How to Protect Dogs Left in Hot Cars This Summer

After a long winter and rainy spring, the weather is finally heating up in Canada. But when the temperature rises, so too can the risk to animal safety. Animals can suffer in hot weather just like we do. Although it is becoming socially unacceptable to leave animals alone in cars, far too many animals—especially dogs—still die from overheating every year after being left unattended, locked in vehicles.

It’s illegal to cause suffering / distress to animals under federal criminal laws as well as provincial statutes, and some cities have their own bylaws protecting animals from abuse. Cars can heat up incredibly quickly even on mild days, and while some might think that rolling down the window a crack is fine, it does little to protect pets from suffering and dying in the heat.

Why are pets so vulnerable to hot weather? When people get too hot, we have the luxury of being able to sweat to cool our bodies down. But for dogs, panting is their only effective way to cool off. A dog’s body temperature rises quickly, but in a hot car panting does nothing to alleviate the heat. Consider this: A dog’s resting body temperature is 39° C; when it hits 41° C, the dog can only withstand this heat for a few minutes before suffering from permanent brain damage and eventually death.

So, what can you do to help a dog trapped in a hot car?

First, know the signs of heat distress. Some panting is normal for dogs, but if a dog is unresponsive, has their lips pulled back, is panting heavily, has bright red or purple gums, or a swollen tongue, they are experiencing heat distress and need immediate attention.

Next, call the authorities—your municipal animal protection agency, the provincial SPCA or humane society, and the police.  You should also take notes of the time you saw the animal, the location, vehicle model, colour, and license plate. It’s also worth going into nearby shops to try to find the owner and get the car opened.

What if you decide to break the car window yourself? It’s illegal to damage another person’s property in Canada, so breaking a window could result in criminal charges. Some U.S. states have already passed laws that let a bystander break a window to rescue a pet in distress, but Canadian provinces have yet to follow suit. In the meantime, you can contact your provincial representatives and ask for better hot car laws in your province.

Leaving animals unattended in cars is never worth the risk, so please help get the word out! Let your friends and family know what to do if they spot a pet in this situation. Together, we can enjoy the warmer weather the right way, with our animal friends in mind.