Canine cautionary tale

by • July 15, 2013 • 61 NorthComments (0)306

Heat of summer spells danger for dogs

A yellow Labrador hikes the Johnson Pass Trail in the Chugach National Forest in the Kenai. Matt Hage-Alaska Stock

A yellow Labrador hikes the Johnson Pass Trail in the Chugach National Forest in the Kenai. Matt Hage-Alaska Stock

This is the season dogs die in Alaska. Forget everything you’ve ever heard, read or seen about the “grueling” Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and how hard it is on dogs. All of that is a bunch of marketing hype to raise the profile of the race or funds for animals’ rights organizations.

One thousand miles from Willow to Nome in the cold of winter is no big deal for a well-trained sled dog. They are athletes. They eat, sleep, live and train like athletes. Most dogs don’t live like this.

Most dogs live like couch potatoes. If you want to see what kills them, look around wherever you are standing in Alaska at this moment and spy a peak. It doesn’t have to be all that big. The top of any good size hill will suffice.

Any of the Chugach Mountain peaks rising behind Anchorage can kill a dog on a warm summer day. The same for the Kenai Mountain peaks around Hope or Seward, or Soldotna or Copper Landing. The Talkeetna Mountain summits rising behind Palmer and Wasilla will do, as well.

I’ve known people, or known of people, who’ve killed dogs in all of these places.

Not because they wanted to, but because they really didn’t know better. They didn’t understand that when it comes to dogs, heat kills. Heat is deceptive, and heat is deadly. Couple the heat of summer with the heat generated by an overweight dog huffing it uphill, and it’s easy to run or walk a dog into the dangerous zone.

I confess I almost killed a dog this way once while mountain running on a hot summer day. Magic was no couch potato, either. He was a lean, fit, Labrador retriever who just didn’t happen to do well in the sun.

I didn’t pay much attention to the sun. The air temperature was only 70 degrees, not that bad, I thought. But we were running a south-facing ridge. It was over an hour going up. Going down was faster, but that probably wasn’t a good thing for Magic.

The faster you run the hotter you get. He was getting hot, panting and drooling, looking for shade behind the stunted mountain hemlock trees, acting like he wanted to stop. I urged him on. It wasn’t that far home. What problem could there be?

When he started to wobble and stumble, I did slow down to a walk, but still didn’t worry. We weren’t that far from home. We could just walk in – only we couldn’t. Magic was already badly overheated. He collapsed.

I left him, beat it home, got the truck, drove as close as possible to where he waited in the sparse shade of some poplar trees, picked him up, carried him to the truck, drove him home, and tossed him in a cold tub. Usually, this is enough. Usually, this will help cool a dog down to a safe level.

It wasn’t enough in this case. Magic threw up and then lost control of his bowels, suddenly leaking fluids out of both ends. When a dog is already dehydrated, this is dangerous. So I loaded him into the truck, took him to Pet Emergency, and he spent the night with IV in his leg dripping saline solution.

I went home and spent the night worrying, but he was fine in the morning. He lived a long and hard-working life after, but became even more susceptible to problems with warm weather. We seldom ventured far from water after that. On the rare occasions when we did, I carried a lot and made him drink often.

We went a lot slower, too, and tried to stay out of the sun. Dogs have a handicap. They only sweat through their paws and their mouths. That equips them well for life in the cold. It makes their lives difficult in the heat.

It is why summer is the deadliest time for dogs in Alaska. Be careful with yours.

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