Is It Illegal To Leave Your Dog in The Car in Pennsylvania? Here’s What Law Says

Ever wondered if it’s okay to leave your furry friend in the car for a quick errand? This is a common question pet owners face, especially during hot summer months. While the sight of a dog panting in a parked car might tug at your heartstrings, the legal implications can vary depending on location. So, what about Pennsylvania? Is it illegal to leave your dog in a car in the Keystone State?

Let’s delve into the legalities and explore the potential dangers associated with leaving pets unattended in vehicles.

Pennsylvania Law on Leaving Pets in Cars

Unlike some states with specific laws addressing this issue, Pennsylvania doesn’t have a statute that explicitly prohibits leaving pets in unattended cars. However, this doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. Two key pieces of legislation come into play:

  • The Motor Vehicle Extreme Heat Protection Act: Enacted in 2019, this law empowers law enforcement officers and animal control personnel to enter a vehicle by any means necessary to remove an animal they believe is in imminent danger due to extreme heat. This act protects these officials from liability for any damage caused to the vehicle during the rescue.
  • Animal Cruelty Laws: Pennsylvania has animal cruelty statutes that encompass neglect. Leaving a dog in a hot car with inadequate ventilation could be considered neglect, especially if it leads to suffering or death.

When Leaving a Dog in the Car Becomes Animal Cruelty in Pennsylvania

The absence of a specific law against leaving pets in cars doesn’t mean it’s always legal in Pennsylvania. The key factor is whether the situation constitutes animal cruelty. Here’s where things get a bit more nuanced.

Several factors influence whether leaving your dog in a car becomes animal cruelty in Pennsylvania:

  • Temperature: This is the most critical factor. Cars can turn into sweltering furnaces within minutes, especially on hot days. Leaving a dog in a parked car during a heat wave is undeniably dangerous and could be considered neglect.
  • Duration: The length of time a dog is left unattended plays a significant role. Even on moderately warm days, leaving your pet for an extended period can be risky.
  • Ventilation: Is there proper air circulation within the car? Leaving windows cracked open slightly isn’t enough, especially on hot days.
  • Age/Health of the Dog: Puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with health conditions are more susceptible to heatstroke. Leaving such dogs in a car even for a short while can be dangerous.

Examples: Hot Summer Day vs. Temperate Fall Day

Let’s illustrate the point with two scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: It’s a scorching summer day in Philadelphia, with temperatures exceeding 95°F. You leave your dog in a parked car with the windows cracked open slightly while you dash into a store for a quick errand (let’s say 15 minutes). In this instance, you’re putting your dog at high risk of heatstroke. The combination of extreme heat, limited ventilation, and even a short duration creates a dangerous situation, potentially leading to animal cruelty charges.
  • Scenario 2: It’s a pleasant fall day in Pittsburgh, with temperatures around 70°F. You leave your healthy adult dog in a car with partially rolled-down windows for a quick 5-minute grocery store pick-up. The moderate temperature, shorter duration, and some ventilation make this scenario less risky. However, it’s still important to use your judgment. Even seemingly comfortable conditions can turn dangerous depending on the individual dog’s tolerance.

What to Do if You See a Dog Left in a Hot Car in Pennsylvania

Imagine walking by a parked car on a hot day and spotting a dog panting heavily inside. Here’s what law says-

  • Assess the Situation: First, try to remain calm and assess the situation. Is the dog showing signs of heatstroke? These include excessive panting, glazed eyes, lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Contact Authorities: If the dog appears in distress, don’t hesitate to contact the authorities immediately. Call the local animal control or police department. They are trained to handle such situations and have the legal authority to take action.
  • Steps to Take if Dog Appears in Distress: If the situation seems dire and the dog is in immediate danger, you may need to take further steps. Here, it’s crucial to prioritize the dog’s safety while acting within the legal boundaries.

Here’s a word of caution:

  • Before breaking into a car: This should be a last resort. It’s important to understand that breaking a car window could result in legal repercussions if deemed unnecessary by the authorities.
  • Document the situation: If the situation seems critical and you decide to break a window, document everything with your phone camera. Take videos of the dog’s condition, the temperature inside the car (if possible), and the surrounding environment. This documentation can be helpful for the authorities and potentially protect you from legal trouble.
  • Focus on the dog’s safety: Once you gain access to the car, move the dog to a shaded, cool area. Offer water if the dog is conscious and able to drink. However, avoid forcing water on an unconscious dog.
  • Stay with the dog and wait for help to arrive.

Tips for Taking Your Dog on Errands Safely in Pennsylvania

Planning ahead and taking precautions are essential whenever you bring your dog on errands in Pennsylvania:

  • Planning Ahead:
    • Consider the weather: Avoid taking your dog on errands during extremely hot or cold weather.
    • Run errands early or late: If errands are unavoidable on a hot day, try to schedule them for the cooler mornings or evenings.
    • Choose pet-friendly stores: Many stores in Pennsylvania welcome well-behaved dogs. Take advantage of these options when possible.
  • Car Safety Measures:
    • Never leave your dog unattended in a car on a hot day, even for a short while.
    • Park in shaded areas whenever possible.
    • Leave a bowl of water in the car for short errands, but be aware this can tip over and become a hazard. Consider a water dispenser attached to the crate.
    • Crack the windows slightly for ventilation, but ensure the car isn’t at risk of theft or vandalism.


While Pennsylvania doesn’t have a specific law against leaving pets in cars, the existing animal cruelty statutes and the Motor Vehicle Extreme Heat Protection Act offer some protection for animals left in dangerous situations. Always prioritize your dog’s safety and avoid leaving them unattended in hot cars. If you see a dog in distress, assess the situation calmly and contact the authorities. By following these tips and exercising good judgment, you can ensure your furry friend stays safe and healthy during your Pennsylvania adventures.

Remember: Even seemingly moderate temperatures can be dangerous for dogs left unattended in cars. Always prioritize your pet’s well-being and make responsible choices.

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MBS Staff
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