Is it illegal to leave your pets in parked cars?

For people traveling alone with their dog or cat, that’s an important question. But it’s not an easy answer. You must consider the location and conditions where you park.

Bulldog smiling in a car

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Laws Protecting Pets

Jurisdictions are enacting laws to prevent the tragic deaths of pets left in parked cars. And rightly so. Every year pets die needlessly because their owners were unaware of the dangers. If you haven’t seen the video of veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward in a parked car on a summer day, watch it now.

Spoiler: the car reaches 117 degrees within 30 minutes with all four windows opened 1 to 2 inches.


Practicalities of Taking Pets Along

It’s simple to say that we should all leave our pets at home while we run errands. But what if you’re traveling alone with your dog or cat?

Maybe you’re making a cross-country move, and you’d rather drive than put your cat on a plane. Or perhaps it’s a cross-country road trip adventure … the kind no dog would want to miss.

On those types of trips, you may have to leave your pet in parked cars for a short time. Knowing the law and taking precautions will ensure you don’t end up with a ticket.

6 Affordable Vacations to Take with Your Pet |


State Laws Protecting Pets In Parked Vehicles

The laws concerning pets in extremely hot or cold vehicles are evolving quickly. We’ll keep you updated to the best of our ability!

If your situation requires you to leave your pet alone in your vehicle, here’s what you need to know about the state laws from the Animal Legal and Historical Center:

Approximately 28 states have laws that deal with pets in parked cars. Under most of these laws, a person must have confined an unattended animal in a parked vehicle. Additionally, the conditions have to endanger the animal’s life to result in a violation.

Arizona prohibits leaving animals unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.
California prohibits leaving or confining an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.
Delaware prohibits confining an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in which the temperature is either so high or so low that it endangers the health or safety of the animal.
Illinois prohibits confining any animal in a motor vehicle in a manner that places it in a life or health threatening situation by exposure to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold.
Maine‘s law is violated when an animal’s safety, health or well-being appears to be in immediate danger from heat, cold or lack of adequate ventilation, and the conditions could reasonably be expected to cause extreme suffering or death.
Maryland prohibits leaving a cat or dog in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the animal’s health or safety.
Massachusetts prohibits leaving an animal in a motor vehicle when it could reasonably be expected that the health of the animal could be threatened due to extreme heat or cold.
Minnesota prohibits leaving a dog or cat unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the dog’s or cat’s health or safety.
Nevada prohibits leaving a cat or dog unattended in a parked or standing motor vehicle during a period of extreme heat or cold, or in any other manner that endangers the health or safety of the cat or dog.
New Hampshire laws defines cruelty as confining an animal in a motor vehicle or other enclosed space in which the temperature is either so high or so low as to cause serious harm to the animal.

READ MORE ⇒  Tips for Traveling Alone with Pets



New Jersey prohibits leaving animals unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions adverse to the health or welfare of the living animal or creature.
New York prohibits leaving pets confined in motor vehicle in extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation or other protection, where confinement places the companion animal in imminent danger of death or serious injury due to exposure.
North Carolina‘s law is violated when an animal is confined in a motor vehicle under conditions that are likely to cause suffering, injury, or death to the animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or other endangering conditions.
North Dakota prohibits leaving a dog or cat unattended in a stationary or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the animal’s health or safety.
Rhode Island‘s law states that no owner or person shall confine any animal in a motor vehicle in a manner that places the animal in a life threatening or extreme health threatening situation by exposing it to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold.
South Dakota prohibits leaving pets unattended in a standing or parked vehicle in a manner that endangers the health or safety of such animal.
Vermont prohibits leaving an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health or safety of the animal.
Washington prohibits leaving or confining any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.
West Virginia prohibits leaving an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.

In addition to these states, many counties municipalities have passed similar laws regarding pets in parked cars. Too many for us to track nationwide! Even in places without laws specifically mentioning pets in vehicles, leaving animals in unsafe circumstances could constitute animal cruelty.


