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Ask a vet: Don’t leave pets in hot cars

Q: I know from reading your column that we shouldn’t leave pets in unattended cars, because cars heat up quickly during warm weather. But what if I leave my car running with the air conditioner on? Would that be safe?

A: That idea is risky for several reasons.

First, a dog moving around inside your car can put the transmission in gear, which is a recipe for disaster. Second, a thief can steal your running car, or your dog can lock the door, preventing you from getting back into your car. Finally, people walking by may not realize your air conditioning is on and conclude that dogs are safe while closed in cars on warm days. Then they’ll lock their own dog inside the car—and the dog will suffer the consequences.

Research shows that the air inside a car heats up 19 degrees in 10 minutes, 29 degrees in 20 minutes, and 34 degrees in 30 minutes. Parking in the shade and cracking the windows has little effect. That means that on a 70-degree day, the air inside the car rapidly heats to over 100 degrees. The seats, dashboard and steering wheel are even hotter.

Dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as effectively as humans, so they quickly develop heatstroke, which causes brain damage, organ failure and, all too often, death.

Invite your dog to join you when you visit the pet supply store, but leave him at home when you run other errands.

Editor’s Note: Every year hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion because they are left in parked vehicles. Pets and hot cars: Here’s what you need to know about this danger.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at

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