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Recognizing and Avoiding Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

I mentioned in a post recently that we have reduced our hiking adventures due to the weather. We are coming up on monsoon season and the weather becomes very hot and humid several weeks before the clouds arrive en mass.  We moved here during the winter of 2014 so the summer of 2015 was our first time experiencing the weather. However, we spent summer 2015 through fall 2016 finishing our tiny house (you can read about it here) so this is our first summer getting out in the woods during the hot season. As a result, the topic of heat exhaustion in dogs has been creeping its way into my head.

Only to find the River was Dry

We went on a major hike a couple of weeks ago. To get to this particular hiking spot, we drove around 45 minutes outside of town and then onto a dirt road. The dirt road wound its way through several ranches and then entered National Forest. We pulled off onto a primitive, uneven dirt road, parked and walked into our hiking zone. We have done the hike before and knew that it involves (legally) climbing a fence, hiking down an extremely steep hill, getting recharged at the river (dogs drink water and play around; we relax) and then heading slowly back up the steep hill.

Brian was certain the river would still be running and I was 100% positive it would be bone dry. I grew up in the Southwest so I am often a little more accurate about these things than he is. Much to his surprise, when we got to the bottom of the hill, there was not a drop of water in sight. We hiked up the river bed for about thirty minutes to see if a shallow pool we had previously visited was wet; it was not. We did a major trek, only to find the river was dry. I started to wonder about the signs of heat exhaustion in dogs. Despite having shaved them back in mid-March, their coats were, once again, long and full.

Thankfully, I had brought the big water jug with me. I needed to find a way to share it with the dogs so we started looking for shallow ‘bowls’ in the big rocks.

Look, the riverbed is dry!

Here you go Sydney. Try to get water from this tiny stone bowl.

heat exhaustion in dogs - Using a rock as a water dish.

Trooper’s turn.

I had left the bowl of water out at the car, knowing there would be no water in the riverbed and anticipating the dogs beating us back. Sure enough, they got back as quickly as possible and drank from the dish at the same time.

Preventing Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

Common wisdom always states that preventing a problem is better than treating it. After our unsettling hike,  a friend of ours gave us these collapsible bowls by Outward Hound. We plan to take them with us now to prevent seeing any heat exhaustion in dogs. They were originally used by their small poodle so the opening is a tad small for our dogs. We will use them but I’m looking at purchasing these ones by Comsun because they are wider and made of silicone.

Aside from having water available and keeping their coats shaved (or raked out), the other preventive measure for avoiding heat exhaustion in dogs is to seek out shade and take breaks. Which brings us to our next story…

Another Hiking Flub

We drove out to one of our favorite locations earlier this week. It is the place where A Romp in the River and Sydney’s Scary River (mis)Adventure took place. The waterway featured in both of those posts is dry right now, so we have been hiking inland about 20 minutes to where the main branch of the Gila River is. Our trail terminates at this lovely shallow pool that has a very gentle current moving through it. It is peaceful, shaded, refreshing and AWESOME.

Now that the nearby branch is dry, we have been hiking in to this awesome section of the Gila River.

Prior to leaving work, a customer came through and mentioned that there is another route we should explore there. He suggested following the dry riverbed upstream to where it connected to the Gila. The trek would be on the riverbed (as opposed to our usual shaded, canopied walk under the trees), but it was supposed to be really neat.

The lovely canopied portion of our usual hike.

Expecting to encounter the river within 20 minutes, we headed out with only our slim water bottle. We never use the dog coupler in this area because the leash required portion of the hike is very short. After about 15 minutes of stumbling along on giant, loose rocks in the glaring sun, it became clear that the riverbed was not curving enough toward the northeast. Obviously this branch would connect to the Gila eventually, but how long would it take?

Investigate Hikes Ahead of Time

We continued on for another 10 minutes and then I told Brian I was done. The dogs were showing sizes of sore feet and we still had to go all the way back. There was no water in sight and the humans had already consumed everything we had in the water bottle. Even if we had had water left, we had not brought our collapsible bowls because we had expected to encounter the river.

The customer who mentioned this hike has spent more than a decade in this area and routinely embarks on multi-day adventures into the wilderness. It was our error to assume he understood the characteristics we deem desirable in a hike; namely, quick access to water for the dogs. If I’m hot, then I know the dogs are hot. Heat exhaustion in dogs is a real concern and being too far into a hike without water is just foolish.

We will never do that again; at least not during the hot months. When we got back home, we pulled up google maps to see how far off we were when we turned around. The intersection of the two waterways was so far away! While it was anger and frustration that fueled me back to the car that day, sweating my butt off and worrying about the dogs, I now look back on the experience and appreciate that I learned something. Not listening to that guy again…

Hot dogs after we got back from the disastrous riverbed hike. We started the car, turned the AC on and sat outside for about 10 minutes before we left.

Planning Better Hikes

Going forward, if we plan to explore a new trail during the hot months, we will definitely view it on google maps first. We are also considering a dog backpack so that the dogs can carry their own water. Additionally, the dogs are due for another shave down. I started working on it after the recent borderline heat exhaustion event. I did the front half of Sydney and the back half of Trooper. They are looking a little funny but at least we are halfway there.

While the symptoms of heat exhaustion in dogs are not incredibly different from typical dog behaviors, recognizing them as a whole and in the correct context can be helpful in preventing a dog emergency. Some of the symptoms are listed below. Scary stuff, so keep an eye on your dog, PACK WATER, and take breaks in shade.

  • Panting.
  • Dehydration.
  • Excessive drooling (ptyalism)
  • Increased body temperature – above 103° F (39° C)
  • Reddened gums and moist tissues of the body.
  • Production of only small amounts of urine or no urine.
  • Sudden (acute) kidney failure.
  • Rapid heart rate.

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