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Updated: Feb 14, 2022


Photo Credit: East Bay SPCA

It’s summer and just like fireworks on the Fourth of July (hope you had a good one), we can expect to see news stories about animals left in hot cars, or stranded outside in the heat. It’s hard to believe with all the publicity every year that anyone could ignore the dangers of leaving pets in a vehicle with  little ventilation, or left out in the blazing sun with no shade; but they do. Increasingly states are addressing the situation.

New “Hot Car” Laws

As of 2016, 21 states have “hot car laws” on the books about leaving animals unattended in vehicles, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The laws range from “Good Samaritan” hot car laws that allow private citizens to do what’s necessary to save a life to laws that allow certain public officials to do so. So far only Florida, Tennessee and Wisconsin allow you to legally break a window but similar laws are pending in other states.

While being left in a hot car is a risk for anyone, it’s particularly dangerous for dogs. As The HolidogTimespoints out, dogs can’t sweat to cool down the same way humans do, which makes being trapped in a hot car even more dangerous since they overheat more quickly. On a 70 degree day, a car can heat up to 80 degrees in 10 minutes and reach 104 degrees in a half hour.

Don’t Let Your Dog Become Dehydrated Outside or In

It’s not only being trapped in a hot car that is a problem for dogs in the summer. Being out in the hot sun too long causes dehydration, which is a health risk to your dog. Avoid walking your dog at midday when the sun is hottest. When you go for a walk, bring along a bottle of water and if your pooch looks uncomfortable stop in a shady area. Also remember that we wear shoes, dogs don’t. If the pavement is too hot, it can burn your dog’s feet. If you aren’t sure about the pavement heat, put the back of your hand on it. If you can’t keep your hand on the pavement for five seconds, it’s too hot for your dog.

Make sure your pet has plenty of clean, fresh water to drink.

Cats Are Also at Risk

While we might think of cats as being more self-sufficient, hot weather can be dangerous for them, as well. Without shade or a cool place to retreat to, they can still get over-heated and dehydrated. Like dogs, cats don’t sweat. If your cat stays outdoors, keep water bowls in the shade and change them several times a day. For indoor cats, make water as appealing as possible by changing it frequently and washing the bowl every day. In very hot weather, keep water cool by dropping a couple of ice cubes in the bowl.

“Catwise” author Pam Johnson-Bennett notes that cats can get sunburned and always need to have access to shade when outdoors.

Also remember that dogs pant, cats don’t. If your cat is panting, it is because she is too hot and in danger of suffering heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Take immediate action to help cool down your feline.

Even inside your home your dog or cat can become overheated. For starters, keep pets inside when the temperature hits the danger zone. Make sure there is plenty of water around the house and if necessary provide a cooling pad for comfort. Keep the air conditioning or fans operating when you are not at home.

Warning Signs

If you notice any of the following signs, it could be heatstroke. Call your vet immediately.

  • Panting excessively

  • Labored breathing

  • Red or enlarged tongue

  • Sluggish

  • Unresponsive or extremely slow to respond

  • A cat with heatstroke will feel hot to the touch on the pads of her feet.

Prevention is Key

The best medicine is prevention.  If you suspect your dog is getting too hot, don’t wait until medical intervention is needed: 

  • Hose the dog down with cold water

  • For your cat, dampen a towel and use it to gently stroke her body

  • Offer ice cubes or other cold treats

  • Place wet towels against the pads of your dog’s or cat’s feet

  • Rub dog’s paw pads with rubbing alcohol

  • Place your pet on a cool surface right away, such as a tiled floor. Then turn on a fan and place it so that it is blowing on her to remove some of the heat.

Our pets can’t tell us in words when they are suffering so be alert for any signs they are struggling.



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