Is it illegal to leave your pet in the car?

Protect furry friends from a dangerously hot car. But rescue at your own risk.

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Dog sleeping in car

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Can you leave your pet in the car?

Leaving a pet in the car might get you in hot water with your state, especially if the car gets hot enough to endanger the animal’s life. What you might not know is that your car reaches that threshold much faster than you’d think. Keep your four-legged friends safe by leaving yours at home and helping pets in danger — as much as you legally can.

  • Pet car laws. Many states have no laws about leaving pets in cars. For those states that do, it’s typically a misdemeanor with a small fine.
  • Good Samaritan law. Most states don’t have a Good Samaritan law that protects you for rescuing a stranded pet. Only 11 states allow anyone to break into a hot car with immunity, while 13 states only allow it if you’re on an official rescue team like an animal control officer or police officer.
  • Pet restraint law. Most state laws prevent you from keeping an animal in your lap while driving under distracted driving laws. Only eight states require your pet to be contained in a crate or restrained with a seatbelt.

Pet car laws by state

StatePet car lawGood Samaritan lawRestraint law
AlabamaNoneNoNo
AlaskaNoneNoNo
ArizonaClass 1 misdemeanorYesDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
ArkansasNoneNoNo
CaliforniaIf the animal suffers great bodily injury, drivers face a fine up to $500 or imprisonment up to 6 months.YesYes, pets must wear a harness or other device that prevents them from falling, being thrown or jumping from the vehicle.
ColoradoNoneYesNo
ConnecticutNoneNoYes, dogs transported in an open truck bed must be in a crate or cage or secured to prevent them from falling, jumping or being thrown from the vehicle.
DelawareWarning for a first offense. Subsequent offenses are Class A MisdemeanorsLaw applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
FloridaNoneYesNone
GeorgiaNoneNoNone
HawaiiNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
IdahoNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
IllinoisClass C misdemeanor. Second or subsequent violations are Class B misdemeanors.Law applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
IndianaNoneRescuer is liable to the vehicle owner for half of the damage caused by the forcible entry.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
IowaNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
KansasNoneYesDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
KentuckyNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
LouisianaNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
MaineNoneLaw applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Yes, dogs being transported in an open truck bed must be in a crate or cage or secured to prevent them from falling, jumping or being thrown from the vehicle.
Maryland$70 fineYesDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
MassachusettsCivil infraction with a fine up to $150 for a first offense, up to $300 for a second offense and up to $500 for subsequent offenses.Law applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Yes, dogs being transported in an open truck bed must be in a crate or cage or secured to prevent them from falling, jumping or being thrown from the vehicle.
MichiganNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
MinnesotaPetty misdemeanor with a fine of $25Law applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Yes, dogs being transported in an open truck bed must be in a crate or cage or secured to prevent them from falling, jumping or being thrown from the vehicle.
MississippiNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
MissouriNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
MontanaNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
NebraskaNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
NevadaMisdemeanorLaw applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
New HampshireMisdemeanor for a first offense, and a class B felony for a second or subsequent offense.Law applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Yes, dogs being transported in an open truck bed must be in a crate or cage or secured to prevent them from falling, jumping or being thrown from the vehicle.
New JerseyConstitutes cruelty with penalty of $250 to $1,000.NoNew Jersey is the only state where driving with pets loose in the car is a violation of animal cruelty law.
New MexicoNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
New YorkFirst offense with a fine up to $100, second offense up to $250.Law applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
North CarolinaCruelty provisions may apply.Law applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
North DakotaCivil infractionLaw applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
OhioNoneYesDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
OklahomaNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
OregonNoneYesDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
PennsylvaniaNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
Rhode IslandImprisonment up to one year or a fine up to $1,000.Law applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Yes, dogs being transported in an open truck bed must be in a crate or cage or secured to prevent them from falling, jumping or being thrown from the vehicle.
South CarolinaNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
South DakotaNoneLaw applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
TennesseeCruelty provisions may apply.YesDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
TexasNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
UtahNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
VermontImprisonment up to one year or a fine up to $2,000.YesDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
VirginiaNoneLaw applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
WashingtonClass 2 civil infractionLaw applies to police officer, animal control officer, animal cruelty investigator or firefighter.Distracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
West VirginiaMisdemeanor with a fine up to $2000 or up to 6 months in jail.NoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
WisconsinNoneYesDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.
WyomingNoneNoDistracted driving laws may apply for pets in laps.

