Dangers to Dogs Hiking in Heat

Prompt park officials in Arizona to ban dogs
By Jodie Snyder, July 2016

The city of Phoenix is now banning dogs from hiking trails when it hits 100 degrees at the parks.

Under the pilot program, which went into effect July 1 and runs through Sept. 1, someone who disobeys the rule could be cited for a Class One misdemeanor, be fined up to $2,500 and receive up to six months jail time. Phoenix officials say they are emphasizing the educational aspect of the program and not the punitive measures.

Phoenix has some of the largest municipal parks in the country with 15-mile trails that cut through desert that is beautiful but shadeless during the summer.

Summertime temps in the metro Phoenix area can easily reach 110 during the day and stay warm throughout the night, hovering around the mid to upper 80s.  In 2015, there were 88 days when daytime temperatures were 100 degrees or higher.

Although the parks open at sunrise, it is not uncommon for runners, hikers and cyclists to be on the trails even during the hottest parts of the day.  Already this year, six people have died on area trails and there have been reports of dog deaths but no statistics are kept in that area. Frequently, dogs who are overtaken by the heat are taken to nearby vets or emergency-animal clinics for care.

In 2011, three dogs died on trails in the nearby city of Glendale. The only way the city knew about those deaths was because its fire department was called to help the dogs. “For everyone incident reported, we believe there are dozens of animal fatalities that we don’t hear about,’’ said Sue Breding, Glendale spokeswoman.

Kristen Nelson, DVM, a Phoenix area veterinarian, said one Labrador recently came into her clinic with a temperature of over 107. The dog’s owners had taken him hiking at 2 p.m. during the day when it was over 100 degrees outside. The dog had collapsed on the trail and died two days later after many of his organs gave out.

 In many southwestern cities like in Phoenix, dogs can overheat at any time of the year, says Aaron Franko, DVM, at BluePearl Veterinary Partners.

At end of February, he had a Labrador mixed breed dog come in who was suffering heat stroke. “It was a very warm day,’’ Franko said.

 “People don’t realize how fast dogs can get overheated and into trouble,’’ he added.

All dogs can be bothered by the heat but some types are pre-disposed to problems, Franko said. Those types include short-nosed breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers as well as dogs with underlying heart disease, older dogs and those with thicker coats.

If it is warm outside, people need to bring water for their dogs and if it is hot, they need to avoid taking them out at all, Franko said.

He estimates that his central Phoenix emergency clinic sees five or more heat-stressed dogs a week. “And we are just one emergency clinic here.’’

Many veterinarians say that the summertime heat danger to dogs can’t be emphasized enough to people with pets. The Arizona Humane Society says it can easily receive up to 50 a calls a day during the summer for animal rescues and investigations. Up to half of those involve animals who don’t have enough water or shade to deal with the heat.

Phoenix city officials believe this may be one of the few times municipal trails have been closed to dogs because of heat. Many U.S. national parks prohibit even leashed dogs on trails because the dogs may endanger themselves or area wildlife.  Parks from Portland, Ore. to Maine have closed dog-friendly trails for various reasons including protecting the ecosystem and safeguarding nearby livestock.

Jodie Snyder is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. She is the author of Happy Dog Phoenix, which benefits local animal rescues.

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