How hot is too hot to leave your pet in a parked car?

How hot is too hot to leave your pet in a parked car? At 60 degrees, it’s too hot to leave your pet in the car. It’s not just dogs that get left behind. It’s cats, kids, and other pets. And cracking windows does little to slow the spike in temperature inside the car.

The truth is there’s no safe temperature to leave your pet, alone and unattended, in a vehicle.

There’s no safe temperature to leave your cat unattended in a car.

While it’s tempting to run an errand or two after taking kitty to the veterinarian, think twice, and don’t get distracted. Stopping to talk to a friend that you haven’t seen for a while could be disastrous.

Despite many states having laws banning leaving pets in hot cars, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), every year hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion because they are left in parked vehicles. Many died because they were left in cars on warm, not necessarily hot days while their owners were shopping, visiting friends or family, or running errands.

How hot is too hot to leave your pet in a parked car?

With at least one or two horror stories about pets dying in hot cars in the media every summer, most people are tuned-in to how dangerous it is to leave a pet in a hot car, but not so many realize warm days can equally as deadly.

  • Did you know the temperature inside your vehicle can rise almost 20º F in just 10 minutes?
  • In 20 minutes, it can rise almost 30º F.
  • The longer you wait, the higher it goes.
  • At 60 minutes, the temperature in your vehicle can be more than 40 degrees higher than the outside temperature.
  • Even on a 70-degree day, that’s 110 degrees inside your vehicle.

Your vehicle can quickly reach a temperature that puts your pet at risk of serious illness and even death, even on a day that doesn’t seem hot to you.

And cracking the windows makes no difference.

An independent study at Stanford University about children left in cars on warm days showed that the interior temperature of vehicles parked in outside temperatures ranging from 72 to 96º F rose steadily as time increased. Another study​, performed by the Louisiana Office of Public Health, found that the temperatures in a dark sedan as well as a light gray minivan parked on a hot, but partly cloudy day, exceeded 125oF within 20 minutes.

How hot is too hot to leave your pet in a parked car? Paws found the following chart.

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time

Elapsed time Outside Air Temperature (F)
70 75 80 85 90 95
0 minutes 70 75 80 85 90 95
10 minutes 89 94 99 104 109 114
20 minutes 99 104 109 114 119 124
30 minutes 104 109 114 119 124 129
40 minutes 108 113 118 123 128 133
50 minutes 111 116 121 126 131 136
60 minutes 113 118 123 128 133 138
> 1 hour 115 120 125 130 135 140

Chart: Courtesy Jan Null, CCM; Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University

If more people knew the danger of leaving their pets in their parked car, they probably wouldn’t do it. Pets are very susceptible to overheating as they are much less efficient at cooling themselves than people are.

How hot is too hot to leave your pet in a parked car

Many states have laws prohibiting leaving pets in parked cars. We find:

  • Arizona prohibits leaving animals unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.
  • California prohibits leaving or confining an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.
  • Delaware prohibits confining an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in which the temperature is either so high or so low that it endangers the health or safety of the animal.
  • Illinois prohibits confining any animal in a motor vehicle in a manner that places it in a life or health threatening situation by exposure to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold.
  • Maine‘s law is violated when an animal’s safety, health or well-being appears to be in immediate danger from heat, cold or lack of adequate ventilation, and the conditions could reasonably be expected to cause extreme suffering or death.
  • Maryland prohibits leaving a cat or dog in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers their health or safety.
  • Massachusetts prohibits leaving an animal in a motor vehicle when it could reasonably be expected that the health of the animal could be threatened due to extreme heat or cold.
  • Minnesota prohibits leaving a dog or cat unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the dog’s or cat’s health or safety.
  • Nevada prohibits leaving a cat or dog unattended in a parked or standing motor vehicle during a period of extreme heat or cold, or in any other manner that endangers the health or safety of the cat or dog.
  • New Hampshire laws states that the definition of cruelty is met when an animal is confined in a motor vehicle or other enclosed space in which the temperature is either so high or so low as to cause serious harm to the animal.
  • New Jersey prohibits leaving animals unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions adverse to the health or welfare of the living animal or creature.
  • New York prohibits leaving pets confined in motor vehicle in extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation or other protection, where confinement places the companion animal in imminent danger of death or serious injury due to exposure.
  • North Carolina‘s law is violated when an animal is confined in a motor vehicle under conditions that are likely to cause suffering, injury, or death to the animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or under other endangering conditions.
  • North Dakota prohibits leaving a dog or cat unattended in a stationary or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the animal’s health or safety.
  • Rhode Island‘s law states that no owner or person shall confine any animal in a motor vehicle which is done in a manner that places the animal in a life threatening or extreme health threatening situation by exposing it to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold.
  • South Dakota prohibits leaving pets unattended in a standing or parked vehicle in a manner that endangers the health or safety of such animal.
  • Vermont prohibits leaving an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health or safety of the animal.
  • Washington prohibits leaving or confining any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.
  • West Virginia prohibits leaving an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.

