High temps dangerous for dogs on hikes

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By Beth Potter

Two dogs have died and eight more with heat-stroke symptoms have been evacuated so far this summer in Jefferson County Open Space parks.

In most of the cases, county officials found out about the dogs when owners called the non-emergency Jeffco sheriff’s dispatch number to ask for help, said Mary Ann Bonnell, the visitor services supervisor who also oversees the county's park ranger program. Jeffco officials do not release names of dead or injured pets or their owners.

Other dog deaths and heat-stroke injuries might have happened and not been reported to county officials, Bonnell said.

As one might expect, short-nosed dog breeds and dogs with dark coats are most at risk for heat stroke, Bonnell said. Since dogs pant to cool off through their noses and mouths, short-nosed dogs can have more problems in the heat, Bonnell said. Dark coats heat up more quickly than light coats, she said. 

In addition, open-space parks at lower elevations, such as Mount Falcon and Matthews/Winters parks near Morrison and Mount Galbraith park in Golden Gate Canyon near Golden, can be the most deadly for dogs, Bonnell said. That’s because many of those trails have high ground temperatures and lack shade on hot days, Bonnell said.

“No one goes on a hike planning to hurt their dog,” Bonnell said. “But if it’s a hot, sunny day and an open gravel trail, you wouldn’t want to walk on that in bare feet, would you?”

Bonnell wants dog owners to think ahead and leave their pets at home when it’s hot.

Symptoms for heat stroke in dogs include excessive panting, a pinker-than-usual tongue and thick saliva. Advanced symptoms — such as if a dog that has trouble walking or collapses — can lead to death.

If a dog shows symptoms of heat stroke, water can help. If the dog refuses water, fanning it can help, even with your hand, Bonnell said. Moisten a bandanna if you can, and wipe a dog’s paws, groin and armpit areas with water to her them cool down, she said. Shade breaks can help, too. In more severe cases, call a ranger for help to carry the dog back to the trailhead.

“We don’t care what the victim is; we just want to help them,” Bonnell said.

Human visitors also often suffer heat stroke and altitude problems on Jefferson County Open Space trails, although no one has died this year.

People visiting from lower altitudes should be especially careful about hiking long distances. Visitors also should drink plenty of water to avoid heat stroke, Bonnell said.