Be aware of the heat — and its effect on your dog

Dogs are awesome, but they'll need your help to stay cool and healthy on hot summer outings. (Wikicommons photo)

Dogs are awesome, but they’ll need your help to stay cool and healthy on hot summer outings. (Wikicommons photo)

I decided last Friday would be a good day to get out on the trails and acclimate to the heat. Summer is definitely here in Oklahoma, with temps soaring into the 90s. Thankfully, the route I picked was heavily wooded, so I’d at least get some benefit from the shade. My planned route was also pretty short, just 4.5 miles, and I was well hydrated.

When I got to the trailhead, an ambulance was there, lights on. I figured a cyclist had wrecked and gotten hurt, or maybe someone else turned an ankle on one of the more technical trails. I didn’t see anyone, though, and the ambulance eventually left.

But throughout my run, I heard sirens. First responders were here, and they were looking for something. What that was, I didn’t know, but I figured I’d keep an eye out just in case I saw someone in trouble. Nothing worrisome turned up, and as I finished, the temps had hit 97 degrees.

Later that night, there was this message on Tulsa Riverparks Authority’s Facebook page that caused me some alarm. Riverparks manages Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, which is the popular trail running, mountain biking and hiking destination where I go quite a bit, including my trail run that day. The post read as follows:

PLEASE share this: River Parks responded to a call from a lost man with his overheated 7 yr old dog out at Turkey today. We carried the poor dog back, but she died about 5 minutes from the parking lot. I can’t say enough about how terrible we feel.

We’ll have some more info coming next week regarding safety during these hot months, but PLEASE plan out your trips to Turkey and carry plenty of water for you and your pet. Don’t assume it can’t happen to you. Post your suggestions; we will be installing some signage soon with your feedback.

I’m not going to give a how-to on dog care on the trail, mostly because I think a lot of people can do that much better than me. But I will offer this:

Dogs, and most other animals, cannot cool themselves as easily as humans. Our physiology makes it easier to maintain elevated breathing levels over time, and sweat helps keep us cool. All dogs have is panting, and many have the hot-weather burden of a full coat of fur.

So as the heat intensifies, be sure to do something if you’re bringing your dog: Tote along some water for Fido. Stop periodically to water your dog; don’t wait until your pet just stops and refuses to move. By then, it might be too late.

Got any thoughts or suggestions? Feel free to comment below.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


6 thoughts on “Be aware of the heat — and its effect on your dog

  1. How sad. We are lucky to have rivers and small streams all around us here. So I make sure to always stop and let my dog drink up and lie in the river for as long as he wants to. I also carry some sort of container he can drink from any time he wants to when we go for a longer expedition.
    Still it’s a good reminder of how careful we should be in the hot sun

    • For sure. There are a few ponds scattered around Turkey Mountain, but if you get caught high and dry deep inside the park it could be trouble. Especially if you get lost. Very easy to do out there if you don’t know a few basic facts about how the trails there are oriented.

  2. My dog almost died from overheating. We were playing tennis with her at the dog park; it was only about 85 degrees and there were buckets of water all around. She just wanted to keep chasing that ball, so we kept throwing it… and then she fell down and seized. We rushed her to the vet where they cooled her off with ice and fans, re-hydrated her via IV, and kept her overnight for observation. Our vet told us this happens all the time, because dogs are just having fun and will give you NO SIGN that they feel strange until it’s a full on emergency.
    She also said that if we had delayed another 5-10 minutes, our dog would have died. Apparently once their internal temperature gets above a certain point, it hits a kind of feedback loop and just keeps rising until their organs shut down.

    Anyway, just a personal story to say that it is incredibly important to be careful. I had no idea this was a “thing” until it happened to us. Now we always avoid the hottest part of the day, bring drinking water, and try to choose parks with streams or hoses we can use to wet our dogs down periodically and keep their core temperatures in the safe range.

    P.S. I’m looking over at our dog while i write this. She’s in happy-twitchy-doggy-dream mode. 🙂

    • So glad your dog survived! Most animals have a breathing system that acts a lot like an accordion when they’re running around and having fun: One breath in, one breath out per stride. Imagine trying to do that yourself! It makes for great sprinting, but it’s also the reason why dogs, cats, horses and other running animals can run fast but not far. They overheat too quickly. And when they’re done, they’re done. They just have to stop.

      Your vet hit it on the head. Again, really glad you are able to see your dog in “dream twitchy” happy mode. And thanks for the story!

  3. I have observed that the little Daschaund that I care for , has really changed over the last week. Her stools have changed to loose, and her playfulness has left her as well. Tonight during our walk, she stopped several times to eat some grass and when I brought her back home, I cooled her down with the hose, which she really seemed to enjoy. As long as it is as hot as it’s been, the hose bath will be a nightly treatment.

    • Anything to help the little guy out. Dogs don’t have the built-in cooling mechanisms we have. All they can do is dissipate heat through the mouth, ears and footpads, and given high temps, those only get canines so far. Good job in keeping your little buddy cool!

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