authority to remove the dog and will act quickly. You could also call your local RSPCA cruelty hotline. Be sure to take down the car’s registration details. If the car is parked in the carpark of a business, contact the manager and ask them to make a public announcement to locate the owner. Always ensure that someone remains with the dog until help arrives. And remember, dogs found in this situation may require urgent veterinary assessment.

There is no safe period for dogs to be left unattended in cars, even on cool days. The best alternative is to leave your dog at home with access to shade, fresh water and shelter. If you must take them out in the car and need to leave them for a short time, secure them in a safe, shady spot outside the car, provide them with fresh water and find someone reliable to supervise them until you return.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.