Can You Legally Break a Car Window to Save a Dog?

As temperatures rise throughout the UK, dog owners are reminded that their furry friends aren’t the best at coping with hot weather, and without preventative measures, sadly they can often succumb to dehydration and heatstroke. 

While some people think it’s okay to leave their dog in their car for a little while, so long as they’re parked in the shade and have the windows cracked open, it’s highly advised that you should never leave your dog unattended in the car, regardless of the temperature outside.

So, what should you do if you spot a dog in a car on a hot day? Is it illegal to break a car window to save a dog?

Keep reading as we look at:

  • The dangers of leaving a dog unattended in a car

  • What to do if you spot a dog in a car on a hot day

  • The best alternative to taking your dog out on a hot day

  • Keeping your dog happy and healthy this summer

The dangers of leaving a dog unattended in a car

Leaving a dog in a hot car is not only dangerous for your dog, but it’s also a serious offence. Under the Animal Welfare Act, it’s deemed as animal neglect for an owner to leave their pet in a hot car and if the dog suffers or dies as a result, the owner could be prosecuted.

You should never leave a dog unattended in a car.

Even if your car is parked in the shade with the windows cracked open or the weather doesn’t feel that warm, the temperature in a car can rise very quickly to dangerously hot temperatures.

For example, the temperature within a car can rise as much as 10 °C within 10 minutes, 19 °C in 30 minutes, and a sweltering 23 °C in an hour.

As dogs don’t sweat the same way that we do, dogs in hot cars can struggle to regulate their body temperature, leading to serious injury and, in the worst cases, even death. 

So, no matter if you’re just dashing out to run a few errands, as a responsible pet owner, it’s important to prioritise your pup’s health and welfare and not leave them in the car.

Image provided by RSPCA

What to do if you spot a dog in a car on a hot day

1. First, assess the situation: Does the dog seem okay or are they showing signs of heatstroke? Check the doors to see if they’re locked. If you think the dog is suffering from heatstroke or in immediate danger, dial 999.

The most common signs of heatstroke include:

  • Heavy panting and difficulty breathing

  • Drowsiness

  • Vomiting  

  • Excessive drooling

  • Collapse

Another option is to phone the RSPCA on their emergency hotline (0300 1234 999) to report the incident, however, as they will need to contact the police to help them rescue the dog, you should dial 999 first.

2. It may be tempting to break the window yourself
, especially when you’re waiting for the police to arrive, but please be aware that this could be classed as criminal damage and you may have to defend your actions in court.

3. If you’re positive that the best cause of action is to break the window because the dog is in immediate danger, then make the police aware of what you attend to do and why. Remember, this should be a last resort. It’s also a good idea to take photos and videos and get the details of other witnesses, this will help support your actions if necessary.

The law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the vehicle would consent to the damage if they knew their dog was in serious danger.  

What to do once the dog is free  

Once the dog is free, check if they’re in distress or showing signs of heatstroke (find the symptoms above).

If you believe the dog is suffering from heatstroke:

  • Move them to a shaded area.

  • Offer them small amounts of cool (not freezing) water.

  • Gently pour water over their body, paying attention to their neck, tummy, and inner thighs, do this until their breathing starts to settle (but not so much that they start shaking).

  • Avoid pouring water directly onto the dog’s face as they may inhale too much water.

  • If possible, fan them – the impact of this will be even greater if they’re already wet.

  •  Once the dog is cool, contact a vet straight away and they’ll guide you through the next steps.

What to do if the dog isn’t showing signs of heatstroke 

If you spot a dog in a car that’s not showing immediate signs of distress or symptoms of heatstroke, you can do the following:

  • See if the car has a ‘pay and display’ ticket, this will help you determine how long the dog has been in the car.

  • If the car is parked near some shops, then you can ask staff to alert the car owner over the loudspeaker.

  • Keep an eye on the dog – if their condition appears to get worse, be prepared to call 999.

  • Make a note of the car’s registration. If the owner returns and you feel like they’re likely to put the dog in danger again, you can inform the police.

The best alternative to taking your dog out on a hot day

It may sound obvious, but if you need to head out and run some errands on a hot day, then the best option is to leave your dog at home or with someone who can watch them.

Your pooch may look sad to see you head out without them, but it’s in their best interest. Just don’t leave your dog alone for more than a few hours and head out for walkies beforehand so your pup is more relaxed – on a warm or hot day, be sure to go early in the morning or later in the evening when it’s cooler.  

To help keep your dog happy and occupied, leave them their favourite toys and some treats (you could hide some around the house to keep them busy)!

Preparing a Kong or a treat ball filled with something yummy is a great long-lasting treat. Freeze some peanut butter or mashed banana inside it to create a scrumptious frozen treat!

Also, if you have a conservatory, make sure your pooch doesn’t have access to this space when you head out. Ideally, leave them in a cool room.

Keeping your dog happy and healthy this summer 

Be prepared for summer with our 9 tips for exercising your dog in warm weather and advice on safe dog walking temperatures.

Get the low-down on whether dogs need sunscreen, as well as information about a pesky parasite that’s common in summer – fleas!

Share this article


Bring Your Dog to Work Day: This Dog Office Policy is Howlarious!


7 Fun Ways for Dog Dads to Celebrate Father’s Day