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Dogging the trail at all costs

June 01, 2004|Julie Sheer | Times Staff Writer

It's a scorcher, and your best friend is panting heavily and keeps stopping in shady patches to escape the sun.

Dogs aren't immune to the same conditions that can make humans miserable and sick on a summer hike. But when it comes to trail ailments, your canine buddy won't complain as much as your two-legged pals.

"Dogs just want to go and go. They tend to be so loyal, they'll work to exhaustion," says Dr. Joanne Dixon, a veterinarian at the Sun Valley Animal Center in Ketchum, Idaho.

Heatstroke is a big problem in summer, says Dixon, because hikers may forget to consider a dog's conditioning or age when setting out on a warm day along a sun-exposed trail.

Don't expect a couch "paw-tato" or a 12-year-old Labrador retriever (equal in age to an 84-year-old) to have the stamina of a young, lean, canine hiking machine.

Dogs release heat through their paws and by panting. Signs that your mutt is melting include heavy panting and an elevated heart rate, says Dixon, adding that heat can cause a dog's temperature to rise as high as 107 degrees. Normal range for a dog is about 100 degrees to 102.5 degrees.

To cool down an overheated pooch, sit in the shade for a spell, sprinkle water on him or, better yet, dip him in a lake or stream.

Common sense dictates trail safety when it comes to dogs. You drink from a water bottle on a hot day, right? So bring a separate bottle of water for Fido -- at least 2 quarts for a medium-sized dog on a moderately warm day. (He can carry it himself if you strap on a doggie pack.) And don't forget a bowl, preferably a fabric one that collapses and clips onto your belt or pack.

Unlike humans, most dogs who sip from wilderness waterholes usually aren't affected by parasites such as giardia, which causes intense diarrhea and cramping in humans. However, try to keep your dog from drinking from lakes and streams in case he succumbs to the intestinal bug.

Active dogs like running on a leash-free beach or clambering along a rocky trail to a chilly alpine lake. Note to owners: Walking on razor-sharp rocks may be a cinch in hiking boots, but it can seriously injure a house dog's sensitive paw pads.

Damaged paw pads are one of the most common problems among trekkers with dogs on the Lost Coast in Northern California, according to the King Range National Conservation Area website. Dogs are allowed to traverse 35 miles of beach and grassy areas along this seaside hiking trail.

Carry a set of dog booties when you hike, but make sure Rover gets used to wearing them first. Most dogs better tolerate soft ones used by Alaskan mushers than stiff styles made from Cordura, Dixon says.

And if you're dragging your dog up that peak you've been dying to bag, keep in mind the effects of altitude. The jury's still out on whether dogs can become afflicted with acute mountain sickness, but if you're feeling lightheaded and breathing hard, your pooch may be feeling the same way.

Dogs can become hypothermic, which occurs when their body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Watch for extreme shivering after a swim in cold water. Towel off the chilled pup and have her huddle with other dogs or humans for warmth.

Other doggie trail hazards to avoid: foxtails, the grass seed that sticks to fur and can lodge in ears or burrow into flesh; poison oak, which won't affect your dog but may rub off on you; bites from mosquitoes and ticks; bee stings and snake bites.

Many vets recommend a monthly heartworm and flea pill during warm months. It might also be wise to apply a flea and tick killer.

Use tweezers to remove ticks from your dog and make sure he's been vaccinated for Lyme disease. Some veterinarians carry a new rattlesnake vaccine but, according to UC Davis, it's too soon to tell how effective it is.

Keeping your dog leashed or under voice control will keep him safe in the outdoors. Dogs can be fun to bring along, but they depend on their owners to troubleshoot the trails for them.


To e-mail Julie Sheer or read her previous Outdoors Institute columns, go to juliesheer.


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First-aid tip: Save Tylenol for yourself

It's usually safe to give Rover aspirin if his limbs are stiff after a tough hike but don't ever substitute ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Veterinarians say small doses of ibuprofen may be toxic to dogs, causing kidney damage as well as stomach ulcers. Acetaminophen is a little safer, but not much; it may reduce liver function and disrupt red blood cells in some dogs.

Other dog treatments that pass the sniff test: Neosporin for abrasions, Benadryl for allergic reactions to bee stings and Pepto-Bismol for intestinal distress. Check with a vet for proper dosages.

A handy book to keep in your pack is "Dog First Aid: A Field Guide to Emergency Care for the Outdoor Dog" by veterinarian Randy Acker of Sun Valley Animal Center in Ketchum, Idaho.

You also should assemble a doggie first-aid kit or buy a ready-made one from companies such as Ruff Wear or Cabela's. Here are items to include:

Flexible bandage

Medical tape

Duct tape

Tweezers or forceps


Antibiotic cream



Muzzle (the friendliest dog may bite when in pain)

Digital thermometer

-- Julie Sheer

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