by Rizal Lopez, DVM

For many, summertime is perfect for enjoying poolside barbecues or visiting dog-friendly beaches like Fort DeSoto. But our pets disagree – it can be too hot for them to enjoy it.

Pets’ bodies don’t regulate temperature in the same way humans regulate heat. Because pets have fur, they can’t sweat like people. Instead, dogs and cats cool themselves by panting, which is a slower cooling process.

Use these tips to enjoy the outdoors while keeping your pet safe:

  • Provide shade.Provide your pets with a comfortable spot in the shade to relax with fresh, cool water if they’re hanging poolside with you or joining you at a picnic. Consider giving pets a break from the outdoor fun to cool off indoors as too much time in the sun can put them at risk for heatstroke.


  • Test surfaces.Concrete pavement, blacktop surfaces and bricks can heat up quickly in the sun and burn your pet’s paws. Use your hand to test pavement and blacktop to see if it’s safe for you to take your pet for a walk. If you have to pull your hand away in less than 5 seconds, the temperature can quickly lead to 1st or 2nd degree burns on your dog’s paws.


  • Take walks in the early morning or evening hours.Avoid walking your dog in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its strongest and temperatures are at their peak. Surfaces can be cooler, along with air temperatures, in the morning and evening hours.


  • Use caution at the beach. The hot sun, surf and excitement of a new place can quickly exhaust your pet. Bring an umbrella or tent for shade and take frequent breaks to cool and hydrate your pet with fresh water. Limit the amount of salt water your pet ingests and watch for signs of trouble, including vomiting, loose stools and fatigue.


  • Protect from sun and insects with pet-friendly products.Dogs and cats may try to lick sunscreen or bug spray as you apply it, or to eat bug repellants that are used on patios. Only use products that are safe for pets as ingredients in sunscreen can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy if ingested. The ingredient DEET in insect repellent for humans can cause neurological problems for pets. Do not apply sunscreen or insect repellent to your pet unless the label specifically says it’s safe for animals.


  • Never leave your pets in the car.Being left alone for even a few minutes in a car can quickly lead to danger. Your car acts like an oven in the heat – the inside can become at least 20 degrees hotter than the temperature outside in as little as 10 minutes. It’s dangerous for anyone, but pets are especially at risk because they don’t regulate heat as efficiently as humans.


  • Learn the signs of heatstroke. If your dog stops barking, lies down, and pants heavily, it could be showing early signs of heat exhaustion or stroke. Other symptoms include restlessness, excessive thirst, thick saliva, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, a dark tongue, a rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and lack of coordination. Pets can exhibit one, some or all of these symptoms during heatstroke.

Rizal Lopez, DVM, is the Spay/Neuter Services Program Director for SPCA Tampa Bay, overseeing the public spay/neuter program at the SPCA Tampa Bay Veterinary Center.  This service has provided over 5,000 procedures since opening in late 2016, and Dr. Lopez, since joining the organization in 2011, has performed over 14,000 spay/neuter procedures for the community.  He served as shelter veterinarian and medical director before taking the lead role in providing spay/neuter services.