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Hot Car? Hot Dog? Break the Glass!

July 9, 2018 - articles - ,

by Joan Allison


When it’s even just 70° outside, temperatures inside a car can quickly reach 90°. In 90° heat, the temperature can soar to a deadly 120° in 20 minutes. Mid-South temps are already in the 90s, so keep your pets safe — leave them at home. Sadly, some pet owners choose not to exercise caution, thinking that leaving a window cracked will keep the car cool (it won’t) or that leaving the AC on in the running car is a good idea (it’s not).

When the worst happens, and you find an animal locked in a car on a warm day, you can take action. Laws vary by state, but if you’re a pet lover, most likely you are willing to risk paying for damages to a car to help an animal in danger. But first, you should understand what overheating looks like and which dogs are more susceptible to it.

The symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. Symptoms can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees (ASPCA).

Animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible (ASPCA).

Never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle. Not only can it lead to fatal heat stroke, it is illegal in several states (ASPCA)!

In any state, if you see an unconscious animal in a car on a warm day, break the window (then follow the steps below for unconscious animal). You may face paying for repairs, but you will probably save the animal’s life. If the animal is simply panting, call 911 so that the police can help with finding the owner and/ or entering the vehicle. Stay with the animal until authorities arrive.

*GIVE AID. Using a water bottle, slowly squirt water into any opening in the windows in hopes that the animal can drink it.

Place cardboard, towels, coats, umbrellas, etc. over windshields and windows to block the sun.


In Tennessee, Good Samaritans are allowed to break car windows if necessary if they see an animal (or child) that is in a car on a hot day. Here are the steps to take based on the Tennessee statute, and based on basic animal compassion. This is not meant to serve as legal advice.

In any case, first call 911;

Second, see if the vehicle is locked to determine if forcible entry is necessary to prevent the animal from imminent harm;

Call out to QUICKLY enlist the help of bystanders as witnesses who can screenshot the current temperature on their phone’s weather app, and videotape the rescue. Videotaping is technically not necessary in Tennessee, but this would be further protection in a court case.

(In any state), if the animal is unconscious, having seizures, or has vomited or had diarrhea in the car, do this:

Break the window. This may set off the car alarm and frighten the animal. Be prepared with barriers so that a now-alert animal can’t bolt out of the car.

Move the animal to shade if possible to begin cooling the animal. Do not lay the animal on asphalt or concrete unless there’s no other choice (use a barrier such as cardboard, coat or towel). Try to move the animal to grass or dirt if possible.

Have your witnesses put a note on the car stating where you are and that authorities have been called. Ask your witnesses to determine the closest, open veterinary clinic.

Use cool water (not ice) to pour over the animal; offer small amounts of water to drink every few minutes (only if they are alert. Do not try to pour water into an unconscious animal’s mouth).

If the animal begins to become alert, stay with the animal in a safe location, out of the elements, but reasonably close to the vehicle until the authorities arrive. This animal will still need to be sent for an emergency exam.

Have your witnesses call the clinic to alert them that you are in route. Have the witnesses wait for the authorities on the scene to tell them where you have gone.

If the animal is panting but alert, GIVE AID*.

Stay with the animal until the authorities arrive.

The Tennessee law regarding animals in hot cars is: T. C. A. § 29-34-209.

Go to https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-laws-protect-animals-left-parked-vehicles to see if your state has specific laws.