According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, hundreds of pets die each year as a result of being left in parked cars.

This often occurs when pet owners make a stop with the intent of only being gone a few minutes. But the fact is, getting sidetracked or delayed can happen to anyone.

Many pet owners also believe a car can’t get too hot for their pet with the windows cracked open or on a cloudy day. Sadly, these mistaken notions have resulted in countless pet emergencies and deaths.


Car Interiors Heat Up Quickly

Studies have found that within only 10 minutes, car interiors can heat up by nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit. At 60 minutes, the car cabin temperature can increase by 45 degrees.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s little difference in the temperature rise between a light-gray minivan with partially opened windows and a dark-colored sedan with the windows closed.

This was confirmed in a study by Lynn I. Gibbs et al., appearing in the Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society. In the study, both vehicles heated up by 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes. At one hour, there was only a 2-degree difference between the two cars.

Most charts that show the rise in car-cabin temperature begin at 70-degree days. But even a 50- or 60-degree day can have temperature increases with similar increments. So a car can still heat up enough on those cooler days to cause hyperthermia or heatstroke. This is particularly true for dog breeds with thick or long hair or short snouts.

Even for those who would never intentionally leave their pet in the car on a warm day, pet owners have forgotten their pets in the car because the pet was quietly sleeping in the back. To prevent a tragic incident, place your pet’s leash on your purse or in a conspicuous place so you see it when you move to exit the car.


Exercising in Hot or Sunny Weather Poses an Increased Risk

Dogs are also particularly prone to heat exhaustion or heatstroke when they’re overexercised, especially during hot weather or even on mild, sunny days. As mentioned above, certain breeds are particularly prone.

If your dog begins to pant or drool or wants to stop, don’t push it. Give your dog the rest and shade it needs.


Signs of Hyperthermia or Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats

The signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia are similar in both dogs and cats. A pet doesn’t have to experience all the symptoms to be in danger. One or more symptoms can be a sign your pet is in distress. The result, if not caught and treated quickly, could be coma or death.

  • Panting or excessive drooling
  • Pale gums or bright-red tongue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart rate or irregular heartbeat
  • Little to no urination
  • Vomiting
  • Fever, 103 degrees Fahrenheit or more
  • Heartbeat or breathing stops
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Shock


What to Do if Your Pet Overheats

If your pet is experiencing heat exhaustion or shows signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia, you need to get your pet out of the heat and sun immediately. Move your pet into some shade or preferably air conditioning.

Also, for a dog, you can use a hose or put the dog in a tub of tepid, but not cold, water. Since most cats hate baths, try just dipping your cat’s feet in a sink of tepid water instead.

You can also wet a towel and rub your cat or dog down, particularly concentrating on the head, neck, and underside of the legs.

Although it might sound helpful to feed your pet ice or icy cold water, it’s dangerous to cool down an overheated animal in this manner.


What to Do if You See a Pet in a Hot Car

In the U.S., there are 13 states with laws about pets being left in vehicles. Pennsylvania is not among them, but good Samaritans can take action to protect or save the life of an animal left in a hot vehicle.

If you see a pet left in a parked car in temperatures that could quickly escalate inside the cabin, or if an animal shows signs of distress, call 911. Also, you can go into the store where the car is parked and ask that the owner of the vehicle be paged over the store intercom.


Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed, and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera; and more at

Have questions?

We are just a click away!