“Rescue Laws” Protect People Who Save Pets in Parked Cars

Law enforcement or other individuals may rescue animals left under extreme conditions according to some state laws. This may include forcibly entering the vehicle to remove the trapped animal.

Pit bull - Dog in Car

The majority of states only allow authorities to enter a vehicle to rescue a pet. These personnel include law enforcement, firefighters, animal control, first responders, or authorized humane officers.

However, 15 states have laws allowing any person to rescue pets in parked cars if they are in distress. The states are: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, IN, KS, LA, MA, OH, OR, TN, VT, and WI. Laws in these jurisdictions limit the liability for damages resulting from the forcible entry of the vehicle. Indiana is the only state requiring a person who forcibly enters a vehicle to pay half the damages.


READ MORE ⇒  Recognizing Dehydration & Heat Stroke in Dogs


Keep Your Pets Safe

What’s the common theme running through all these statutes? They’re targeting the unknowing or careless endangerment of an animal’s life. Something no loving pet owner would ever do purposely!

These tips will help you ensure your pets’ safety and keep you from violating the law:

  1. Only consider leaving your pet unattended in your vehicle when weather conditions would not endanger your pet’s health.
  2. Park in the shade.
  3. Use a sunscreen for your windshield to block as much sunlight as possible.
  4. Get a spill-proof bowl for the car and keep it full so that your pet always has access to fresh water.
  5. Anytime you leave your pet alone in the car, set the alarm on your phone for 10 minutes. Return immediately when the alarm sounds to check on your pet.
  6. Utilize a pet temperature monitor, so you are always aware of the temperature inside your vehicle. These monitors will also send you text alerts if the environment becomes uncomfortable for your pet.
  7. Have a remote-start system installed in your car, or carry a spare key. This will allow you to leave the air conditioning or heat running. Always set your parking brake if you leave your pet in a running vehicle! (Note that leaving an unattended vehicle running may violate the law in some jurisdictions.)


Don’t Forget to Buckle Up

Pets die far more frequently in car accidents each year than in hot cars. Yet, the campaign for buckling up our pets hasn’t received the same attention. Before you hit the road with your best friend, make sure they’re secured in a crash-tested carrier or car harness. Remember, the most important part of any pet friendly trip is coming home together safely.


READ MORE ⇒  State Laws Require Pets to Buckle Up


Ty the Shar-pei from buckled into a seat belt using a Sleepypod pet safety harness


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  • My dog is super spoiled! I left him in the car with radio on, AC running, AND the emergency brake on, just in case. He’s a senior, and is used to being in the car for rides with me. I ran in Walmart real quick to get a couple of items. Returned to my car with people standing by it telling me they called the cops and how horrible of a person I was. The cops arrived as they walked away telling the cops they should write me a ticket. Cops saw that my dog was fine, and were all good. So sad people don’t have enough common sense to see if a car is running or not. I actually thought better of people. Unfortunately can’t this day and age

    • Hi Jenny! It’s hard, because I know that people have the pet’s best interest in mind. And that, in some cases, people have left their animals in unsafe situations. It would be great if those concerned citizens would assume the best about pet owners, and confirm the pet is safe, rather than getting indignant and confrontational about a pet being left alone for a few minutes in a perfectly safe environment.

  • Today, my mother and I were out and about shopping after getting our two Maltese groomed. At one stop, she parked in a spot near the grass so that if they needed to go out it was close, kept our van and AC running, and went in the store. I stayed in the back of the van with both pups; they calmed down enough that they even napped in their carriers for a bit. When my mother came back out and started loading the trunk, our boy dog started barking. He has a rather shrill bark, so I wasn’t surprised when the woman about two rows down looked toward us. She told my mother that she could get fined for leaving them im the van. “With the air condition and my 19 year old in with them?” She said it didn’t matter. Is that true; could we be fined even though I am legally an adult and they were never really “unattended”? We never leave them alone, and they really only have any car time on vet visits or going to and from getting groomed. Curious, and wanted to double check with someone who’d know.

