Pets 101

Weekend warriors: Why you and Fido need to play it safe while having fun in the sun

Dog On Beach

Winter is a fairly sedentary time for our trio of aging pups. They do their duties in the backyard and then stumble back to the door once whipping Chicago winds make them yearn for greener pastures (or slightly warmer laminate flooring, as the case may be) inside. The onset of summer, however, prompts a notable spike in our pets’ outdoor escapades.

We go for long family walks on the weekend, and my husband frequently takes at least one of the dogs jogging before work each morning. When we barbeque in the backyard, the pups are typically rolling in the grass alongside us. My children chase them, splash them, and generally give them an outdoor workout that they would never see the likes of in winter.

Of course, we ultimately pay the piper for transforming our pets into weekend warriors at the first glimpse of 70-degree temperatures. There are consequences to suddenly thrusting our dogs into a regimen of intense outside activities and exercise routines after months of lethargy and sedentary living. Inevitably, our Beagle-Basset mix overworks his arthritic joints, and our somewhat absent-minded Poodle ends up stung by whatever annoyed insect she makes the mistake of pestering.

Like so many well-intentioned guardians, we are guilty of permitting our companion animals to overdo it outdoors as summer gets underway. For people who are concerned with their pets’ health and happiness, this realization then begs the following questions: What are the dangers of turning pets into weekend warriors once warmer weather sets in, and how can they be avoided?

Common Dangers and Discomforts
From the perspective of those individuals who adore the furry members of their clan, it almost seems cruel not to include Fido on an annual camping trip or during an extra-long beachfront jog. But, while there’s no reason that companion animals shouldn’t join their guardians in a little summer revelry, be aware that lack of preparation for a sudden upswing in outdoor activity can have unpleasant consequences.

“After a long winter inside, we want to get outside and enjoy life with our furry family members,” explains Sally Achey, owner of The Sensible Dog in West Rutland, VT. Achey’s company provides a variety of pet products geared toward guardians interested in pursuing an active lifestyle with their canine companions. Achey adds, “Now the sun is shining, and we all head to the hiking trail, the beach, the boat, or a variety of summer dog events. [But] we need to remember to start slowly when we get back into strenuous activities.”

What’s the price of not heeding Achey’s wisdom? Sprains, sunburns, heatstroke, and dehydration are just a few possible consequences of permitting your pet to slip into weekend-warrior syndrome. Though many guardians would not think of it in conjunction with summer heat, hypothermia is a risk, as well. Dogs that are allowed to play in cold pools, ponds, lakes, or surf for too long can experience a dangerous drop in body temperature.

Increased exposure to wildlife can also prove problematic for pets. For starters, many wild animals will attack if cornered. Others are capable of spreading parasites and diseases such as rabies to domesticated animals.

And what pet guardian could live without the warm-weather joys of some of the tiniest members of the animal kingdom? Fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes have the potential to inflict painful or itchy bites, not to mention ailments like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and West Nile virus. As Kimberly May, assistant director of communications at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in Schaumburg, IL, emphasizes, it’s up to people to safeguard their pets against the dangers they are liable to encounter outdoors.

“Dogs are generally so willing to please and enjoy human company that it can put them at risk,” she observes. “Despite being overheated or injured, a dog will often still happily continue to exercise until she becomes so severely overheated or injured that she physically can’t go on. This could lead to potentially life-threatening problems.”

Pre-Conditioning and Prep Work
Despite these seemingly dire scenarios, pets don’t have to be shooed out of the picture when it comes to summer fun. Experts such as Laurie C. Williams, director of training and behavior counseling at Pup ‘N Iron Canine Fitness & Learning Center in Fredericksburg, VA, emphasize that spending more time outdoors with companion animals is not impractical if guardians merely make sensible choices and do a little prep work. For example, Williams insists that pets are less likely to become warm-weather weekend warriors if they remain somewhat active during colder weather.

“People should provide exercise and socialization opportunities for their dogs year round,” she notes. “Even if that means just taking them for rides in the car to the bank, home supply store, [or] post office. Additionally, [guardians] should look for indoor opportunities to exercise their dogs during the winter  [like] a dog training facility or doggie daycare where their pet can exercise and socialize regardless of the weather.”

May likewise advises people to gradually increase their pets’ levels of physical activity before thrusting them into marathon workout routines or outings. She also suggests packing accordingly for outdoor adventures with companion animals. This means stocking up on water, sunscreen, and cooling coats, mats, and bandanas.

“Set a reasonable pace and distance for your activities,” she recommends. “Absolutely bring plenty of water for both you and your pet during a walk, run, hike, or jog—the longer you plan to go, the more water you need. Finally, plan for stops to let your dog rest and cool off.”

Outdoor Awareness
Water bottles and sunscreen are an invaluable part of any outdoor excursion with your pet, but so is research. You don’t have to necessarily read up on every indigenous insect that might bother your furry buddy as you head off for a trek through the mountains. On the other hand, it’s not unreasonable to consult your veterinarian on the best ways to prepare for summer outings, whether they take the form of a nightly run along the lakefront or an extended stay in a tent.

“When venturing into the great outdoors, you should become aware of the hazards that lurk where you are going,” remarks Achey. “Many problems can be prevented. Maybe there are porcupines, which can be avoided by careful monitoring of your dog’s whereabouts. There are [also] all the attacks from the insect world. Some problems there can be avoided by taking measures to repel insects such as ticks.”

These examples are but a few methods of prevention and planning that help guard pets against becoming warm-weather weekend warriors. Many experts also recommend keeping companion animals up-to-date on routine vaccinations. Others suggest taking pet first-aid courses that teach which signs and symptoms indicate common health crises, as well as what immediate care should be administered in emergency situations.

Such measures can potentially determine the outcome in life-or-death scenarios that arise as people spend an increased amount of time in the sunshine with their four-legged family members. At the very least, they encourage guardians to be more aware of their pets’ behavior, comfort, and health. Besides, speaking from personal experience, that ninety-minute trek along the prairie path is going to seem a lot less satisfying if your fifty-pound Beagle-Basset mix needs to be carried up the stairs for three days afterward.

–Katie Marsico

For More Information

Pup ‘N Iron Canine Fitness & Learning Center

The Sensible Dog

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