Wednesday, August 3, 2011

be careful with your dogs in the summer!

Death on the trail

It was one of the saddest experiences imaginable. A man was running up the mountain trail, looking through the brush on each side, screaming over and over again, "JACK" "JACK." His bike could be seen in the distance further down, tossed to one side and abandoned as the man retraced his path, searching.

I stopped my bike and asked if there had been an accident. The man started crying and sobbed, "My dog...I can't find my dog. He was right behind me." He continued running back up the trail, yelling his dog's name. I turned around and followed in case help was needed. As the man ran out of sight where the trail curved, there was an agonized scream, "Nooo! Jack, NOOO!"

Around the curve, I saw my help wouldn't be necessary. Jack was past any help. His body lay in his owner's arms, the tongue lolling from his open mouth. His eyes were open, but glazed. His beautiful long furred coat still gleamed in the hot afternoon sun. He had run after his beloved master's bike until he could run no more. He ran himself to death.

It's something that happens more often than most people know. A training run or bike ride can be much more fun when your pooch comes with you. But when it's the hottest part of summer, running for more than three or four miles can be deadly for a dog. Canines can fatally overheat quickly, resulting in organ failure or heat stroke.

When humans overheat, they can cool off by sweating, drinking or being splashed with water. But dogs only sweat through the pads on their feet, a very small area in relation to body mass. They only release heat by panting, but if the dog is also breathing hard because of exertion, that limits their ability to use panting to cool down - and panting also dehydrates the animal. A dog will dangerously overheat before a human even feels uncomfortable - and there's an even more tragic aspect to it. If a canine's internal body temperature reaches 107, it will not cool back down. The dog will die. Nothing can be done to save it.

There are symptoms to watch for if you take your dog with you on outdoor training sessions, but first, some common sense precautions: If it's over 90 degrees outside, don't subject your dog to more than a few minutes at a time of strenuous exercise. Always carry water for your dog on a hot day, as well as one of those lightweight collapsible fabric dog bowls that will allow your pet to drink from it; don't count on being able to pour enough water into a dehydrated dog's mouth from a bottle. Stop and rest often, and stay alert for symptoms of overheating in your best furry friend.

Those symptoms include trouble with balance - an overheated dog may lose coordination. It will start to slow down and seem confused, unable to obey if you give a command. The signs may be subtle at first - a lurching step here and there - but be on the lookout for it.

As the overheating gets worse, the tongue will hang further out of the mouth than usual, and it will be curled at the end and widened. If the tongue starts turning red, it's a very serious sign that the dog's internal temperature has reached the danger point. The dog will start panting hard, and there may be a frantic thirst.

If you take your dog outside with you when it's hot, always pay extra attention, so that you both return home, tired, but alive.

Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly ( For the latest in training and workout information, go to:

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