What You Need to Know About Dogs in Hot Cars

Dogs in Hot CarsWe hear it all the time that dogs in hot cars are in danger of overheating…but what does that mean? When is it too hot? When is your dog in danger of overheating? What do you do if you see a dog in a hot car? What is legal to do in NC?

Don’t worry, we know it’s a lot of information to process, but we’re going to cover it all today!

Dogs in Hot Cars: What You Need to Know About the Temperature

Dog owners often mistakenly believe that leaving a window cracked is enough ventilation to cool down a car so that they can leave their dog in the car while they shop. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Did you know that cracking the window actually does very little in terms of cooling down the temperature of your car?

Let’s take a look at some temperature comparisons…

Outside Temperature Time Passed Interior Car Temperature
75˚F 10 mins 100˚F
75˚F 30 mins 120˚F
85˚F 5 mins 90˚F
85˚F 8 mins 100˚F
85˚F 30 mins 120˚F
100˚F 15 mins 140˚F

So after 10 minutes in the car when it’s just 75 degrees (and relatively comfortable) outside the temperature inside your car can skyrocket to 100 degrees.

The average body temperature for your dog is 101.5 to 102 degrees. Once that temperature reaches 109 degrees, cells within your dog’s body will begin to die and they will succumb to heatstroke. Dogs don’t necessarily die from heatstroke, but the toll it takes on their internal organs is devastating.

Damage from overheating begins to take place before your dog’s body reaches 109 degrees, however.

A Quick Lesson in Biology…

A dog has multiple systems of lowering their body temperature.


Dogs can cool through conduction – that is, they can lie on a cold surface and absorb that cool temperature through their skin to bring down their body temperature.

Dogs can cool through convection – that is, through the movement of air around their body, such as when a fan blows onto them.

Dogs can cool through radiation – that is, the radiation of body heat into the environment from the body by the dilation of blood vessels. As blood vessels dilate, “hot blood” is taken from the inside of the body to the skin’s surface where the heat dissipates into the surrounding environment.

Lastly, dogs can cool down through evaporation – that is, they hang out their tongue and pant to quickly move air over the wet surface of the tongue to bring down the body temperature.

Don’t Dog’s Sweat?

Yes, but not in the same way that we do. Dogs sweat only through the paw pads of their feet which severely limits their ability to lower their body temperature.

How Does This Play Into Your Dog Being in a Hot Car?

Conduction – cooling by conduction requires a cool surface. There are no cool surfaces in a hot car.

Convection – cooling by convection requires the movement of air around the dog, a cracked window does not provide enough movement of air through a hot car to bring down the internal temperature. Additionally, the air being moved through the car is still uncomfortably hot, minimizing how much your dog could cool themselves even if the windows were fully open and there was a breeze.

Radiation – cooling by radiation becomes a problem for your dog when the external temperature is too high to allow cooling. For example, if the interior of your car reaches 120 degrees, it becomes hotter around your dog than it is inside your dog so the excess body heat of your dog is not going to dissipate into the external environment. Instead, that exterior environment is going to increase your dog’s internal temperature.

Panting – Panting is the only real means that your dog has of cooling themselves inside a hot car. Unfortunately, high levels of humidity or dehydration in a hot dog seriously reduces the effectiveness of this cooling method. This means that the hotter your dog gets, the less able they are to cool themselves effectively.

What Should You Do About Leaving Your Dog In Your Car?


Unless you are taking your dog straight to the vet and straight home again, straight to the park and straight home again, etc. there is no reason to leave your dog in your car ever.

Can’t you leave your dog in the car with the ignition on?

We don’t advise it. There are mechanical problems that can cause your car ignition to cut off. Without your knowledge, your car will quickly heat up and your dog will overheat. Additionally, there is also the concern that your dog might accidentally knock the car into gear.

Can’t you leave your dog in the car when it’s comfortable out?

No. As you can see in the chart above, “comfortable” outside, does not necessarily mean comfortable inside your car!

But what about when it’s MUCH cooler out?

We still don’t advise it. A car is no place for your dog.

If you can’t take your dog inside an area with you, don’t take them along with you in the car. If you need to run other errands, take your dog home first and do them later!

What Do You Do If You See a Dog in a Hot Car in NC?

Different states have different regulations in regards to the appropriate protocol to follow if you see a dog in a hot car.

The following is North Carolina law as it applies to animals located in hot vehicles within the state:

NC ST § 14-363.3

(a) In order to protect the health and safety of an animal, any animal control officer,animal cruelty investigator appointed under G.S. 19A-45, law enforcement officer, firefighter, or rescue squad worker, who has probable cause to believe that an animal is confined in a motor vehicle under conditions that are likely to cause suffering, injury, or death to the animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or under other endangering conditions, may enter the motor vehicle by any reasonable means under the circumstances after making a reasonable effort to locate the owner or other person responsible for the animal.

(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to apply to the transportation of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, poultry, or other livestock.”

Note that in North Carolina, there is no “good Samaritan” law which protects you as a member of the general public if you break into a car to rescue an overheated animal. If you do this, you can be prosecuted for damages by the owner of the vehicle.

So, what should you do?

Contact local authorities and make every attempt to find the owner of the vehicle while waiting for the authorities to arrive.

Many pet lovers choose to disregard the lack of good samaritan laws in North Carolina and risk prosecution in order to save an animal in distress. Know that if you do this, you are not on the right side of the law. You may, however, be saving a life. Just be prepared for any consequences that may follow.


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