Rover deserves a day in the sun too; take your pet along on vacation

In this Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 photo,
In this Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 photo, "Strider," a Chocolate Labrador Retriever, runs with a tennis ball back to owner Sarah Ranes, on a dog friendly beach at Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg, Fla. With miles of sandy beaches, endless winter sunshine and a laid-back vibe, theres no reason to leave your four-legged friend behind when you vacation in Florida. From lodging that offers special pet beds, to beaches with off-leash play, to theme parks with nearby kennels, many places around the state accommodate visitors with pets. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Picture this: You’re sitting on a white sand beach, warm sun on your skin. Coconut-scented sunscreen wafts through the air. A splashing noise comes from the blue Gulf of Mexico. It’s your dog, happily retrieving his favorite ball from the water.

This could be your vacation, with a bit of planning.

With miles of sandy beaches, endless winter sunshine and a laid-back vibe, there’s no reason to leave your four-legged friend behind when you vacation in Florida.

From lodging that offers special pet beds, to beaches with off-leash play, to theme parks with nearby kennels, many places around the state accommodate visitors with pets. Many Florida state parks also allow leashed dogs.

Lodging with your dog can be as rustic as a campground or as ritzy as, well, the Ritz Carlton. In places like Key West or Sanibel Island — where all beaches are open to leashed dogs — unique and funky pet-friendly accommodations are easy to find in various price ranges.

Most counties have their own tourism boards and many have specific pages on their websites about pet-friendly activities, restaurants and hotels. Visit Florida has lots of information at http://www.visitflorida.com/Pet—Friendly—Florida.

Jeannette Scott, a fashion blogger from Orlando, took her shih tzu-Yorkie mix named Bella on a three-day trip in June. Together, they drove three hours to Fort Myers, boarded a ferry to Key West, stayed at a Sheraton that offered a doggie bed for Bella, and posed for photos in front of a frozen yogurt stand that carried Yoghund, a froyo for doggies.

“She thought it was really fun to get away and go on adventure instead of staying at home,” said Scott.

If your dog might enjoy the same, here are some dog-friendly destinations around Florida, along with lodging advice and general tips for traveling here with pets.

Destinations

Lodging

General tips

While it might seem like you are in a remote area as you hike through jungle-like trails or play on deserted beaches with your dog, you’re actually never far from civilization in Florida.

There’s usually a veterinarian, big-box pet store and pet-friendly hotel within a short drive. A quick Google search or sites like http://www.bringfido.com or http://www.dogfriendly.com can help locate them.

Larger theme parks such as Busch Gardens in Tampa offer kennel services; make sure to bring your pet’s vaccination record along.

Other essentials for a Florida vacation with your dog: Drinking water, heartworm medicine and even sunscreen. With temperatures in the 70s and 80s in many Florida locations during the winter, dogs (and people) can easily become dehydrated.

Specially-formulated sunscreen for dogs isn’t a bad idea, especially if your furry friend has a short, fair coat and pink skin.

Take shady breaks, put ice cubes in the water dish and let dogs sprawl on cool tiles. Never, ever, leave your dog in a car in Florida, even for a few minutes. Temperatures inside cars can heat up to 120 degrees and kill animals quickly.

Heartworm, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, is endemic to Florida. Plan to visit a vet before your trip to get a heartworm test and pills to prevent infection.

Many beaches in Florida allow leashed dogs on the sand, but check first. In some places, you can receive a heavy fine. Dogs are welcome in many places at outdoor cafes and along pedestrian malls.