How to keep pets cool in the summer heat

When hiking or spending anytime outside in the heat with dogs, access to water is an important factor to consider.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Cool mornings are giving way to hot afternoons in Colorado’s High Country, sending people to shade, fans or wardrobe changes, but for canines, that same heat can be dangerous when their owners fail to take precautions.

“People are surprised with how hot it is. When tourists come into town, it’s not as hot as the Front Range, but still it’s too hot to leave a dog in the car,” said Dawn Smith, an animal control officer in Routt County since 2005. “It’s usually changing conditions that sneak up on people.”

Smith said humans can use their own comfort as a guide. Can a dog owner sit comfortably in the car for 15 minutes without air conditioning, or sit on hot metal in the back of a pickup or walk on the asphalt barefoot? If that answer is no, then neither should the dog.

Steamboat Springs has ordinances that prohibit dogs or cats from being left unattended inside vehicles or in the uncovered bed of a truck when the outside temperature is 70 degrees or hotter. That is because studies show the temperature in a vehicle may increase by 20 degrees within 10 minutes.

“People are still leaving dogs in the cars when it’s in the 80s, and it’s not OK,” said Steamboat Springs Animal Control Officer Jennifer Good.

“If you think it’s going to get over 70 degrees, and you don’t have to have your dog with you, don’t,” Smith said.

One exception allows animals to remain in a vehicle if “in the opinion of the officer, adequate ventilation and water are provided,” according to the municipal code.

According to, some tips to keep dogs cool on hot summer days include offering a wet towel to lay on, add ice cubes to water dishes, offer access to a wading pool with cool shallow water, bring water and a collapsible dish on walks, take walks or play time in early mornings or evenings, and offer access to cool shade with a tarp or screen.

Dogs are commonly reported left in vehicles when it is above 70 degrees in parking areas outside local grocery stores, the post office, downtown restaurant and shopping areas, and at Old Town Hot Springs, Good said. Several times dogs have been found crawling on top of each other in the back of pickup beds trying to avoid the hot metal, she said.

Good said if officers are dispatched to this type of call, they check temperatures, evaluate conditions, and if a dog or cat is found to be in distress, officers can remove the animal and impound it at the Routt County Humane Society or will take it to a veterinarian if needed. Owners are responsible for all fees when claiming pets.

How to protect pets from heat

• Never leave a pet in a parked car as cracked windows won’t protect the pet from overheating or suffering from heatstroke during hot summer days.

• Exercise a dog in the early morning or evening hours, instead of during the hot middle of the day.

• If a dog or cat is out during the day, remember that asphalt and concrete can get very hot and burn footpads.

• Pets must always have shelter available to protect from extreme temperatures and inclement weather.

• Provide every pet with fresh, cool water every day in a tip-proof bowl.

• Keep pets well-groomed as a matted coat traps in the heat. Do not shave off all a pet’s hair as the coat protects against sunburn.

• Keep pets away from spots or puddles of auto coolant in garages, driveways or parking lots. The sweet taste of this poisonous liquid is tempting to animals but can be fatal.

Information from the Colorado Humane Society and SPCA,

Even a quick trip into the store with a dog waiting in the car with the windows rolled down may not be safe, as that shopping trip may take longer than expected and risk a dog’s safety.

“The bigger thing for us, it’s all about the animals’ health and safety besides the ordinance and violations,” Good said. “Dogs don’t sweat like humans do. In a hot car, they can’t get away from the heat even with windows cracked. Parking in the shade helps, but it does not keep the dog cool.”

Smith said the first violation is considered misdemeanor animal cruelty, and the owner is issued a summons to appear in court in front of a judge. If that first charge results in a misdemeanor conviction, the second time would be a felony animal cruelty charge. However, animal cruelty charges rarely go that far.

“Ninety percent of the time, what’s needed is education, not punitive damages,” Smith said. “Most people, when it comes to their animals, they are not trying to hurt them. They might not know what they need to do.”

Nonprofit PETA tracks the number of pets that die in hot cars or outside in hot weather and reported 59 animal companion deaths in 2021 across the U.S., with many more going unreported.

At only seven weeks old, Routt County puppy Ollie seems to be asking his owner, in the driver’s seat, to turn on the air conditioning quickly for the ride back home.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Humane Society of the U.S. notes some symptoms of pet heatstroke include heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, deep red or purple tongue and seizure.

Dogs that are especially at risk of suffering from heatstroke include puppies, senior dogs, dogs doing strenuous exercise, or dogs with short muzzles, thick coats, overweight, out-of-shape or with underlying medical issues.

One Steamboat city ordinance that might surprise dog owners prohibits unattended dogs being secured by any leash, cord or chain on public property. That means local or visiting dog owners going inside stores in town need to use the buddy system for another person to tend to the dog while a partner goes into a store, Good said. The fines for a tied and unattended dog or for a dog running at large are each $75.

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