Summer Safety Warning: Dogs Die in Hot Cars

Let’s do an automotive episode doggy-style, for a change. That could be stimulating, and it might save your dog.
summer safety warning dogs die in hot cars


Family transport often includes our ‘four-legged’ friends: our pets. And dogs are awesome - humanity did a deal with the grey wolf 30,000 years ago. We made the dog - by accelerated selective breeding. Darwin would be thrilled. A completely manmade species, evolved on amphetamines by us. Prepared by us, from ingredients supplied by the wolf. We got something out of it; the former grey wolf got something out of it. A bargain of sorts. A treaty. Mutual, trans-species bilateral obligations still exist. So it seems a shame unwittingly to break the contract by consigning Spot, Rover or Old Yeller to the high-temperature hell on earth we call the locked car in summer.

Apologies if you’re watching this episode in the northern hemisphere. You’ll be on ice for six months and then this will perhaps be relevant. No white Christmas in Sydney Australia, that’s for sure. In summer, there’s extreme danger of heat stroke for dogs left in cars for only short periods. (Of course, while the risk is heightened in summer, it really pertains all year round in many places. So: Leaving a dog in a car is just irresponsible any time.)


According to the RSPCA in Australia, inside a locked car can the mercury can skyrocket to 50 degrees C in just five minutes - that’s 120 F - even when the temperature outside is only just over 30 degrees C (about 85 degrees F).

It doesn’t have to be a summer scorcher for the risk to your pet to be extreme.

Celebrity chef Matt Moran recently performed a graphic bake-off of sorts to demonstrate just how hot cars get in summer. Highlighting the danger to children, he baked a lamb in a locked car using only the ambient heat from the sun outside Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach. The temperature peaked at 83 degrees C - that’s about 180 degrees F, and according to Matt Moran, both sides of lamb were, quote: “totally overdone” after just an hour and a half. So it’s bloody hot in there - too hot for kids or pets.


The RSPCA says dogs suffering heat stress become restless. They pant, they drool. So if your dog is acting like you when a hot chick walks past, they’re in trouble. And so are you if you get caught. They can also stagger and experience vomiting, diarrhoea or seizures. Doesn’t sound like a good way to treat the only member of the family who is not just happy, but unreservedly overjoyed to see you every day when you get home from the office.

Heat stroke in a dog is a medical emergency, according to the RSPCA, requiring treatment by a vet. First aid - the stuff you can do on the spot - means bringing the dog’s temperature down gradually - by spraying cool water on the dog and using a fan or a bit of breeze. Don’t dump the ice water out of your Esky on Fido - ice water is shocking - literally. The aim is to ease the dog out of the hot zone.  


The long arm of the law reaches out to negligent pet owners. It’s a crime to cause a pet to suffer, and the penalty is up to $5500 and six months in jail. And if your pet dies as a consequence of your negligent dickheaderry, you’re looking at a maximum of $22,500 and up to two years making ‘intimate’ with Bubba each evening in the showers. I guess the punishment does fit the crime in that case. Your dog is dead, and you’ll wish you were.


So let’s do a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street, your spider sense starts tingling. Suddenly, there’s a dog locked in a car. It’s hot. You take a quick look at the fine print of the homo-sapiens/canis familiaris contract from 30,000 years ago. A clear breach is in place. The dog is suffering. You instantly look for suitable hefty, blunt instrument to deliver the window coup de grace, a serve of your best window whup-ass, in order to rescue man’s best friend from high-temperature hell on earth, right?

But before you go all John Woo on the window, before you deliver your best Michael Bayhem, ask yourself this: Are you actually legally entitled to break the window and rescue the pooch? (And I’m talking Australian law here, for disambiguation, if you’re watching overseas.) According to Chris Jager, an editor at, it’s technically illegal to set Spot free by smashing the window. Mr Jager, an expert commentator on this stuff, says there’s no legal just freeing-a-dog caveat from legislation designed generally to stop you maliciously damaging someone else’s property. So your motivation could be as pure as the driven snow, but the execution could see you tasered and pepper sprayed all the way to the big house and Bubba. Or at least, answering the cops’ curly questions, as opposed to getting out your best suit so they can pin the congressional medal of pet salvation on your breast.

If the dog is not apparently suffering, rescuing it may be - let’s be kind - premature. Uncalled-for. But even if you think the dog is suffering, your ultimate fate on the property damage/legal front might might be entirely at the discretion of the investigating police officer - if it gets that far. (Obviously, the dog owner might be somewhat disinclined to come after you, seeing as how their own pet cruelty complicity might be officially scrutinised, leading to the groundhog day of shower-dating scenarios with Bubba, noted above. Prison: Three square meals a day and more sex than you ever thought possible...)


Maybe the best thing to do in this situation, provided the dog is not in apparent mortal danger, is to call emergency services and ask for advice. A dog trapped in a hot car is well inside the remit of an emergency services response. And of course, it might also be a good idea to film just 30-60 seconds of suffering dog in-car footage with your mobile phone before wilfully smashing that window - that could come in handy on the evidentiary front, if it all turns to ‘he said/she said’ afterwards. And if you do smash the window, remember that tempered glass - the stuff most side windows are made from - is more vulnerable at the edges than in the middle, owing to the way the internal

If you want a new car and you want it cheap, that’s what we do. Save some energy - park at the beach, roast a lamb - whatever - but not a dog. Colonel Sanders’ missing 12th secret herb and spice: New-car smell. Contact me online at for more recipes, and facts on the hottest new cars for baking, leave a comment below to let me know what you think, and subscribe for regular updates. I’m John Cadogan. Thanks for watching.