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How to keep your dog safe in the car this summer

Georgia Petrie

Written by

Georgia Petrie

dog in car
  • The RSPCA receives thousands of calls every summer about dogs stuck in hot cars
  • What should you do if you see a dog in a hot car? What are the rules for keeping animals in vehicles during the summer months?
  • Read our latest car safety tips for travelling with your dog

As lockdown restrictions ease, we’re urging dog owners to ensure they’re keeping their pets safe in the car this summer. 

The RSPCA receives thousands of calls every year reporting about dogs in hot cars. In 2019, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) saw a three-year high for the number of reports of animals suffering heat exhaustion, while the RSPCA’s emergency line in England & Wales receives over 8000 reports of dogs in hot cars every year. 

If an owner is convicted under the Animal Welfare Act of failing to meet the needs of their dog or causing unnecessary suffering - by leaving them in a hot vehicle - they could face a maximum sentence of six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine. 

The Government has announced that the maximum sentence will be increased to five years for the worst cases of animal cruelty and suffering. This piece of legislation is called The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill and comes into force on 29 June 2021.

What should I do if I see a dog stuck in a hot car?

In an emergency (if an animal is displaying any sign of heatstroke such as panting heavily, drooling excessively, is lethargic, collapsed or vomiting) dial 999 and report a dog in a hot car to police. Officers can attend and have the power of entry to locked vehicles.

If the situation becomes critical and the police can’t attend then your instinct may be to break into the car to free the dog. However, without proper justification, this could be classed as criminal damage. Make sure you speak to the police before doing anything that could land you in trouble.

Once removed from the car, the dog should be taken to a shaded/cool area and you will need to pour small amounts of cool water over their body. Don’t use cold water as this could put them into shock. Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water and take them to the nearest vet as a matter of urgency.

If the dog isn’t displaying signs of heatstroke, try to establish how long the dog has been in the car and make a note of the registration. If the car is parked at a supermarket or shopping centre, ask a member of staff to make an announcement of the situation over the tannoy, if possible, and ask someone to stay with the dog to monitor its condition. 

You can call the RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency cruelty line - 0300 123 4999 - for advice but if a dog is in danger dialling 999 should always be the first step. 

Dog in car boot with dog guard

What does the RSCPA recommend to keep your dog safe in the car this summer?

With the boom in the numbers of Brits who’ve bought dogs to keep them company over the last 12 months, we’ve put together this helpful guide to help you keep your dog safe in the summer months.

  • Know the early signs of heatstroke which include panting, difficulty breathing, tiredness, less keen to play, drooling and vomiting and take immediate action. Stop exercising your dog, bring them inside into a cool area, give your dog a drink and seek veterinary advice immediately. Severe heatstroke can cause seizures, complete loss of consciousness, loss of coordination, confusion and vomiting and diarrhoea with blood. If untreated it can prove fatal.
  • Ensure your dog has access to shade and fresh drinking water at all times.
  • Use a cooling mat or wrap an ice pack or frozen water bottle in a tea towel for your pet to lie on.
  • Never leave your pet in a vehicle, caravan, conservatory or outbuilding in the warm weather as they can quickly overheat, even if it doesn’t seem particularly hot to you. Leaving your pet alone in a vehicle or tied up outside can also put them at risk.
dog in harness in car

Will my car insurance policy pay for the cost of the repair if someone smashed my car window to rescue my dog from the heat?

According to Jade Devlin, at car insurance specialist NFU Mutual, a claim for damage caused by a third party trying to get into a car to rescue a dog would be considered under a comprehensive car insurance policy. 

"Comprehensive cover includes damage to glass – whether that be the windscreen, windows or even a sunroof. For most claims on car insurance, an excess will be payable, but this amount will differ and is quite often less for damage to glass than it would be for standard damage to the bodywork," says Jade.

"Despite the valiant intentions of a third party rescuing your dog, if any damage caused resulted in a claim, your NCD (no claims discount) would be affected.

"The best course of action to safeguard your car – and more importantly, your dog – would be to not leave them unattended, particularly as temperatures increase as the summer months approach."

Can I leave my car's windows open? Or will an open car window invalidate my car insurance?

Jade Devlin says it is always important to check your policy, as your car insurance may be affected by leaving a window ajar. 

"Most car insurance policies have a general condition of a ‘duty to take care’ and to safeguard your property against theft loss or damage. Failure to take reasonable steps to prevent a loss may invalidate a claim, but circumstances are considered on merit," explains Jade.

"It's also worth checking your policy for any special terms or endorsements that may have been applied, particularly if the terms reference ‘security’.

"Most comprehensive car insurance policies also provide cover for personal effects that may be stolen from a vehicle, subject to monetary limits. Leaving a window open or even a roof down in a convertible could also invalidate this section of cover unless the items are kept in a locked glove box or boot."

It’s not a legal requirement set out in legislation and there’s no direct penalty for leaving a dog unrestrained while you're driving. However, Rule 57 of the Highway Code states that drivers are responsible for making sure dogs (or other animals) are suitably restrained in a vehicle so they can't distract or injure you - or themselves - during an emergency stop.  

Driving with an unrestrained pet could come under 'careless and inconsiderate driving'. This offence can carry an unlimited fine/discretionary disqualification, as well as three to nine penalty points.

Driving with an unrestrained pet in your car can, in some cases, invalidate your car insurance. If you need to make a claim, your insurer will want to know what was happening while you were driving. 

If your policy provider discovers that you were driving with an unrestrained pet, you might be denied coverage. Your claim may even be denied if the accident wasn’t your fault.

It's not illegal to leave a dog in a hot car in the UK, but owners are legally responsible for their pet's health and welfare. If a dog became ill or died due to being left in a hot car, owners could be charged with animal cruelty. 

If an owner is convicted under the Animal Welfare Act of failing to meet the needs of their dog or causing unnecessary suffering - by leaving them in a hot vehicle - they could face a maximum sentence of six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine. However, the Government has announced that this maximum sentence will be increased to five years for the worst cases of animal cruelty and suffering. 

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