    • Hi McMuffin! No, you could not be fined in that situation. The law prohibits endangering the welfare of your dogs, which you clearly didn’t do since you were with them the whole time and you’re not suffering from heat stroke or dehydration. I’m sorry you had this unpleasant experience, and thanks for taking such great care of your dogs. Waggin’ trails!

  • People are so obsessed with dogs and want them as their pets too. Having a pet is not a bad thing, but if you wish to have one, you should know the basics of keeping a pet. I have seen people at grocery stores with locked cars in parking with their pets inside. This is totally inhuman behavior. They don’t think about the temperature and suffocation. Either it’s much colder or hotter. There are proper rules, and people don’t obey them. I always take traveling recommendations before I leave my house. Whenever you see an unattended dog stuck in the car, never ignore such a situation and help it in every possible way.

    • over reacting with sprinkles of entitlement and ignorance. Hundreds of thousands of Americans travel in a d live in vehicles, from cars to RV’s with pets. Generalized statements about a pet being harmed while owner is in a store is asinine. And if you broke my window to play here I’d sue you for vandalism and undue duress/hardship for myself and pet.

  • What temperature is considered extreme for a dog who is wearing multiple layers of clothes with two windows with a slight crack for ventilation and car not running??? Nobody, not even a police officers have correct information.

    • Hi Nathalie. You’re right – no one can accurately tell you the appropriate temperature, because it depends on a lot of factors. Is the sun hitting the car? Is there a breeze? What’s the humidity level? This is the gauge I use: could I sit in the car comfortably for an extended period of time in the same condition? If yes, then I believe my pets will not be harmed. I hope that helps you.

      • I had a person wanting to call ASPCA last nite….dog had two layers and a diaper on and it was 38 degrees with two windows slightly cracked and water in bowl……dog was barking as with any anxiety ridden dog…..they were just about ready to call police claiming I abused my dog…what are my and my dogs rights????

        • I’m sorry, Nathalie. I can’t say what’s right in that situation. I know that at 38 degrees, even with a coat on, I prefer not to sit outside. Whether it’s illegal or not is a matter for the police. I wish you the best of luck.

  • We recently picked up our ~5 year old american eskimo from yhe local shelter, and she seems pretty cold tolerant. She was previously a stray and even now will seem chipper on walks when I or my girlfriend are freezing in large jackets. Are there temperature ranges available for specific breeds in the car? And these the law take this into account if we ever do have to leave her in the car this winter? Occasionally travel with her and am concerned abt passers-by & police here in NY/CT.

    • Hi E! Congratulations on your new addition! You ask some very good questions, and unfortunately there are no easy answers. There are no guides with acceptable temperature ranges for dogs, because factors like the dog’s overall health, humidity, and whether the dog is in direct sunshine or shade have to be considered. And these laws are all open to some interpretation, which should include the dog’s breed and ability to tolerate weather. Passers-by are always a roll of the dice, but police should be more reasonable when assessing whether conditions are life-threatening for your dog. One thing you might consider is keeping a visible thermometer in your car. Many times the interior of a warm car will stay quite comfortable for some time after the engine has been turned off. I hope that helps, and I wish you happy adventures.

  • I have a 2 year old German Shepard Ryan with separation issues and a job that is 75% Driving now when it’s hot in Alabama I leave the Ac on for her a 72 oz ice water
    And go on to work She is accustomed to the routine
    And the truck is her’s on nice days she has the windows about 4 inches down and people threaten all the time
    On the last occasion they even called the local police
    When the officer arrived I was returning to the truck
    And I was being informed by Folks that the gentleman
    Had called the officer who actually called me by name
    And said it’s all good Ryan is the coolest one in the crowd

  • Category: Travel Tips / Tagged with: Health and Safety