Florida – Safety Tips for Your Dog When Visiting

A crocodile with its mouth open in the water.

Florida – Safety Tips for Your Dog When Visiting

You can’t wait to come to Florida for the shows. Getting away from winter snow and cold, and visiting Florida, can seem like paradise. You picture your off-time away from the shows with visions of your dog playing in waves at the beach, swimming in the ponds and canals playing fetch, and hiking with you through the many nature trails. Maybe you just envision yourself in a lawn chair while your dog plays happily in a pen or yard.

What you don’t picture are the many dangers Florida offers dogs and how easily your dog can end up with a trip to the emergency veterinarian or worse.

Safety Tips for Your Dog When Visiting Florida
picture courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Let’s start with the beach. After watching the movies, you might think the biggest danger is sharks, but in reality, the most dangerous thing for your dog is the ocean water itself. Many thirsty dogs, or over exuberant but poor swimmers, swallow the salt water which can quickly lead to toxic levels of sodium in your dog. The high levels of salt in the sea water can lead to a fluid imbalance. At the very least, dogs that swallow the salt water will have vomiting and diarrhea; however, dogs that ingest large amounts have a high mortality rate. If you notice your dog acting “off” or it has an upset stomach after going to the beach, you will need to visit the ER vet as the dog will likely need to be treated medically to survive.

Other issues at the beach are hot sand, jellyfish that sting, such as washed up Portuguese Man O’ Wars, and rotten pieces of dead animals that are left by the tide or dropped by seagulls. The hot sand burns their paws, the tendrils of the jellyfish have a fierce sting, and the other items can be viewed as irresistibly gourmet by your dog and lead to a very upset gastric system.

Bodies of fresh water in Florida, while not causing sodium toxicity, can have their own dangers. In the warmer temperatures, there is the danger of blue-green algae. If you see algae that looks like pea soup on the surface, or dead fish floating in the water, don’t let your dogs swim or drink from it. Even if your dogs don’t drink it, they can lick their coat with the algae in their hair and ingest it. The toxins in blue-green algae can lead to serious and often fatal illnesses in dogs.

Similarly, on the gulf side of Florida, there is an almost annual, but sporadic, “red tide,” an overgrowth of an algae which causes dead fish to wash up on the beaches en mass and causes respiratory distress. Dogs will need to be kept away from the beach and the water during these events. Having been to the beach when the stench of the fishkill was overwhelming and the irritation of the algae bloom caused burning eyes and coughing, I can assure you that you will want to avoid it. Just watch the news before going to the beach to see if there is one while you are there.

Safety Tips for Your Dog When Visiting Florida
photo courtesy of Caressa Thomas

Below the water surface is another danger common in Florida. Floridians know that any body of water can have an alligator in it. Every year, there are reports of tourists’ dogs being snatched by alligators at the edges of lakes and ponds while playing fetch in canals or just enjoying a swim. There is a wetlands area near where I live that has roads through it that people drive, ride bikes, and walk through to enjoy the natural surroundings and see the wildlife. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been engrossed in taking pictures of an alligator and I hear someone walk by on the roadway with their dog and hear them grouse that it was a wasted trip; they didn’t see anything. They walk their dogs right past the alligators and never even notice.

Another animal common in the lower half of Florida, but making incursions into Central Florida, that is very dangerous for dogs is the Cane Toad. Previously known as the Bufo Toad, this invasive, non-native amphibian lives primarily on dry land and is frequently found in yards, near canals and ponds, and around buildings. Cane toads are often confused with the native and safe Southern Toads but they’re much larger when grown and they can reach nine inches in length.

The glands on the sides of the Cane Toad contain a potent milky-white toxin which can be fatal if your dog attempts to grab or lick the toad. If your dog comes in contact with one, wash its mouth out with a lot of water and head immediately to the emergency veterinarian.

Even Florida residents’ dogs have encounters with animals they should have avoided. I received a text message one morning recently from one of the people who has a Toy Fox from me. Her dog, a lovely champion who is a beloved pet, had an extremely swollen muzzle, and a trip to the vet confirmed he’d been bitten by a venomous snake. Large vet bills and lots of medications, and good care by his owner, and he’s completely recovered. Florida has pygmy rattlesnakes, diamondback rattlesnakes, water moccasins (cottonmouths), coral snakes, and the panhandle also has copperheads. If you are a member of the “What Kind of Snake Is This – Florida?” group on Facebook, you will quickly see that the snakes show up everywhere, including in houses, on patios, in garages, and in yards. Most resident snakes are non-venomous, but it’s best to not let your dog get close to find out.

Safety Tips for Your Dog When Visiting Florida
photo courtesy of UF Extension Office

And there are the famous Florida bugs. This week, one of my four-month-old puppies decided it was a good idea to explore a fire ant bed and began to dig and nose around in it. After catching the puppy, who began running and rolling on the ground and swishing off all the ants, I can only hope her curiosity has been assuaged. In addition to fire ants, we also have to watch for recluse spiders, widow spiders, bees, hornets, and stinging caterpillars. In my experience, dogs that are curious or have a high prey drive are attracted to all of them.

Living here with Toy Dogs also means we have to be cautious of hawks, bald eagles, owls, bobcats, and of late, coyotes. Our neighbors’ ring cameras and game cameras have been taking quite a few photos of bobcats and coyotes in their yards and even on their carports, and of course, there are news reports and visual sightings of them in neighborhoods across Florida. Bears too.

And if the danger from the local fauna wasn’t enough, the flora can be deadly to dogs as well.

Sago palms, cardboard plants, and Florida arrowroot contain at least three toxins that can affect your dog. They’re very common Florida plants, dangerous for dogs, and can be found across the state. The toxic compounds in the sago palm, a decorative plant used frequently in landscaping here, can cause irreparable damage to your dog’s health within fifteen minutes of ingesting the plant’s parts. While all parts of the Sago Palm contain the toxin, dogs are frequently tempted to taste and swallow the seeds.

In addition to the plants that are toxic, sandspurs near the beaches and cactus in Central Florida forests can all cause your dog to come up lame with sore feet.

Florida has many wonderful attributes, such as the warm weather in winter, lovely beaches, and fun tourist attractions. The multitude and size of the Florida dog shows make dog show exhibitors want to bring their dogs to Florida to show and maybe even stay over for the winter. We love living in Florida, but like anywhere, it has its benefits and its risks. Thankfully, the majority of the risks to our dogs can be avoided. I don’t want to scare people from visiting our state, but visitors with dogs should get familiar with the things that could affect their dog’s well-being while here.

Welcome to Florida, enjoy your stay!