Summer is here and the weather is really hotting up. Some of us may have already suffered a spell of heatstroke and will know how uncomfortable it is, but we are not the only ones that are vulnerable in particularly warm weather. If a dog has heatstroke, its condition can be life-threatening.

Can I lawfully smash window to save a dog's life?
The law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if:
'at the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence you believed that the person or persons whom you believe to be entitled to consent to the destruction of or damage to the property in question would so consent to it if s/he had known of the destruction or damage and its circumstances' (section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971).

In plain English this means:
Yes, you can if it means saving the life of a dog.
No, you can't if the dog is not in immediate danger.

Even if the weather outside is mild, cars can accumulate heat in a matter of minutes. The RSPCA warns that an outside temperature of 22°C can easily reach 47°C (inside a car) within 60 minutes. According to Dogs Trust, a dog left in a hot car can die in just 20 minutes if its body temperature rises above 41°C.

Because of the rapid temperature rise, all it takes is 15 minutes for a dog to succumb to the heat and die. If it doesn't die from heatstroke or suffocation, it is likely to suffer brain damage. Bear in mind that leaving a window open or using blackout sun shields will not keep the temperature down enough. Imagine sitting in a car on a baking hot day with just the window cracked. Five minutes will be long enough, let alone an hour. Before leaving your dog for any length of time, ask yourself if you would be able to cope in the conditions and then consider that dogs are twice as heat sensitive as we are.

Some dogs are more likely to suffer than others. Particularly young and particularly old dogs are more vulnerable than adult dogs, a bit like particularly young and particularly old people. Long-haired breeds are better insulated than short-haired breeds so are more heat sensitive. This is also true for dogs that are overweight or muscly. Dogs with loose facial skin and short snouts may find it harder to breathe so should never be left unattended in a car for any length of time. Pugs and English Bulldogs are particularly sensitive.

In the UK it might not be illegal to leave your dog in a car, but it is illegal to mis-treat or abuse an animal in your care. Leaving your dog in a hot car is deemed animal neglect under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and you may face a fine and a good telling-off for your troubles. Noticing a dog trapped in a car on a warm day can also be very stressful for passers-by as it places them in an impossible situation. Do you smash the window to get the dog out? Or do you just sit back and wait for the owner to return?

Unless you can justify your actions and there is 'reasonable' cause, you may face a criminal damage charge for forcing entry into someone's vehicle. Look out for signs that suggest genuine distress before taking action. A dog suffering with heatstroke will:

  • be panting/gasping
  • be restless and/or weak and/or disorientated
  • have an increased heart rate
  • be salivating excessively
  • be vomiting or defecating
  • be extremely thirsty

If you see a dog in a hot car this summer, it is best to call the police or the RSPCA's 24-hour cruelty line on 0300 1234999.

Once the dog has been accessed, you need to reduce its body temperature. This should be done urgently, but gradually. Start by moving the dog to a cool, shaded spot and offering it sips of water. Allow the dog to lick an ice cube. If possible, take the dog inside and place it on a cool stone floor or in a shallow bath of cool water. Use a fan or turn the air-conditioning on, spreading out the fur to let the air access the skin. Even better, hose the dog down. Try not to use ice as this can exacerbate the dog's discomfort and lead to shock or hypothermia. The dog can lick it, but don't be tempted to place or submerge the dog in ice-cold water.

When the body temperature seems to have settled, take the dog straight along to the vet.

Hot cars are not the only places that dogs are at risk during warm weather. Caravans and conservatories also pose a heatstroke hazard. Glass is an insulator and a conservatory can quickly become a greenhouse with your dog inside. Open windows, close blinds and place a fan in the area if your dog has to be left, but try to avoid this on hot days.

Pet Theft Awareness is also concerned about people leaving dogs unattended in their cars. Not only are dogs at risk of dying from heatstroke but they are more likely to be stolen. You wouldn't leave a child unattended in a car for these reasons, so why would you a dog?

If you have ever found a dog trapped in a hot car, please tell us what happened. Were you tempted to break into the vehicle or did you wait for the owner to return? If you think it should be made illegal to leave dogs in hot cars, sign the petition here!

Feel free to email me with any questions or suggestions for future blog posts: [email protected]

Written by: Hannah