How long can my dog be in a hot car?

Use common sense if you leave your dog alone in a hot car

How long can my dog be in a hot car?

It’s not abusive to leave a dog in the car under the right circumstances.

Although newspapers and blogs seem to think some of us have never heard how lethal a hot car can be, it’s not news to dog owners that car temperatures can kill.

There are different statistics out there on how long it takes for a dog to die in a car. The majority say it takes 15 minutes when the car is parked in the sun on a 78-degree day or hotter.

The problem is, people believe what they hear, and 15 minutes is thrown around like a magic number.

Some dogs are OK being left in the car for 15 minutes. Others are not.

A dog can begin suffering within two minutes of being left in a hot car. After all, dogs have fur coats, and they can only sweat through their feet. It doesn’t take certain breeds long to become uncomfortable in the heat. A black, overweight pug is going to be a lot worse off than a healthy yellow lab.

Fifteen minutes.

It’s easy to lose track of time. People forget.

Ten minutes at the mall can easily turn into a half-hour. Five minutes at the bank can easily turn into 20 minutes of waiting. Those are the kinds of mistakes we make. We think we have 15 minutes. We think 15 minutes is enough time.

Black lab mix dog left in the car

How long can a dog be in a hot car? Black lab mix Ace lying down in the car on his dog bedKnow your dog’s heat tolerance.

I would never leave my mutt Ace alone in a hot car. He’s black, and he overheats easier than most dogs. But to say I should never leave my dog in the car is generalizing too much.

I live in North Dakota.

The average high temperature in Fargo is 55 degrees Fahrenheit or lower from October through April, according to Even though my dog is black, he has short hair and he’s in good shape. I know my dog well and what is safe and what isn’t safe for him. I have a feeling there are a lot of other dog owners out there just like me who are sick of being harassed for bringing their dogs along and leaving them in the car.

I love to bring Ace along on errands. He spends a lot of time waiting for me in the back seat, especially during the fall and spring when it’s not too hot or too cold. To say I should never leave my dog in the car at all would be unfortunate.

Ace has waited for me while I go to dinner, while I shop or while I run other dogs. When Ace is left home alone, I guarantee you he sleeps the entire time. But while he stays in the car, he is looking out at new surroundings and experiencing new things. Millions of dogs spend eight or more hours a day in a kennel. Two hours in the car is not going to kill my dog.

Dogs love a good car ride.

There’s this thing called common sense that people seem to be lacking on both sides of this issue. Yes, a hot car will kill a dog (or toddler). No matter what, there are going to be times when people make mistakes. But cars aren’t always hot, and most dogs love the car, even if that means waiting while their owners run a few errands.

Just last week I was visiting my Grandma in a small Minnesota town. My Grandma is not a dog person, but she did know her statistics on how hot cars can kill dogs. She was concerned when I left Ace out in the car for 15 minutes when I got to her house (although she didn’t invite him inside). And later, she was concerned while Ace waited in the car for a half-hour while we went to lunch.

I knew very well that my dog would be fine. I also parked by a window so I could see him from my table in the restaurant. It was maybe 70 degrees with some wind and I had the windows down part way. I’m an (overly) concerned dog owner, so I even went out to check on Ace during the middle of my lunch. My mutt was totally relaxed, not even panting and sitting in the sun (he had the option of shade).

“Oh, hi. Did you bring me some food?”

Yeah, my dog was really suffering.

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  1. Anonymous on August 16, 2012

    Never leave a dog in the car. Screw “it works for me.” Just don’t do it. Can’t handle a dog? Find another responsible owner who can.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 17, 2012

      So you are saying that instead of leaving my dog alone in a car for even a few seconds, I should instead find him a new home? Yikes.

    • Dane on July 12, 2013

      Never? So it’s ok the through common sense out the window, deny your dogs rides bc some idiots can’t think?

  2. Matt Rullo on September 16, 2012

    I have a 4-year-old Jack Russell that would rather stay in the car when I leave instead of staying at home. He exercises regularly and I leave him in the car for an hour or two hours when it’s not too hot outside, say 60 to 75 degrees. I check on him every 20 to 30 minutes and Remi is happy chilling in the car however long because he loves being with his master no matter what! It all depends on knowing your dog, his heat tolerance and that should tell you how long they can stay in a car.

  3. Candice on June 7, 2013

    I’m pretty late to this conversation, but I’d like to put in my 2 cents! I wholeheartedly agree with what you’re saying, Lindsay. I’ve been taking care of my boyfriend’s sweet 10-year-old collie mix for almost a year now. Quincy has had severe separation anxiety her entire life – we’ve tried everything from the Thundershirt to kenneling, treat toys and calming chews, daily anti-anxiety medication – all to no avail. She cannot be left at home alone, inside or out, without destroying things, having accidents, or disturbing neighbors with her barking.

    She only recently became comfortable enough to stay at doggy daycare while I am at work or running errands for more than an hour or so. This was a huge deal for her!

    But if doggy daycare is closed or I just need to run somewhere quick, I take her with me. She loves being in the car! She is totally comfortable and calm, and happy to look out the window and nap in the backseat. I know her well – I know her limits. I have never put her in any danger by leaving her in the backseat of my SUV with all windows partially down, parked in the shade with a treat and a big bowl of water on a 75 degree day when I’m at the gym for an hour. She doesn’t bark, pant, or whine. She knows I’m coming back soon and would never leave her, and is perfectly content.

    People can get upset with me, but my dog is going to be just fine in the car for an hour or so. I would of course never leave her in more extreme temperatures, but I would rather have her safe and comfy in my car than leave her at home freaking out for an hour. She is very healthy for her age, gets daily 1-2 hour walks or runs, and is pampered like a queen. She just doesn’t like being alone, and the car is a comfortable space for her.

  4. Jana Rade on June 30, 2013

    Basically, we didn’t like leaving our guys alone anywhere. And on a hot day, I would stay in the truck with them, if we had to stop for something. And we did our best to pick early morning or late evening for traveling. For example, when going camping or to Jasmine’s ranch, we’d leave at 3 in the morning, to do our traveling while it was still cool.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 1, 2013

      Wow, how nice of you to get up that early for your dogs!

      • Jana Rade on July 1, 2013

        There was nothing I wouldn’t have done for Jasmine.

        • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 1, 2013

          Yes. She was so lucky to have you. So sorry for your loss.

  5. Marcia on July 1, 2013

    I don’t usually leave my dogs in the car…..but when I do, my husband or I actually stay with them, especially if it is even slightly warm. That way, if whatever business we are in starts taking longer than expected, we can get them out and comfortable. Honestly….my fear is someone stealing them. If I am in a building that I cannot see my vehicle, then I definitely won’t leave them. I know it might sound paranoid, but it seems to be happening more and more. Otherwise, using common sense it always good.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 1, 2013

      I don’t think anyone would steal or bother my dog, but you just never know. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  6. amanda lewis on August 2, 2013

    Rather than say “he looks fine to me” or “I feel like he’s OK”, shouldn’t we consider some actual facts here? I have mixed emotions on the topic at hand, but I know for a fact that on a 70 degree dar, a parked car with the windows cracked becomes a 90 degree sauna in 10 minutes.
    That is a fact.