Warning for owners, hiking without precautions can be deadly for dogs

The Lanikai Pillbox trail is one of Hawaii’s most family-friendly hikes and many even bring their pets.

But veterinarians warn that while it’s good exercise, it can also be too much for dogs.

According to Feather and Fur Animal Hospital in Kailua, up to 20 dogs each year die in the area from heat exhaustion.

It can happen anywhere, but veterinarians say it’s the popular trails, like Makapuu Lighthouse and Lanikai Pillbox, that are having the most tragedies.

The problem is more common than people may think.

“People don’t realize how hot it gets for the dogs,” said Brian Walsh, medical director at Feather and Fur. “The closer you are to the ground, it’s hotter. There isn’t as much breeze down there. They can’t sweat like people, so it’s easy for them to overheat.”

Walsh says it’s something many pet owners don’t think about, and he sees dogs who suffer heat exhaustion from hiking on a regular basis.

“Especially every summer, we get multiple cases of dogs getting heat stroke from hiking Lanikai Pillboxes,” said Walsh.

Lanikai Pillbox Trail
Lanikai Pillbox Trail

Feather and Fur is the closest 24-hour emergency animal hospital to the trail.

“It’s always difficult seeing those, because we know it’s so preventable. It’s so tragic and unexpected. People go out there to have fun with their dog and they accidentally end up killing them,” Walsh said. “It’s not just the Pillboxes. It can happen anywhere on the island if they’re hiking without being aware of how hot it is.”

Walsh says at the Makapuu Lighthouse trail, they see many dogs come in to the clinic suffering from abrasions and burns due to the hot pavement.

“When they overheat, all their internal organs fry. Their brain fries, their intestines fries. All that heat, their body overcompensates. They start bleeding to death and having seizures. It’s really sad,” said Walsh. “The other problem we’ll see too is the young dogs. They do not stop until they collapse, because they’re so excited. Their excitement overrides anything, so they’ll just go and go and go until they collapse, and it’s easy for the owners to miss that they’re overdoing it.”

Doctors at Feather and Fur say they encourage hiking with pets as long as owners are responsible. Here are some tips:

  • Gauge your pet’s fitness level. Start with smaller hikes first.
  • Lanikai Pillbox is not a beginner hike for pets.
  • Refrain from taking pets on hikes in the middle of the day; early morning or late evening is best.
  • Bring plenty of fresh water for your pet. In case of heat exhaustion, pour cold water on your pet.
  • Dogs with short noses are more vulnerable to heat exhaustion, like pugs, bulldogs and Boston Terriers.

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