Can I Leave My Dog in the Car in the Winter?

Can I Leave My Dog in the Car in the Winter?

Author WDF Staff


Many dog owners adore their pets and want to spend as much time as possible with them, so it's no surprise that they choose to bring their furry companions with them on errands or to events. Many public places are dog-friendly and welcome your pet, but grocery stores and other businesses where food is prepared and/or served frequently do not. As a result, many owners wonder, "Can I leave my dog in the car during the winter?"

Leaving a dog in a freezing car

We've all heard horror stories and warnings about dogs being left in hot cars during the summer. When temperatures reach even a mild 70s Fahrenheit, closed cars can quickly reach the 90s, exposing your furry friend to dangerous heat and causing heatstroke. But what about in the winter, when the weather is colder? Is there a safe temperature for your dog to be left in the car?

In a nutshell, no. You should never leave your pet unattended in a car, regardless of the outside temperature, for their health and safety. Mild days in the 60s and 70s can still put your dog at risk of high heat exposure, while hypothermia concerns begin in the 50s.

dog looking out of a car

Cars can quickly cool to outside temperatures in the winter, and small and indoor-only dogs are especially vulnerable to severe cold-related issues (think hypothermia). When owners leave their dogs in the car, many think that cracking the windows to ensure air circulation is a good idea. However, that only adds to the potential problems when the weather is cold. Hypothermia is a serious concern that isn't worth a trip to the store, a bite to eat, or the movies. If you're not sure you'll be able to take your dog with you to every location on your errands, don't take the chance - leave them at home, where they'll be safe and secure.

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Hypothermia risk

In the summer, a car can act as a greenhouse, becoming much hotter than the surrounding environment. Similarly, vehicles with no heaters become rolling refrigerators in the winter, conducting cold from the outside. Cars have little to no insulation against the elements. So, while your vehicle may protect your dog from the elements and wind, it will not protect them from frigid or freezing temperatures. It's also risky to assume that your dog's fur will keep them warm in extreme cold.

When dogs are left alone in a cold car for an extended period, they can develop hypothermia. This dangerous condition occurs when the core body temperature drops too low. Mild hypothermia develops in dogs when their body temperature falls below 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite can be a problem in extremely cold temperatures. Hypothermia, if left untreated, can lead to cardiac and respiratory failure, brain damage, coma, and even death.

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Hypothermia symptoms in dogs

Some of the first signs of mild hypothermia in dogs are shivering and curling up for warmth. Other warning signs to look out for are as follows:

  • Heart rate increase, followed by slow heart rate
  • Rapid breathing, followed by slower, shallower breathing.
  • Slowness of movement and delayed reflexes
  • Depression
  • Paleness
  • Pupils dilated
  • Consciousness loss

fluffy dog near car

Breeds at risk in cold cars

While it is dangerous for any breed of dog to be left in extremely cold temperatures for an extended period of time, some breeds tolerate cold weather better than others. Northern breeds with thick coats, such as Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, and Akitas, are bred to withstand harsher conditions and colder climates. On the other hand, single-coated and short-haired breeds have a much lower tolerance for cold temperatures.

Puppies and senior dogs of any breed, as well as naturally thin breeds like the Italian Greyhound, are more susceptible to hypothermia. Small dogs and toy breeds can also tolerate cold temperatures less well than larger breeds. Finally, hairless breeds such as the Xoloitzcuintli are particularly susceptible to cold temperatures.

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What to do if you encounter an unattended dog in a car in winter?

Currently, 22 states have laws that make it illegal to leave a dog in a parked vehicle, thereby protecting dogs from neglect. The penalties for these infractions vary by state and range from fines to jail time. However, this does not give you the authority to intervene if you come across an unattended dog in a car.

Your first line of defense should always be to attempt to contact the owner as soon as possible. Keep an eye out for the license plate. Enter the business where the car is parked and speak with management, requesting that customers be paged over the loud system. If no one comes forward quickly, contact authorities such as local law enforcement or animal control to ensure the dog's safety legally.

Keep your dog safe this winter and leave them at home when in doubt.

World Dog Finder team

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