How many pets die in hot cars every year?

Every year, hundreds of pets die from heatstroke in cars. Although any pet can suffer in a sweltering car, a few types of pets have even more difficulty cooling themselves down. Pets with these characteristics may need a closer eye to make sure they’re not overheating:

  • Long or thick fur
  • Medical conditions
  • Old or very young
  • Overweight
  • Short-nosed dogs, also called brachycephalic breeds (such as pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers)

How hot can a car get in the summer?

While you might think a car ride beats your dog getting bored at home, leaving a beloved pet inside your car can get dangerous fast. Your car’s interior can reach temperatures up to 20 degrees higher than outside in as little as 10 minutes.

That means your car can get up to 90 degrees on a nice day outside in the 70s, or above 100 degrees during mid- to late summer. And that includes when you’re parked in the shade with the windows cracked.

If I break into a car to save a pet, what am I liable for?

There are no nationwide Good Samaritan laws protecting you from legal repercussions if you break into someone’s car, although some states offer protection.

These laws encourage you to help pets in danger and will likely protect you from liability and damage. When Good Samaritan laws aren’t in place, you could be liable for any damage incurred.

If you choose to rescue a pet, keep in mind that some owners don’t realize the danger their pet is in, especially in mild outdoor temperatures. They may simply need awareness about the heat.

So far, 25 states have Good Samaritan laws to help you or rescue personnel come to a pet’s aid. Those include:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

How to help a pet left in a car

Your first instinct after seeing a locked up pet in distress might involve smashing through the car’s window. But incurring property damage could have you sweating over a civil lawsuit, even in states where you’re protected.

Instead, you could rescue the animal in a less intrusive way by:

  • Checking for immediate danger. If the pet isn’t showing signs of distress or heat stroke, you might just stay with the vehicle until the owner gets back.
  • Locating the owner. Chances are the owner is inside the building where the car is parked. You could choose to find the owner by asking around with managers or employees. They can often make a store-wide call to the car’s owner.
  • Calling 911. Your state might not protect you from entering the car, but police officers often have an upper hand in that department.
  • Seeing if the car is unlocked. If you need to take matters into your own hands, look for ways to reduce property damage. Check for unlocked doors and open side or rear windows.

Tips for keeping pets safe in the car

You can keep your furry friends safe when they do tag along by making sure you:

  • Understand the law. No matter the conditions, some states have direct laws against leaving animals unattended in a parked car.
  • Watch the weather. Nowadays, knowing the outdoor temperature is as simple as checking an app on your phone.
  • Check the backseat. Make a habit of checking the backseat before going indoors so that Spot doesn’t accidentally get left behind.
  • Keep water on hand. While not a quick remedy for leaving your pet in the car alone, your pet could still need a refreshing drink.
  • Know the signs of heatstroke. Know what to look for when animals are in danger of overheating like excessive panting or vomiting.

Signs of heatstroke in pets

Overheating in pets can include similar signs to other actions they may have throughout the day. The main thing is to take even small signs like panting seriously and keep your pet comfortable. Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Drooling
  • Excessive panting
  • Reddened gums
  • Lethargy or inability to move
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lack of mental alertness
  • Loss of consciousness

Get pet insurance to cover emergencies and heatstroke

Name Product Pets covered Seniors accepted Hereditary conditions Chronic illness
Petplan
Petplan
Dogs, Cats
Cover unexpected vet bills from emergency exams, injuries, surgery and more.
Embrace
Embrace
Dogs, Cats
Enjoy extra benefits with coverage for exam fees, curable conditions and wellness visit reimbursement.
PetFirst
PetFirst
Dogs, Cats
Get coverage starting at $9 per month for cats and $15 for dogs. Talk to an agent at 888-738-0683.
Trupanion
Trupanion
Dogs, Cats
A Trupanion medical insurance policy has the ability to save you thousands and keep your best friend by your side
Pet Assure
Pet Assure
Dogs, Cats, Horses
Save up to 25% on all vet bills including wellness and dental visits for as little as $10/month.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

An unattended car can turn into a dangerous place for pets because it can heat up quickly, even in mild weather. Since pets can’t regulate body temperature well, it’s best to keep them safe at home.

You can also look into pet insurance providers so you can keep your furry friend in the best of health.

Frequently asked questions about pets in cars

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