Survey shows alarming ignorance towards danger of dogs left in cars

Most of us have seen a dog, locked up in a car, on a hot summer’s day. But do you know how quickly conditions can become so unbearable as to be life threatening? Did you know that leaving a dog for even as little as 20 minutes could prove fatal?

In a survey of 1,000 people by VioVet, the online animal medications and pet well-being specialist, only a third of respondents (34%) knew that a dog could suffer serious illness or even die within 20 minutes of being left within a vehicle*, and a staggering 62% believed it was safe to leave a dog for an hour or more before returning to check on their well-being.

Most alarming of all, some 38% of those would unwittingly leave their dog for 90 minutes or more without being concerned.

Even if the weather outside is mild, a car can accumulate heat in a very short space of time. With an outside temperature of 22 degrees, the temperature inside a car will have risen to 47 degrees within an hour, a fact known by only 55% of survey respondents. Some 45% believed it would take twice as long, and the balance said upwards of three hours.

John Cousins BVSc, MRCVS, a director of VioVet, says such a lack of awareness is putting animals at risk: “Dogs develop heatstroke very quickly, and the condition can very rapidly become life threatening,” he says.

“Dogs do not sweat like humans, but try and regulate their heat by panting or perspiring through their paw pads. In an airless car, with hot upholstery, the combination can prove fatal. Within minutes a dog can suffer irreversible brain damage or die.”

Some dogs are more likely to suffer than others; especially young or especially old dogs, for example, are the most vulnerable, and long-haired breeds are particularly susceptible to heatstroke. Dogs with short snouts – including the highly popular Pug and English and French bulldogs – are also highly sensitive, and may struggle to breath.

John says it is not sufficient to leave a window open or use a sun shield: “In simple language, never leave your dog in a hot car, however well intentioned you might be,” he adds.

It is not, as yet, illegal in the UK to leave a dog in a car, although an owner may be prosecuted for mis-treating or abusing their pet. Anyone seeing a pet in distress should immediately call the RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty line (0300 1234 999) or the police.

VioVet says dogs are also at risk in caravans and conservatories.


*The example given relates to statistics from the Dogs Trust that state that a dog left in a car can die within 20 minutes if its body temperature rises above 41 degrees.

Written by: Simon