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

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Is leaving your pet in a parked car illegal? For people traveling alone with their dog or cat, it’s an important question. And, as you might expect, the answer depends on where you are, and the conditions under which your pet is left in the vehicle.

The laws concerning pets in extremely hot or cold vehicles are evolving quickly. We’re keeping this post updated to the best of our ability!

Bulldog smiling in a car

Laws have been enacted to help prevent the tragic deaths of animals left in parked vehicles – and rightly so. Every year pets die needlessly because their owners were not aware of the dangers. If you haven’t seen the video Dr. Ernie Ward did a couple years ago where he sat 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.


Get these tips for traveling alone with your pet!

Tips for Traveling Alone with Pets | GoPetFriendly.com

It’s simple to say that we should all leave our pets at home while we run errands on days when the temperature isn’t conducive to taking them along – but what if you’re traveling alone with your dog or cat?

Maybe you’re making a cross-country move and you’ve decided to drive rather 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 no choice but to leave your pet unattended while you use the facilities at a rest stop, or run in to pick up a sandwich at a deli.

6 Affordable Vacations to Take with Your Pet | GoPetFriendly.com

State Laws Protecting Pets In Parked Vehicles

If you’re in situation where it will be necessary to leave your pet alone in your vehicle, here’s what you need to know about state laws protecting pet in parked vehicles from the Animal Legal and Historical Center:

Approximately 28 states have laws that deal with animals left in unattended vehicles. Most of these laws provide that, for a person to be in violation the law, the animal must be confined or unattended in a parked or stationary vehicle, and the conditions have to endanger the animal’s life.

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.


Here’s everything you need to know to take your pets on a cross-country road trip!

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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 – too many for us to track nationwide. And even in places where the laws don’t specifically mention pets in vehicles, leaving an animal in unsafe circumstances could result in animal cruelty charges.


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Siamese cat laying on a white comforter

“Rescue Laws” Protect People Who Enter Cars to Save a Pet

Under some state laws, law enforcement or other individuals are allowed to rescue animals left under extreme conditions. This may involve forcibly entering the vehicle to remove the trapped animal.

The majority of states limit their “rescue” laws to law enforcement, firefighters, animal control, first responders, or authorized humane officers. However, 12 states have enacted laws that allow any person to rescue a distressed animal (AZ, CA, CO, FL, IN, KS, MA, OH, OR, TN, VT, and WI).

Pit bull - Dog in Car

These laws functions to limit the civil or criminal liability of the person for damages resulting from the forcible entry of the vehicle. Indiana is the only state to require the person who forcibly enters a vehicle to rescue an animal to pay half the damages. New Jersey and West Virginia criminalize the act of leaving a pet unattended under dangerous conditions, but don’t provide an immunity provision to protect the rescuer from liability.

Steps to 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!

If you are traveling alone with your pet, here are some steps you can take to ensure their safety and keep you from running afoul of the law:

  1. Only consider leaving your pet unattended in your vehicle when weather conditions would not make it dangerous to 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 and return immediately to check on your pet when the alarm sounds.
  6. Utilize a pet temperature monitor, so you are always aware of the temperature inside your vehicle and will receive alerts if the environment becomes uncomfortable for your pet.
  7. Have a remote-start system installed in your car, or carry a spare key, so you can leave the air conditioning or heat running to keep the interior temperature comfortable for your pet. 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!

Finally, despite the fact that many more pets are killed in car accidents each year than perish in hot cars, 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’ll not only be protected from extreme temperatures, but that they’ll also be secured in a carrier or car harness.

Click to learn about the pet safety harnesses we use to keep Ty and Buster safe!

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

Planning a pet friendly trip of your own? We’ll make it easy:
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  • Al Mangarelli Great suggestion, Al – thank you!

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