Can I legally leave my dog in the car? These are the laws you need to know

Leaving your dog in your car for only a short period of time is still extremely dangerous

It only takes a few minutes for the interior of the car to become dangerously hot for a dog (Photo: Shutterstock)
It only takes a few minutes for the interior of the car to become dangerously hot for a dog (Photo: Shutterstock)

With Edinburgh summer temperatures predicted to soar, the Scottish SPCA has issued a warning regarding leaving dogs in cars.

Last year’s heatwave saw a surge in reports of dogs being left in hot cars. Even the recent warm weather over the Easter weekend saw the charity receiving 43 concerned calls regarding the welfare of dogs left in cars.

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A plea to warn the public

The Scottish SPCA has teamed up with the RSPCA, and other animal welfare organisations, to issue a nationwide warning, urging the public to avoid leaving dogs in vehicles on hot days.

Chief superintendent of the Scottish SPCA Mike Flynn said, “If you imagine being trapped in an oven with a fur coat, it will give you some sense of how a dog can feel inside a hot car.”

What happens to a dog in a hot car?

“Many people don’t realise that even on warm, cloudy days, vehicles can effectively turn into ovens and dogs can overheat in minutes,” explained Flynn.

Dogs don’t respond to the heat the same way humans do - instead of sweating, dogs will pant, which can lead to severe dehydration and hyperventilation.

Speaking of a specific case, Flynn said, “In one case in 2016, a Yorkshire terrier died from a cardiac arrest due caused by heat stroke after just one hour inside a hot car.”

It only takes a matter of minutes for your dog to overheat in a hot vehicle and the SSPCA chief superintendent says, “Leaving a window open or a bowl of water is simply not good enough."

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“Our message is simple – don’t risk it. If you’ll be leaving the dog in the car, even on a warm, cloudy day, just leave your pet at home with plenty of water and adequate ventilation.”

What are the consequences of leaving my dog in my car?

Apart from the potential risks for your dog, there are other consequences you might suffer from.

“Over the years, we have prosecuted people who have allowed dogs to die in hot cars,” Flynn states.

While it’s not specifically illegal to leave your dog in a hot car, if a dog suffers or dies as a result of such circumstances, you can be prosecuted for neglect or cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.Owners can be landed with an unlimited fine and even receive a six month prison sentence.

What should I do if I’m worried about a dog in a car?

If you’re concerned about the welfare of a dog in a car, or any other animal, you should contact the Scottish SPCA’s animal helpline on 0300 999 999.

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Flynn said, “A dog in a hot car is in serious and immediate danger and a member of our team will attend any reports of these as quickly as possible.”

If there’s no one around, sometimes the first instinct can be to smash the car window in order to help the dog - however, this could be classed as criminal damage.

The Scottish SPCA advises anyone who feels they need to go to such lengths to inform them and Police Scotland first and to take photos and videos of the dog.

What else can I do for my dog on a hot day?

As well as information regarding vehicles, the Scottish SPCA is also spreading general advice for pet owners to help their furry friends during hot weather:

"Dogs benefit from being walked early in the morning or late at night as pavements can get very hot and burn their paws. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for paws.

Cooling bandanas, paddling pools or cold/wet blankets are a great way to help a canine keep cool in the heat.

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If your pet seems uncomfortable, dipping their feet in to water or spraying a mist of water on to their face can help."

What are the signs of heat stroke in dogs?

The RSPCA states that these are the signs pet owners need to look out for with regard to heat stroke:

Is your dog panting heavily?

Is your dog drooling excessively?

Does your dog appear to be fatigued or uncoordinated?

Has your dog collapsed or is vomiting?

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If yes, then you should call your vet immediately.

In the meantime there are ways to help - you want to focus on gradually bringing your dog's body temperature down:

Move the dog to a cooler, shaded area.

Douse the dog with cool water - not cold water as that can cause shock.

Encourage the dog to drink small amounts of cool water.

Continue to do this until the dogs breathing starts to settle - but not so much that it begins to shiver.

Once you’ve done this, getting your dog to the vet is the main focus.