Florida's heat is deadly to dogs, and not just those trapped in cars

Sadie gets some relief from the heat Monday at Fort De Soto Park from owner Jim Bried of Hudson.
Sadie gets some relief from the heat Monday at Fort De Soto Park from owner Jim Bried of Hudson.
Published July 11, 2017

In the summer sun, dog owners love to spend time outside with their pets. But they may not be aware of just how dangerous the heat can be to their pups.

That risk was underscored by the recent deaths of two dogs at a day care facility in Tampa, which spurred an investigation by the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center.

A preliminary investigation indicates the dogs died from heat distress, said Roger Mills, the pet center's director of field operations.

The first dog died in June and the second died on July 1 at the Lucky Dog Daycare & Resort of South Tampa. The county did not identify the owners. Lucky Dog was bought out last week by Love My Dog Resort and is now under new management.

Many dog owners only fear the risks of leaving their pets locked up in a car in the summer heat. But in Florida, veterinarians warn, dogs can suffer heat distress or heat stroke whether they're trapped inside a car or freely roaming outside.

"This is the worst time of year," said Lisa Centonze, head veterinarian at the Hillsborough pet center.

Pinellas and Hillsborough officials don't keep track of canine heat stroke deaths, but veterinarians said they tend to spike every summer.

Cora Thebeau of Tampa remembers how quickly her dog Hank, 8, a shaggy-haired Bouvier des Flandres, was afflicted by the heat last July.

Hank went outside to exercise. His owner recalled that the weather was a bit warmer than normal. Still, nothing seemed amiss.

Then Hank began to stagger along and his breath quickened to a pant. He seemed exhausted and drained of energy. Heat stroke had set in. It took Hank a week to recover.

"For a while, we really didn't know (if Hank would make it)," Thebeau said. These days, she said, the family is "much more careful now about when we go out with Hank."

When a dog's body temperature reaches 106 degrees, heat stroke can cause organ failure. What happens next can vary in severity, said BluePearl Veterinary Partners spokesman Curtis Krueger.

"It's like a heart attack patient," Krueger said. "There's a whole spectrum with everything ranging from 'they die' to 'they recover with some loss of functioning.' "

Krueger said unprepared pet owners can vex veterinarians.

"Some of them feel a frustration, because you'd think everyone knows it's hot in Florida," he said. "But (some pet owners) don't realize that just an hour outside with a dog can make them seriously ill to the point of life-threatening situations."

Centonze said owners of heat-afflicted dogs should bring them into an air-conditioned building as soon as possible. They can spritz them with water to cool them down, but should avoid using ice, which can shock the outside of their bodies without cooling them internally.

But as bad as it can be outside for dogs, it can get much worse if they're left locked in a vehicle by themselves.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

"Never do it. Never, ever do it," said Scot Trefz, veterinarian and owner of Bay Moorings Animal Hospital in St. Petersburg. "Take that pet out of the car with you or leave them at home."

Parked vehicles heat up rapidly, even on days that may not seem all that hot. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, it takes 10 minutes for the temperature in a car to jump 20 degrees.

"In the heat of summer, even a vented window isn't good enough," Trefz said. "That's not going to help them."

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into state law that grants civil immunity to good Samaritans who break into locked cars to rescue vulnerable persons or pets who appear to be suffering from the heat.

But even walking or playing outside in this heat can be dangerous, veterinarians said, and dogs need to stay in the shade and limit their exercise at any time of day.

Centonze said she hates to see owners biking as their dog scurries alongside.

"That's a really bad idea," she said. "You want to walk your dog, not run it."

Every week for the past seven years, Melissa and Jim Bried of Hudson have taken Sadie, their Australian shepherd-golden retriever mix, to the only beach dog park in Pinellas County at Fort De Soto Park. They said they always bring an umbrella, stock up on cold water and keep an eye on Sadie as she plays in the water.

Not everyone at the beach takes the same precautions, though.

"Some people have no clue," Melissa Bried said.