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Pet safety: hot cars and travelling tips

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Dogs left in hot cars throughout the summer months is an issue that hits the headlines every year.

More often than not it's a disgruntled car owner complaining after having their window smashed by a concerned passerby who spotted a dog locked in without any air.

But do you know what the law is on taking action and smashing another person's car window if you think an animal is suffering in there?

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 states only a local authority inspector or the police are permitted to enter premises, including a vehicle, to help an animal that is, or likely to be, suffering.

Thames Valley Police recently issued the following advice in a Facebook post:

"Firstly it is not advisable to force entry to the vehicle yourself. Your first step should be to call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 to inform them of the details namely, the condition of the dog, the registration number and location of the car.

"A dog warden service may also be able to help. They should despatch an inspector/warden to deal with the situation if [they] can. [They] will call the police if it is necessary to break into the car.

"If the matter is getting near life or death for the animal, call the police directly and ask for an estimated time of arrival. If the police don't have time to get there, then you have to decide if you should take action."

The post goes on to quote a section of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 which states you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe the property owner would give consent to destruction or damage to the property if they knew about it and its circumstances.

Basically, this means if you think the pet's owner would be happy to have their car window broken to save the animal if they knew it was in mortal danger, the law could be on your side.

Advice for pet owners in the summer

The RSPCA says a car can become hot very quickly, even when it doesn't feel that warm outside.

"When it's 22 degrees, in a car it can reach an unbearable 47 degrees within the hour," a spokesman said.

The advice is simple; don't leave animals in cars, conservatories or caravans.

In just a few minutes, even on a cloudy day with the windows open, the temperature can soar dangerously high, the RSPCA states.

In the warmer weather:

  • Provide plenty water for your pet
  • Try the five second rule before taking your pet for a walk on a hot day - put the back of your hand on the pavement, if it's too hot to hold it there for five seconds, it's too hot for your dog's sensitive paws
  • Use pet sunscreen if your pet is in the sun
  • Make sure your pet has access to shaded areas

Car travel with a pet

Adventures can be even more fun with an animal by your side; a recent survey revealed that half of UK van drivers take their dog along for the ride each working day.

But if you’re driving somewhere with a beloved pet, it’s important to consider how their behaviour might affect your concentration behind the wheel.

From bouts of barking to sudden movements and untimely leaks, your furry friend could become a distraction on the road, compromising the safety of you, your passengers and other road users.

If you're travelling with a pet, here are some helpful tips:

  • ​​​​​​​Restrained your pet; roaming pets can be distracting and could cause an accident
  • Include a litter box in the car if you're making a long journey with a cat
  • Pack plenty of food and water
  • Take regular breaks to allow your pet to get out and stretch its legs and do its business
  • No heads out the window - it can cause your dog an injury
  • Make sure your pet's comfortable

What the Highway Code says about pets in cars

The Highway Code includes rules on driving with pets. Rule 57 of the code states the following:

“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

The suggested methods of restraint are all viable options, although according to animal charity Blue Cross, a cage is usually best.

“If possible have a properly constructed cage fitted in the luggage compartment,” suggests Blue Cross centre manager Neil Edwards, “if this isn’t possible then make sure they are secured with a purpose-made seatbelt or harness, or behind a fitted dog guard in the space to the rear of the back seat.

"Your dog should be able to sit, lie down or stand in comfort.”

Does driving with a pet affect car insurance claims?

If you're in a road incident while driving with your pet and need to make a claim on your car insurance, many insurers will refuse to pay out unless you've followed the procedures outlined in the Highway Code.

This means keeping your pet restrained in the car, both cats and dogs can become distressed in cars, and often act out of character in this unfamiliar environment.

If your insurer learns you failed to follow the rules in relation to animals in your car, they're entitled to deny your claim.

Even if it’s restrained, your car insurer will not pay for any veterinary bills if your pet's injured while travelling in your car. Pet insurance is the better choice of cover in this instance, so if you regularly travel with your pet, consider taking out a dedicated policy that will pay for your animal’s treatment in case of a medical emergency.

Dos and don’ts of driving with pets

  • Do make sure your pet is secure and comfortable

Choosing a method of restraint that’s both secure and comfortable will help to keep your pet calm and well behaved throughout your journey. If using a cage or crate, make sure it’s big enough for your pet to rest comfortably. Place bedding inside to make it extra cosy – this will also help to prevent your pal from slipping around as the car moves.

  • Don't leave your pet in a car on a hot day

It’s tragic but true: dogs die in hot cars. “Dogs don’t have sweat glands all over their body like humans,” explains PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman. “They only have a few in the pads of their feet and their main way of cooling down is by panting. Once all methods of cooling their body down are overwhelmed, as is often the case in hot cars, heatstroke begins to develop.”

Rather than risking leaving your dog in a hot car, plan visits to dog-friendly places so that your canine companion can come with you when you leave the vehicle.

  • Do invest in a carrier for smaller pets

The RSPCA recommends that cats and small animals should be kept in a suitably robust and secure carrier while travelling in cars. As well as preventing your pet from running loose in your vehicle, the carrier you choose should be comfortable and roomy enough for its inhabitant to stand up at full height, turn around easily and lie down in a natural position.

  • Don't attempt long journeys with pets who haven’t travelled before

Being in a car can be stressful for animals – the unfamiliar sights, sounds and movements can take a while to get used to. For this reason, it’s wise to take your pet on a few shorter, local journeys to get them used to the experience of car travel.

Once they’re comfortable, you can starting thinking about more ambitious road trips. Just be sure to plan in plenty of rest stops along the way – humans aren’t the only ones who get cranky on long car journeys.

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