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Is It Illegal to Leave Your Dog in Your Vehicle?

Our dogs are like family, and we like to take them places. You may have left your dog in the car while running an errand, but is it illegal to do so? In this article, we explore the legalities and state laws to prepare for road trips. We also give tips to keep your dog safe during your travels.

Let’s start by taking a look at the looming question.

Is It Illegal to Leave Your Dog in Your Vehicle?

Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a loaded question. Laws vary from state to state, and local governments can also have regulations. For example, some states have specific laws that prohibit you from leaving a dog in your vehicle. 

While others may not have particular laws regarding cars, they have animal cruelty regulations that would encompass leaving a dog in unsafe circumstances, such as a hot car.

RVing with Pets - Mondays with the Mortons

Is Leaving Your Dog in Your Vehicle Considered Animal Cruelty?

Leaving your dog in your vehicle isn’t considered animal cruelty in most states. However, according to the Humane Society of the United States, “Animal cruelty encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing. Most cruelty investigated by humane officers is unintentional neglect that can be resolved through education.”

So if your dog is suffering in a vehicle, even unintentionally, it could be considered animal cruelty. 

Do All States Have Laws Against Leaving Your Dog in a Vehicle?

Most states don’t have specific laws against leaving your dog in a vehicle. However, 31 states have laws focused on animals in parked cars. Most of the laws find an owner liable if your pet is alone and the conditions endanger the animal’s life. 

Some of the states have “Rescue Laws,” which protect a person from being sued if they rescue an animal out of a parked car by forced entry. So if they break a car window or do other damage, they won’t be held liable. But the majority of states only allow authorized personnel to remove pets from parked vehicles. 

Mortons on the Move dogs sitting inside car.
Keep your furry friends safe by not leaving them in your vehicle unattended.

What Conditions Endanger a Dog Left in a Vehicle?

Heat and lack of air and water are the most important conditions that can endanger a dog left in a vehicle. For example, consider if it’s a cool fall day without sun and you run into a store for five minutes. You leave the windows cracked, and your dog has access to water. That seems relatively harmless. 

But on the other hand, let’s consider leaving your dog in a car on a warm day. A study showed that the temperature inside a vehicle parked in the sun on a 95 degree Fahrenheit day reached an average of 116 degrees Fahrenheit within one hour. The dashboard got up to 157 degrees, and the seats were an average of 123 degrees.

 In the shade, a car reached an average of 100 degrees within one hour. The dashboard averaged 118 degrees and the seats 105 degrees.

If you cut those numbers down, it’s easy to imagine that on a 60-degree day in the sun, a car is still going to heat up quickly. So you need to think about the outside temperature, sun, and length of time you leave your dog in the vehicle. 

Never leave a dog alone in a car in warm weather. Watch this video by Dr. Ernie Ward to see why.

Pro Tip: If you want to take your four-legged friend on your next adventure, make sure you have these 7 Essential Dog Camping Gear Items You Can’t Forget.

Mortons on the Move dogs inside the Go North truck camper.
Make sure to not leave a dog inside your vehicle in hot temperatures or without air or water.

Can You Leave Your Dog Inside Your RV?

Leaving your dog alone inside your RV is similar to leaving an animal alone in a car. RVs can heat up just as quickly as vehicles on a hot sunny day, even with open windows. 

Do not leave a dog inside your RV in hot temperatures or without air or water. Ensure your RV air conditioning is running if you need to leave your dog when it’s warm outside. The climate inside your RV should be the same as if you were inside with your dog.

In addition, campgrounds often have rules that you can’t leave your dog unattended at a campsite. But there are a lot of opinions around that. 

Some argue that an RV is like a home, and you leave your dog home when going to the store or other activities. The campground owner’s logic may come from having too many dogs barking while their owners are away. 

Boondocking Without Hookups With Pets

If you’re boondocking in your RV without hookups makes leaving the air conditioner running while you’re away is a challenge. Most RV AC units require you to run a generator to function off-grid unless you have a very large lithium RV battery bank. If either the generator failed or ran out of fuel while you were away, your camper may warm up quickly.

We use a really efficient 12V RV air conditioner when we camp off-grid to keep our dog cool. It operated off 300-500watts which our solar panels can keep up without a problem.

If you cannot supply air conditioning, then the ventilation, water, and reflectors in the windows are key. Keep reading for more tips in this situation.

What Are Animal Rescue Laws?

Rescue laws permit an individual to rescue an animal from a vehicle. Forced entry is permissible when the animal is in danger, and there is no other safe way to get it out of the parked car. Some states only allow law enforcement, firefighters, animal control, first responders, or authorized humane officers to rescue an animal from a vehicle.

