Is it illegal to leave a dog in a hot car?

Dogs die in hot cars. But what should you do if you see an animal suffering? Photo: Getty Images

Dogs die in hot cars. But what should you do if you see an animal suffering? Photo: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Norfolk is in the midst of a sweltering heatwave that poses a real threat to animals if they aren't properly taken care of.

One of the most deadly dangers a dog faces in the hot weather is being left unattended in an overheating vehicle for a prolonged period of time - pets die from heatstroke in these situations every year.

Cars can become much hotter than outside temperatures in a short period of time, meaning many people underestimate the risk of leaving their pets alone.

The RSPCA's website says: "Many people still believe that it's okay to leave a dog in a car on a warm day if the windows are left open or they're parked in the shade, but the truth is, it's still a very dangerous situation for the dog.

"A car can become as hot as an oven very quickly, even when it doesn't feel that warm."

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But is it illegal to leave a dog in a hot car?

While there is not a law against leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle, if your animal becomes ill or dies as a result of being left in a hot car then you could be charged with animal cruelty.

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If convicted under the Animal Welfare Act pet owners could be jailed for six months and receive an unlimited fine.

Is it legal to break a car window to free an overheating dog trapped inside?

While in life threatening situations, police have been known to break car windows to rescue dogs dying of heatstroke in cars, as a member of the public you could risk criminal damage charges doing so yourself.

If you see a dog in a car displaying symptoms of heatstroke (heavy panting, excessive drooling, lethargy, collapsing or vomiting), the RSPCA advice is to dial 999 immediately.

This is because dogs suffering from heatstroke can become unconscious and even experience organ failure.

If the dog seems to be critically suffering and the police can't attend you may feel breaking the car window is your only option.

The law states, however, that without proper justification this could be classed as criminal damage.

You must therefore have a lawful excuse to avoid possible legal consequences.

The RSPCA advise the public to take the following precautions in cases where breaking into the car seems absolutely necessary:

"Make sure you tell the police what you intend to do and why.

"Take pictures or videos of the dog and the names and numbers of witnesses to the incident."

The RSPCA website also points out that:

"The law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to the damage if they knew the circumstances (section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971)".

You can find more information about how you can help dogs in hot cars on the RSPCA website.

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