What is the law on leaving dogs in cars?

Dog left locked in a car
Leaving a dog alone in a car can be highly dangerous (Picture: Getty Images)


The hottest day of the year is upon us, with the temperature pushing up to around 31 degrees celsius in some places – and it’s only going to get hotter as the week goes on.

And while millions of us might be enjoying the early summer heatwave, the weather can be dangerous for our furry friends – particularly if they’re left in sweltering conditions.

Every summer there are multiple cases of dogs being left in hot cars, which leads to them suffering from severe heatstroke or even death.

So just what is the law on leaving dogs in a car – and can you legally smash the window to rescue one if it’s been left in a vehicle?

While it is not illegal to leave a dog alone in a car in the UK, you could still end up in trouble if you do so and something happens to your pet as a result.

The RSPCA states that you should never leave your dog alone in a car on a hot day, even if the windows are left open or the car is parked in the shade – as it is still a very dangerous situation for the dog.

It takes less than an hour for the temperature inside a car – even with a window open – to more than double when it is just 22°C outside.

Sign in car park warning against leaving dogs in car in the sun
With the current heatwave, be mindful of your pets. (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)


So with the mercury rising as high as it is today, drivers should be reminded not to leave dogs alone in the car for any length of time, as it could prove fatal.

Under those circumstances, you could find yourself with an animal cruelty charge under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which carries a potential six-month jail sentence and an unlimited fine.

Technically no – while you might save the dog’s life, you might also find yourself on the receiving end of a criminal damage charge.

The RSPCA has recommended that if you need assistance in a hurry, you should call 999 – as the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 states that only a local authority inspector or a PC has the power to enter a premises to assist an animal that is likely to be suffering.

There are exceptions however – under the 1971 Criminal Damage act, a person has a lawful excuse to commit criminal damage if they believe the owner would agree to it under the circumstances.

So if you do smash a stranger’s window to save their pet, be prepared to defend your actions.

Chart of temperature in a car compared to outside
This is how hot your car could become


If you are at a shopping centre or supermarket, note down the colour, model and registration number of the car and ask customer services to put out an announcement to get the owner’s attention.

Check the doors of the car also, as owners may leave the car unlocked in case the dog sets off the car alarm.

However if these measures don’t work and the situation becomes critical it may become necessary to break one of the windows.

In order to protect yourself in this situation, make sure you tell police of your intentions to break the car window, take photos and footage of the dog in the car and take names and contact numbers of witnesses.

If you have to resort to smashing a window, remove the dog from the car, lay it in the shade and allow it to drink small amounts of water.

Douse it in cool – not freezing – water, or lay wet towels over it and seek immediate veterinary assistance.

You should also check the dog does not have heatstroke. Signs of this can include heavy panting, excessive drooling, lethargy and drowsiness and loss of coordination, while the dog may also have collapsed or be vomiting.

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