Heatstroke can be deadly

Heatstroke, which can be deadly, is caused by a dangerous elevation in an animal’s body temperature. While it most often occurs in dogs left in cars during the summer months, it can also happen in late spring and the first weeks of summer if a pet is exposed to high temperatures before he or she has acclimated to the heat.

A cat that becomes overheated in summer can suffer from dehydration, heatstroke, and shock. Unlike people, cats don’t sweat and therefore it can be a struggle for them to keep cool when summer temperatures start to climb. A cat’s main methods of cooling off include staying out of the sun, being inactive, drinking water, and panting. None of these methods are too effective and a cat that is stuck in a roasting house or car without a means of escape will become overheated

In addition to hot vehicles, other contributors to pet overheating include humid conditions, lack of drinking water, obesity, and overexertion. Some pets are at higher risk for heat-related illness than others, including dogs and cats with flat faces and short noses, older pets, puppies and kittens, animals that are ill or have a chronic health condition, pets not used to warm weather, and any pet left outside in hot weather.

Hypothermia can be an issue at 50 degrees

Keep in mind that a car can cool down to under freezing just as fast as it heats up. Pets that don’t normally spend a lot of time outside in the winter are more susceptible to the cold when left alone inside a vehicle. Hypothermia can become a risk at 50 degrees.

An App helps dogs left in hot cars

Paws for Reflection hadn’t thought much about a safe temperature to leave a pet unattended in a vehicle until we ran into Michelle Sevigny, founder of Dogsafe Canine First Aid,  at the 2017 BlogPaws Conference. A professional dog trainer and former police officers, she created The Dogsafe’s Dog in a Hot Car Responder mobile app for just that reason. that would alert police officers their police dogs were in danger even on a warm day.

Rather than breaking a window, the app gives you the information you need to document the situation for police, animal control or a veterinarian? Dogsafe Canine First Aid has made it easy with their Dog in a Hot Car Responder mobile app. According to DogSafe, the app will:

  • Give you step-by-step guidance from assessing the dog to calling the police
  • Help you document your actions –including entering a vehicle with force– that may assist in a cruelty or criminal investigation and conviction
  • Let you document canine first aid information that may assist the veterinarian with follow-up care
  • Guide you with drop-down menus and prompts, through twelve screens, as you respond to the Dog in a Hot Car scenario
  • Assembles all the data into a comprehensive document that you can then email to yourself, animal control, police or a veterinarian.

Sevigny advised Paws the app may expand to include other pets in the future, but for now, it’s just for dogs, as they are the pet most commonly left in hot cars.

Keep pets in cars restrained for safety’s sake

As the temperatures, soar, keep in mind the risks associated with pets in vehicles don’t end with heatstroke. Just as you should always wear your seatbelt to protect you in case of a collision, your pet should always be properly restrained while in the vehicle. That means a secure harness or carrier.

A loose, small pet could crawl down in the footwell, interfering with use of the brake or accelerator pedal. A small pet sitting in your lap could be injured or killed by the airbag or could be crushed between your body and the airbag in a collision, and a large pet leaning across your lap can interfere with your view of the road and can be injured by the air bag in a collision. Unrestrained pets could be thrown out or through windows or windshields in a collision. And not only could your pet be injured in the collision, it might also increase your risk of an accident by distracting you and taking your attention away from the road. Additionally, an unrestrained pet can accidentally put the car in gear.

How hot is too hot to leave your pet in a parked car

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How hot is too hot to leave your pet in a parked car

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How hot is too hot to leave your pet in a parked car? While some think this topic is old hat, it sure isn’t. If it was, there would not be any pets dying from being left in vehicles. Have you ever seen a cat, dog, or other pet left in a hot car, and wondered what do I do? Please share your very important thoughts.

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BJ Bangs

BJ Bangs is an established journalist, photographer, and an aspiring author. She loves everything about cats, including writing about them.

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