UK heatwave: When you can legally break a window to free a dog as RSPCA issue hot weather warning

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The UK is set to bask in high temperatures this weekend, but the conditions can be a struggle for dogs - especially when left in cars.

Temperatures in the UK are set to be the highest of the year as some reach 30C. Amid the hot weather, it’s important to remember you should never leave your pet in the car, even with the windows open and if parked in the shade, as they could overheat and become unwell.

Due to the large amount of fur that a lot of animals have, they’re more likely to suffer from heat stroke. Even when it might not feel that warm to us, it will be for them.

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The UK Health Security Agency issued a heat alert which will be in place from 9am on Friday, June 9, to 9am on Monday, June 12. They warn that the health and care sector could suffer as a result.

Vehicles can very quickly reach unbearable heat levels in warm conditions - If it is 22C outside, car temperatures could reach 44C according to the RSPCA. The charity’s latest guidance said: "If you see a dog in distress in a hot car, dial 999.”

Below is a look at UK laws regarding pets in cars and what you can legally do  if you see a dog locked in a car on a hot day.

Signs of heat stroke in a dog

Signs of heatstroke include:

  • Heavy panting and difficulty breathing
  • Excessively drooling
  • The dog appears lethargic, drowsy or uncoordinated
  • Collapsed or vomiting

Can you legally break a car window to free a dog?

If you see a dog in critical condition and the police haven’t arrived yet, your instinct will be to break into the car to free them. However, this could be classed as criminal damage and you may need to defend your actions in court.

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Legally, you can commit damage if you believe the car owner would consent to it if they knew the dog was in danger.

What to do once the dog is free?

  • Move the dog to a shaded and cool area
  • Immediately pour cool (not cold to avoid shock) water over the dog. Tap water (15-16°C) has been found to be the most effective at cooling dogs with heat-related illnesses. In a true emergency, any water is better than nothing.
  • Wet towels placed over the dog can worsen the condition, trapping heat. In mild cases towels can be placed under the dog, but never over, and in a true emergency water immersion or pouring water with air movement is ideal.
  • Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water
  • Continue to pour cool water over the dog until their breathing starts to settle, but not too much that they start shivering
  • Dogs that have lost consciousness will stop panting, despite still having a very high temperature, these dogs require urgent aggressive cooling as a priority.
  • Throughout the treatment of heatstroke try to avoid pouring water on or near your dog’s head, as there is a risk of them inhaling water which could lead to drowning, especially for flat-faced and unconscious dogs.

Once the dog is cool, take them to the nearest vets.

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