Taking your pet on the trails with you: We talked to experts to keep your furry friend safe while recreating

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By Eliza Noe  | Summit Daily News 

For many pet owners, warmer temperatures and summertime means more quality time with their favorite furry friends in the great outdoors.

In order to keep excursions as fun (and as safe) as possible, here are some tips before you head out to the trails.

Know their limits

Just because you can handle 1,000 feet of incline or a 10-mile hike does not necessarily mean your dog can. The American Kennel Club recommends that all pet owners look for the signs of dehydration when taking them on longer or physically challenging journeys. For dogs, these symptoms can include lethargy or reduced interest, sunken and dry eyes, a dry nose, dry or sticky gums and a lack of elasticity in their skin. Behaviors can also include seeking shade, limiting movement, lying down, uncontrolled panting, vomiting, skin reddening or excess saliva.

If their conditions worsen, heatstroke could develop, which requires immediate veterinary attention.

“Small and short-legged dogs are particularly susceptible to overheating as their bodies absorb heat closer to the hot ground,” the club advises. “Flat-faced breeds heat up faster, too.”

If a pet owner is looking to get their dog into better physical shape, the club recommends conditioning. For puppies, slow and careful exercise is recommended since their bones and joints are still fragile. Conditioning requires intentional engagement to make sure your dog is getting the right kind of exercise, such as gentle warmups and cooldowns. If your dog has just done a hard run, you’ll want to do a cooldown instead of putting them back into a crate and driving home.

Though it is uncommon for Summit County Search and Rescue to have to respond to calls regarding animals, they can happen. Owners are encouraged to continually watch for signs of exhaustion and for difficult terrain that may be too tough for their pets.

If a pet does end up lost, owners should contact Summit County Lost Pet Rescue and follow their tips on locating their dog or cat.

Mind the heat

Off the trails, owners should still be mindful of their dogs limits — especially if they choose to bring their pets out and about in town. In 2017, Colorado passed a law that provides “immunity for a person who renders emergency assistance from a locked vehicle.” In other words, it is legal to break into a locked car to rescue a pet if the individual has reasonable belief that the dog might die as long as they make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner and call 911 before breaking into the car.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, even if it is only 70 degrees outside, the inside of a car can be up to 20 degrees hotter. It only takes 10 minutes for the inside to reach over 100 degrees on an 85 degree day.

Additionally, the organization advises to never completely shave your pets. While it may seem obvious that excess hair could affect your pets ability to regulate temperature, the layers of a dog’s coat protect them from overheating and sunburn. Like bug spray, make sure any sunscreen used on your animals is labeled specifically for pets.

Dogs’ paws are also as sensitive as human feet, meaning pets can get severe burns on their feet from hot pavement or turf grass if precautions are not taken. According to the American Kennel Club, the asphalt temperature registers 135 degrees when the air temperature is 86 degrees.

“Spending even a few minutes to meander through an outdoor event can prove hazardous,” said the club. “That’s because you’re wearing shoes to protect your feet, but your dog isn’t.”

If it is absolutely necessary for a pet to go out in hotter temperatures, the American Kennel Club recommends buying shoes or booties to protect their paws.