2017-08-10 / Community

Hot days a danger to dogs on trails

Park service issues warning after two canine deaths
By Dawn Megli-Thuna


REMINDER—Signs installed last month warn hikers about the danger of taking dogs out on extremely hot days. Two dogs died in a single weekend in July on trails near Sandstone Peak. 
Courtesy of National Park Service REMINDER—Signs installed last month warn hikers about the danger of taking dogs out on extremely hot days. Two dogs died in a single weekend in July on trails near Sandstone Peak. Courtesy of National Park Service Two dogs died of overheating on trails near Sandstone Peak in a single weekend in July.

As a result, officials with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area are trying to get the word out about the dangers of taking along a canine companion during particularly hot summer days.

Zach Behrens, a communications fellow with the recreation area, said hikers need to make a different set of calculations when taking Fido along.

“The heat might feel fine for a human, but for a dog, the hiking experience is very different,” he said.

For starters, dogs hike in fur coats. They’re closer to the ground and don’t typically have shoes to protect their paws from the sun-baked earth. They don’t sweat as much as we do, relying instead on panting to help cool off, Behrens said, making them more susceptible to overheating.

Matt Kouba, superintendent with the Conejo Recreation and Park District, has a 2-year-old Boston terrier mix, Odie. He said signs of distress are subtler with ailing pooches than struggling humans.

“ Dogs are so dedicated, they’ll follow you until they drop,” he said.

For that reason, Kouba said, owners should always check the temperature forecast before heading out to make sure it’s within a range their particular dog can handle.

Some canines—like Africanbred Rhodesian Ridgebacks— perform fine in 90- degree weather, while short-legged dogs or breeds with short noses, known as brachycephalic breeds, should never go out for a sustained time period in extremely high temperatures.

It’s all about knowing your dog, Kouba said.

“It’s just like with us,” he said. “It depends on the individual.”

Like with humans, it’s often the dehydration as much as the heat that causes medical problems, so hikers need to bring plenty of water for themselves and their canine companions.

Kouba suggested a collapsible doggy dish.

Make sure to stop often, and remember that dogs aren’t as efficient at drinking water as humans, so give them plenty of time to rest and drink their fill, he said.

“They can’t just down a pint of water,” Kouba said. “You’ve got to give them a chance.”

Try to use shaded trails and always have treats. Just like you would do for yourself to train for a 10K, start out slow, with brief hikes during the cool of morning or dusk, and work up to longer adventures, he said.

And always keep dogs on a leash. Not only will that protect local wildlife from your canine companion but your dog will travel a shorter distance by walking in a straight line with you.

Dogs face dangers beyond dehydration. Ticks, fleas, snakes and punctures from cacti and other barbed plants can sideline your pet. Make sure to stay on marked trails.

On really long trails or hikes through rough terrain, consider buying your dog a pair of hiking booties to protect their tender paws, Kouba said.

Behrens said the most important part of any hike is finishing with the same number of hikers— two- or four-legged—that you left with.

“There’s no glory in finishing the trail if not everyone comes back,” he said.

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