Having to leave your dog home alone for a few hours is unavoidable for many. But for those who work longer hours, or in the event of an emergency where you may have to leave your dog at home for a long period, you may wonder, how long can you leave a dog alone…both legally and morally?
From a legal standpoint, the rules surrounding this are somewhat blurry.
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, a duty of care is placed on all pet owners that requires them to provide for all their basic needs. This includes food, water, veterinary treatment, shelter, and a safe living environment.
It’s worth noting that there are no timeframes are specified in regards to this issue, so legally, it would differ in the situation.
A lot of what is found right or wrong in court depends heavily on unique circumstances and contexts, so legalities are typically examined on a case by case basis.
In most extreme cases, such as ones of abandonment, a dog being left to fend for itself for a week without access to food, or a dog left in a cage for virtually all its life, there is a higher chance of heavy legal repercussions.
Serious cases of animal neglect can result in a jail sentence of up to 5 years.
But What About In Much Less Extreme Situations?
This is where it starts to get blurry. Here are some examples of what may count as animal neglect or cruelty:
- Leaving them outdoors in extremely hot weather without access to shade or water for longer than 24 hours.
- Leaving a dog outdoors on an extremely cold day, depending on the breed of dog.
- Inadequate without access to water for longer than 12 hours.
- Leaving them chained up with access to food and water for longer than 48 hours.
- Confining a dog in a kennel for longer than 24 hours.
Do remember, again, that these are far from specific laws and are not set in stone, and in many cases of emergency when a pet owner has no choice or cannot get home due to unavoidable circumstances, these acts are often legally ignored.
The regular performance of these acts, however, may lead to the possibility of legal prosecution in some states.
In short, laws that protect animal rights are few and far between, and existing legislation does not cover a lot of finer points.
Legally, it will likely be considered acceptable to leave a dog alone with consistent access to food and water for even a few days, or perhaps up to a week, depending on circumstances.
How Long Can You Leave A Dog Alone Morally?
When we consider, instead, how long a dog can be left alone morally, this raises a lot more questions and concerns.
Once more, we find ourselves with no specific answer to this question, and many will have varying opinions on what is right or wrong.
The amount of time a dog can spend alone may also vary by breed, as some pups who are less active naturally do much better alone.
The general consensus is that you shouldn’t leave a dog alone for longer than four hours at a time. This number decreases to two hours when puppies are involved.
At the very most, if the dog’s basic needs – such as food, water, and using the bathroom – are met, a dog should not be left unsupervised or home alone for longer than eight hours.
This is because dogs are very social creatures and they naturally form a strong bond with their human family to the point where they actively seek out their owners and can become distressed when they are unable to reach them.
In fact, many dogs experience high levels of stress and anxiety when left alone, and this can sometimes cause them to act out and do things they aren’t supposed to.
With that being said, even pups that are well behaved when left alone may experience distress and worry in these situations and can become lonely or depressed.
However, it’s understandable many individuals have work commitments that make this four-hour guideline impossible – or even the eight-hour guideline – and in many cases, dogs who have to be home alone for an entire workday are still happy and healthy, have loving owners, and have great relationships with their family.
As long as you follow certain guidelines which we will discuss later in this article, you can keep your dog occupied and safe while you are at work. The exception to this is if you work a night shift.
Since dogs, like humans, spend their nights sleeping, they are likely to be comfortable and happy being left alone at night and spending time with you during the day.
But What About Having To Go Away For More Than 12 Or Even 24 Hours?
Perhaps you have to go on a short business trip, there’s an emergency involving a relative somewhere far away, or you are planning a holiday and are wondering how long you can leave a dog alone morally and ethically.
If you are able to guarantee that your dog’s needs are met, it is possible to leave them be and have them stay relatively safe and healthy, though you must also remember that playtime, exercise, and companionship are also important and should not be neglected for too long.
We would advise that leaving a dog alone for longer than 24 hours is reserved for true emergencies and very rare occasions.
When planning for holidays, including plans to place your dog in a boarding facility or with friends and family. Even in cases of emergency, do consider trying to find an arrangement so your pup can be well looked after.
What Should I Do If I Have To Leave My Dog Alone For Long Periods Of Time?
1. Ensure Sufficient Food And Water
This should go without saying, but your dog should always have access to water when left alone and should have access to food if left alone for longer than the usual space between their routine mealtimes.
This is easy to ensure when you won’t be gone for long, but in situations where this may stretch over two days or more, this might become more difficult.
Consider investing in a food dispenser for times of emergency. If you can’t do this, make sure to make arrangements for a trusted friend or family member to come by and refill your dog’s food and water bowls.
2. Establish A Good Amount Of Space For Your Dog
A dog should never be left in a kennel or crate for more than 12 hours.
Emergencies may happen, but in that case, you should try to dog proof a room in the home so they can live in it safely while you are gone.
This is because a dog cannot have access to water or food when inside a kennel.
If your pup feels safer and less anxious inside a crate, leave the crate in the room for them to use.
It’s also advisable that there is a way for your pup to outside to use the bathroom if needed, perhaps through a pet flap or something similar.
3. Provide Activities And Things To Do
Safe toys and entertainment products that won’t break or pose hazards to your pup can help to keep them occupied.
You can buy your dog rawhide chews since dogs like to chew and this might keep them from your shoes.
This can prevent them from becoming too stressed or anxious and assist in keeping them calm throughout the time you are gone.
4. Have Someone Check In
So, you weren’t able to get someone to dog-sit – but that doesn’t mean they can’t swing by to make sure things are okay.
Have a friend or family member you trust to come by and check on your dog whenever they can, or even spend an hour or two keeping them company, can make a big difference.
Remember that you should, as much as possible, do everything that you can to make sure your dog never has to stay alone for longer than one work shift.
And that these tips are only meant to make an unavoidable emergency situation easier for your dog.