As the months get warmer and we’re spending more time being active with our dogs it is important to be sure that we are taking our dog’s physical stamina into account. Too often dog owners, with the burst of enthusiasm that accompanies springtime, will push their dogs past their physical capacity for exercise. Our dogs in turn may be at risk for injuries which are all too easy to prevent. Muscle strains, torn paw pads, general soreness, heat stroke and water intoxication are all too common in our pet dogs and can have serious and lasting side effects. A little planning can go a long way in helping to avoid unnecessary risk-taking with our beloved pups.
Think about your dog’s physical state before you ask them to perform any strenuous activity. Planning on spending a day at the beach or taking outdoor running back up after a long winter? Be sure to ease your dog slowly into activities like swimming and running with a thoughtfully laid out training plan. Build the distance and duration of each session slowly and watch for muscle soreness between sessions. They say that “a tired dog is a good dog” but I would have to disagree. A tired dog is just….tired. Exercise is a powerful management tool (and one that I strongly believe in utilizing) but our dogs require much more than just physical exhaustion to be happy and healthy. While regular exercise is important, we have to use reasonable caution. Overdoing it with our dogs is unsafe and irresponsible.
Watch for signs of exhaustion and dehydration and be proactive- offer water regularly and give your dog the opportunity to rest in the shade. Some dogs will not self-restrict their activity at all and it is up to us as responsible pet owners to be aware and do it for them when necessary. Carla’s pup Karma will literally play fetch until she can’t walk straight if given the opportunity and Carla has to be careful to end her play sessions before heat stroke becomes a very real threat. Every dog has their limit.
Be aware that your dog’s paw pads can be susceptible to tearing and burning at this time of year. Products like Musher’s Secret and Ruffwear Summit Trex dog boots can be great tools for protecting your dog from painful injuries, especially when their paw pads are without the callus buildup that they may develop after a long summer of outdoor activity. Check their feet regularly if they are running and playing over hot surfaces. If it is too hot for you to stand on the surface while barefoot it is too hot for your dog.
Consider outfitting your dog with a cooling vest to decrease their chances of heat stroke. If you like to hike or camp with your dog in warmer weather it’s an easy way to be sure that your dog’s body temperature is staying level without asking them to drink excessive amounts of water. While at home make sure to provide shade and always have fresh water accessible. For dogs that like to lay in water you can fill up a kiddie pool for them to enjoy.
While we hope it is never needed, have a plan of what to do if things go wrong. Be sure that you have a current copy of your dog’s medical records along with the addresses and phone numbers of your closest animal emergency hospitals. Ask your local animal hospital or Humane Society if they offer pet first aid classes to learn more about the symptoms of heat stroke and water intoxication. If you ever question whether or not your dog is in danger err on the side of caution and immediately seek out your local veterinarian for counsel. Your dog’s life may depend on it.