Caring for your pooch in the heat

Story and photos by Jennifer Ladd EBS Contributor

Summer days filled with swimming, napping, and long hikes in the mountains are my favorite times spent with my dogs. However, it’s not without risk from the heat when we venture into the wilderness, pursuing adventures with our pets.

To keep you and your pups safe and happy this summer, I have included below some of my top picks for activities with your pets, cooling treats, and some health warnings to consider during high temps.

Adventures
During long summer days filled with sunshine, my favorite dog activity is a hike in the mountains. My husband and I plan all of our hikes around water access, as well as the appropriate climate type for the temperatures. We choose to hike early in the morning, or later in the day to avoid the hottest temps, and forested hikes near streams or lakes where it’s likely to be cooler.

I’m not sure who enjoys sleeping under the stars more – my pups or me. Not to mention, sleeping in a tent is a great excuse to snuggle up with your dogs.

Kaya and the author’s husband Daniel enjoying a canoe trip down the south fork of the Nooksack River in Washington.

Kaya and the author’s husband Daniel enjoying a canoe trip down the south fork of the Nooksack River in Washington.

Other favorite adventures include paddle boarding, raft trips, and multi-day canoe trips. Our family philosophy is that if we can go, so can our dogs. Although our dogs only use life vest when rafting, it’s important to evaluate your dog’s swimming capabilities, and know his or her limitations. Swift water can easily carry a dog away when they’re tired, and a life vest can be helpful for both piece of mind, and enjoyment of water sports.

Treats
Some great ways to beat the heat – and reward your dog at the same time – are frozen treats. Pieces of chicken jerky, or small dog treats frozen in an ice cube tray can make for an enticing reward that will cool them down.

West Paw Designs, located in Bozeman, has a great line of toys called “Zogoflex.” Grab one of their Toppl Treat Toys, fill it with a peanut butter or canned dog food slurry, and pop it in the freezer. Enjoy an ice cream while your pup munches on their treat, or offer it to your pup for hours of entertainment when you leave the house without them.

Fill your dog’s water bowl with cold water and ice cubes. Even if they don’t get to their bowl in time to bob for ice cubes before they melt, they’ll still enjoy cold water on a warm day.

Emergencies
It’s important to remember that dogs don’t sweat, and a panting tongue is their only way to dissipate heat. A happy pant while exercising is perfectly normal and safe, but a dark red or purple, dry tongue can be a sign of overexertion and the beginnings of heat stroke.

Keeping your pups hydrated and in the shade can help prevent heat stroke, but once it has begun your best bet is to take them to a veterinarian. A jump in a lake, or spray with a garden hose can offer some relief in the early stages, but a vet is best equipped to lower your dog’s core body temperature safely and quickly.

Also, once it’s warmer than 75 F outside, it’s too hot to leave your dog in a car, even for quick errands. Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian and animal advocate, put himself inside a car and documented the rapid changes in heat and humidity – changes that could quickly kill a healthy pup – in a video you can find on You Tube.

I never leave for an adventure without the following items:

Benadryl – Allergic reactions from an insect or snakebite can all be slowed with the help of Benadryl. Given at 1 mg per pound of your animal’s weight, you can decrease your pet’s immune response to these hazards while increasing the time window to reach a veterinarian.

Super Glue – Paw lacerations can bleed significantly more than expected. Often scary, they are rarely a threat to your pet’s overall health. Cleaning the wound thoroughly, and then applying some super glue can decrease sensitivity and bleeding while you make your way back home.

ACE bandage or gauze – Cuts obtained while bounding through the wilderness are pretty common. If you notice a cut, an ACE bandage or roll of gauze can help prevent the wound from getting dirty and control bleeding. Depending on depth and severity of the laceration, your vet may elect to suture it closed or leave it open, but covering it and keeping it clean will help prevent infection.

Tramadol or Rimadyl – Ask your veterinarian for a small supply of the pain reliever Tramadol, or Rimadyl, which is an anti-inflammatory. They’re both great for sore muscles, and more painful, traumatic injuries. Aspirin or ibuprofen are not safe alternatives and have risky side effects, so they should be avoided.

Animals are incredibly adaptable and enjoy any opportunity to be with you in the outdoors, whether it’s on a paddleboard or napping in a hammock. Summertime is a wonderful time to bond with your pet, fill your days full of adventure, and come home muddy and exhausted.

Jenny Ladd DVM, CVA is a small animal veterinarian practicing in Bellingham, Wash. Her primary interest is integrative veterinary medicine utilizing herbal therapies and acupuncture.