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Is it Illegal to Leave Your Pet Alone in the Car?

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.

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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, 12 states have laws allowing any person to rescue pets in parked cars if they are in distress. The states are: AZ, CA, CO, FL, IN, KS, 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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  • I don’t think it’s a better idea to leave my pup alone in the car. Some people do that when they go for a shopping and traveling time while they taking rest beside the road. You should carry your pooch, it make your pooch happy. If we leave it inside the car it will feel lonely.

    • Amy at says:

      Thanks for your note, Tamara! I appreciate your opinion. For those that have small dogs, carrying them is a option. But some of us have dogs that we can’t carry, and then leaving them in the car in a safe situation might be the best answer.

  • Leah says:

    I am staying at a pet friendly Motel 6, someone has left their cat in their vehicle. The two windows are down 2 inches. They left it there overnight, though it’s Motel 6 policy NOT to leave any pet unattended, the staff were entirely unhelpful and uninterested. Another guest did the same thing with a dog last weekend while attending the local Canby dog show..?! Oregon has no laws restricting this practice, though it’s legal to intervene if a animal is in distress. I’m wondering if it’s just me and my family who find this treatment neglectful, abusive, and bordering on cruel? Both pets were obviously stressed out. If anyone has any suggestions regarding this situation, it would be heard with a open mind.

  • Bruce says:

    If I have to leave my pet for any amount of time I use a voice activated walkie talkie. This way I can hear any noise in or around the vehicle and of course always park in shade with Windows at least six inches down. I have no animals now but I used to travel a lot with them. Just use common sense. A lot of Times on the road you want to stop and eat so I always made sure I could sit near a window if dining in and be able to see my vehicle and with the walkie talkie I could hear everything.

    • Amy at says:

      That’s a great idea, Bruce! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. And safe travels to you!

  • Cindy says:

    We recently visited our vet with our 3 cats for their “journey physicals”. We are moving from Virginia to Colorado in the middle of June. They are indoor cats, brothers of 2 years and an 8 year old female. We asked our vet about travelling recommendations and she said to leave all 3 in their cages overnight with water and potty boxes, with windows down a few inches. Since they are all skittish and stress easily she felt this would be a kinder, gentler way to go, versus trying to get them into their carriers every night and morning. I am worried this may be conceived as illegal or inhumane, not to mention if the temperatures may endanger them. Any words of wisdom?

    • Amy at says:

      Thanks for reaching out, Cindy. I think you’re right to be concerned – especially about the temperatures. There are a lot of states that can be hot and steamy between Virginia and Colorado, and the humidity is a factor that can be dangerous for pets. My advice is this: if you agree that leaving your cats in the car will be better for them, only leave them after dark, and only if you’d be comfortable in the car under the same conditions (windows down a bit).

      As long as your pets aren’t in danger and you’ve provided water for them, you won’t be breaking any laws. I’d also recommend getting a remote temperature monitor to alert you if the temperature rises while you’re away. This would also provide you with evidence that your pets aren’t in danger if there was any question. Here’s a blog post I wrote about some of the most popular models available:

      Congratulations and good luck on your move! I’m sure it will all work out well.

      • Sybil says:

        My car is always running with a/c on full blast when I leave my dog in car.

        • Mx. Nathan Tamar Pautz says:

          I do the same thing, and place signs in the windows saying that the a/c is running, especially since I have a very quiet hybrid car. Still, about a week ago, I found someone staring at my car, who gave me a nasty comment. And it is far from being the first time. Sometimes they didn’t that realize that the a/c was on, so now I have the signs, but it still happens, even with the signs. And my dog barks at first when I leave him, because he has separation anxiety, leading some people to think that is he is barking because he is too hot. It is much colder in my car than in my house!! This is a particularly difficult situation for me when I travel alone far from home. Of course, I have to leave the car sometimes to use the bathroom, and sometimes I need to buy food or other supplies.

