Dogs in hot cars: would you come to the rescue?

Dog in backseat of car - Computerquote Insurance

You wouldn’t stand by while someone mistreated their dog, but what if the dog is suffering and the owner is nowhere to be seen? Dogs left in cars on a hot day can easily get heatstroke and become ill or even die. But are you legally entitled to intervene?

Cars get hot very quickly

Even on a relatively mild summer day at 21˚C, a closed car can reach 45˚C within an hour. If the temperature reaches 35˚C – which it did in some parts of the UK in summer 2016 – the temperature rises to almost 60˚C within an hour. 

In addition to this heat, dogs are wrapped in thick fur which can make it harder to cool down. Very old and very young dogs, those with thick coats and breeds with flat faces such as pugs and bulldogs are especially prone to heatstroke. 

How can you tell if a dog has heatstroke?

The symptoms of heatstroke in canines are not very different from those shown in humans. Dogs become lethargic and drowsy, or may become clumsy. They may pant heavily in a bid to cool down; unlike humans, dogs cannot sweat heavily to cool themselves so panting is one of the main ways they deal with heat.

Another common symptom is excessive drooling. If the heatstroke is severe, vomiting and loss of consciousness can occur. 

Before you smash the window: protect yourself

If you’re sure a dog has been left in dangerous conditions, you might be tempted to simply break the car window in order to help it cool down. However, doing so could leave you answering a charge of criminal damage in court. You may have a legal defence to a criminal charge if you believe the owner would have consented to your action if they knew the circumstances. 

If you’re willing to break the window, take a few preparatory steps to protect yourself. Firstly, is there any way to contact the owner? If you’re at a supermarket or event with a loudspeaker system, you might ask for a call out to be made for the owner. If you think the situation is critical, call the police on 999 before breaking the window to explain the situation. Tell them you intend to break the window in order to rescue the dog and ask them to attend. You could also call the RSPCA.

If you have a camera or smartphone, snap a few shots or take a video of the car showing the conditions before you smash the window. If any witnesses are nearby, ask for their details so they can back you up if needed.  

Helping the dog to cool down

Break the window, taking care not to injure yourself. Get the dog out of the car and move them to a shaded or cool place nearby. Wet the dog with cool water and give them small amounts to drink. The goal is to cool the dog slowly, as a rapid drop in temperature could cause further harm. 

Note down the circumstances including the car registration, how long the dog had been left unattended in the car and what action you took. Then await the arrival of the police, who will help with the next steps.

If you’re a dog lover, you will want to protect your pet with high quality insurance. Find out more about our pet insurance policies here or call us for a quote on 0800 840 1212 or 023 9262 7319.

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Dog hanging out of window of driving car - Computerquote Insurance


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