Most rescue laws require potential rescuers to follow certain steps to do it legally. These may include making sure the vehicle is locked before forced entry. You may have to call 911 or local law enforcement before entering the vehicle. 

Laws may also require that you leave a note to let the pet owner know where the animal is. You may also need to remain on the scene until authorities arrive. Before you attempt to rescue an animal in danger, make sure to do it legally.

Pro Tip: Care for your furry friends by always following these 5 Rules for RVing with Pets.

Do All States Have Animal Rescue Laws?

Approximately 14 states have rescue laws in place that allow any person to rescue a distressed animal. These states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. 

The laws limit the civil or criminal liability of damages made by the person rescuing the animal. Indiana requires the rescuer to pay half of any damage. West Virginia and New Jersey are the only states that criminalize a person for leaving a pet unattended under dangerous conditions without providing a rescue and immunity provision.

Again, know the specifics of the laws before you decide to rescue an animal in danger.

Mortons on the move dogs looking out truck window.
Depending on the state you are in, there could be different laws about leaving your dog in your vehicle.

What Should You Do If You Find a Dog Left in a Vehicle?

If you happen upon a dog left in a vehicle unattended, first assess the situation. Is the dog actually in danger? Consider the temperature, airflow in the car, or if the dog looks distressed. If there are no signs that the dog is in danger, wait by the car for the owner to come back if you’re concerned. 

But if the dog is in danger, follow logical steps. If you have time, do a Google search for the laws in your location. Or, if at a grocery store and have time before the dog is in real danger, go inside and have the owner paged by their car’s description. If the owner doesn’t arrive, call 911 or local law enforcement. If you have no other options and it’s legal to do so, enter the vehicle to rescue the animal.

Mortons on the Move dog looking in side mirror at cows.
Remember, if you have to leave your pup inside your vehicle for a short time, make sure they have the ultimate safe conditions.

Tips to Keep Your Dog Safe in Your Vehicle or RV

Here are five tips for keeping your dog safe in your vehicle or RV.

Consider the Temperature: If it’s a warm day or sunny day, don’t leave your dog alone in a vehicle. You may leave your dog alone in an RV on a warm day if you can control the temperature. We recommend leaving the air conditioning on and implementing a thermostat that you can control from your phone.  

Provide Ventilation: If you have to leave your dog alone in a vehicle or RV and air conditioning isn’t an option, leave the windows open. Even on days that aren’t hot, it’s always good to provide airflow.

Provide Food and Water: Leave food and water for your dog. Providing enough water is extremely important. It doesn’t matter the temperature or amount of time you need to leave your dog alone. 

Use Sunshades or Reflectix: Keep your vehicle or RV as shaded as possible. Sunshades and Reflectix help keep the sun and heat out.

Keep Your Time Away Short: Don’t leave your dog alone for long. Keep track of the time and be conscious of your dog’s needs.

Is it safe to leave my dog in the car?

Is It Worth It to Leave Your Dog in Your Vehicle?

Unless you have no choice but to leave your dog in your vehicle, it’s likely not worth it. Dogs can’t let someone know when they’re overheated or feeling sick. 

Leaving your dog for only a few minutes could mean life or death in extreme conditions. And on the flip side, it may not be worth it in case someone decides to forcibly enter your car, even if you know your pet is fine. 

The best thing to do is plan ahead. Know what your day and travels look like and factor in your dog’s needs. Our fur babies may not be human, but keeping them alive and cared for is still our responsibility. 

How do you keep your pet safe on the road? Drop a comment below!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Frank Russo

Friday 17th of November 2023

I once had our dog in our car on a 70 degree day as the sun was setting on the sea shore. The interior temperature of a car without the presence of the sun will not rise. I later discovered the wait staff in the restaurant was going hysterical. The dog may have been exposed to excessive temps like 73 or so degrees.

While I am very sympathetic to the adverse and potentially dangerous circumstances that could arise, such laws can give license to bone heads who choose to rescue a comfortable sleeping dog.


Thursday 25th of November 2021

It's evident you don't know about the Tesla and the control panel that lets you choose the "Dog" or "Camp" modes for keeping the temps you desire within your vehicle's cabin?


Thursday 25th of November 2021

You didn’t mention that newer RVs are equipped with climate control systems which will start the generator and air conditioning at a predetermined temperature and maintain that temperature until you return. Status can be monitored on your phone. All that is needed is a sign in the door that states this is a climate controlled environment. Our pet is not in distress. Gene