          • Amy at says:

            Hi Nathan! Putting signs in your car – especially since it’s a hybrid and runs so quietly – is a good idea. Perhaps keeping a special toy or a favorite chew in the car for when you have to leave your pup for a few minutes would help him stay calm and not attract unwanted attention by barking.

            I’m sorry you’ve been on the receiving end of nasty comments. I try to keep in mind that those people have our dogs’ best interests at heart – even if they are rude. Safe travels to you!

          • sharon says:

            Yes, I’ve done that too but no longer. Once I found my car surrounded by squads in a mall parking lot and they proceeded to berate me by saying that leaving my car running (even though doors were locked) created a set up for car theft and I could be held responsible if someone stole my car and killed someone…. funny, but not, they didn’t seem to care about a potential dog knapping. It was interesting and I don’t leave my dog anymore. Mainly because of dognappings I have witnessed and losing my dog would be unimaginable!

          • Amy at says:

            I completely understand, Sharon! It’s unfortunate the the police are more concerned about a potential car theft than the immediate danger to a pet’s health of being left without the air conditioning running.

        • Amy at says:

          That’s great, Sybil. Be sure to also set the parking brake and lock the windows for added layers of safety. Safe travels!

  • Carrie says:

    Question. We will be traveling from Missouri to Florida with our dog. We have water dishes,shades and a battery powered fan. It will be the end of June. We she be safe in the car while we are eating? It is a long drive and I know we will need to stop to eat and use the restroom

    • Amy at says:

      Hi Carrie! Of course there’s no way to know what the weather will be like during your trip, but you will be traveling through states that get hot and very humid. It will also depend on the time of day you’re going to eat. My first recommendation is to locate restaurants with pet friendly patios where our dog can join you. We have a bunch of them listed on and you can use our trip planner to find them.

      If that’s not an option, my suggestion is to not leave your dog if there’s any question she will get too warm. Take turns using the restroom, get your food to go and have a picnic, or leave your car running with the air conditioning on using a spare key. You might also want to look at our post on remote temperature monitors for pets >

      I hope that helps, and that you all have a safe trip!

    • Alan says:

      Absolutely it will be too hot to leave your pet in a car in the month of June in Florida. I live here and can attest to that

    • Sheila K. says:

      Hi Carrie,
      I agree with Alan that it will indeed be extremely hot and also humid to leave your pet in the car alone. I live in Orlando and lately its been raining almost daily and it gets very humid not only extremely hot. There are lots of pet friendly patios which would be much less stressful for you all. Take a bag carrier if your pet is small enough and then you can even pop in and out of some shops.

  • Sonal says:

    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.” What exactly does ” in manner that endangers ” mean? My dog loves car rides and I like to take him. I only take him when temperature is in 50 or max in 60’s and only if I’m away for 10 or 15 min. Given windows are partially down and car is parked in a shade. Is this against the law? In Maryland? Where can I find details on which manners are considered ilegal? Thanks

    • Amy at says:

      Hi Sonal! I completely understand your frustration. Unfortunately, “in a manner that endangers” is open to interpretation by the police officer or other authority. My advice is to continue doing what you’re doing. You’re already considering the temperature, parking in the shade, and not leaving your dog for more than a few minutes. The only thing you might want to add is a bowl of water for your pup. In those circumstances, I can’t see how any reasonable person would conclude that your pet is “endangered.” Safe travels!

      • M. Dukeminier says:

        Post your pet plan in bullet points and contact information on a piece of paper taped to the window. Then the concerned person knows you are aware and actively involved in your pet’s safety.

  • Patricia says:


  • Michelle says:

    This article DOES NOT ADDRESS the meaning of UNATTENDED. I think this a crucial point that should have been covered.

    • Amy at says:

      Hi Michelle. My understanding of the laws as they stand is that unattended means there is no human present in/at the vehicle. I hope that helps!

  • Uwe says:

    Tesla cars now have a “Dog mode” that will keep the car at a pre set temperature, and being electric there is no engine running during this process. The display inside the car alerts passersby that the pet is safe inside.

  • Al Mangarelli Great suggestion, Al – thank you!

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