Running with Rufus by Anna Odash, DVM

2020 has been quite the year and before we knew it summer is already here! Despite all the changes happening a few things stay the same – many of us love to run and we love to run with our dogs. Our team loves to be out and about with our dogs as well and have a few tips and tricks to share for a safe and happy summer.

1.  Courtesy is key! 
Leash laws are present in the city of Missoula and the surrounding areas and their purpose is for safety, not to ruin the fun.  They prevent running into the street while chasing after a squirrel, getting into scuffles with dogs that aren’t as social and preventing injuries such as bites if they are nervous or scared.  Every dog’s behavior is different off leash than on due to their brain chemistry and some dogs are more prone to barking or growling – this does not make them a ‘mean’ dog, it just means a little extra time getting used to being on leash is needed or more space between you and other dogs.  Also, not everyone is as comfortable with dogs exuberantly approaching off leash and public spaces are meant to be shared. The great thing about Missoula is there are miles of trails and areas for your dog to run off leash as well!

2. Poop is the pits.
Everyone has seen those little plastic bags lying along the sides of trails.  We’ve also seen many a pile of poo not in a bag.  Dog poop can carry bacteria, viruses and parasites that are contagious to other dogs as well as some that are contagious to people!  If you accidentally step in it or your dog sniffs (or eats!) it, there is a much greater risk of bringing it home to your yard, house and other furry companions at home.  Bring a couple bags in your pocket, find a small belt clip or leash bag holder and help keep Missoula clean and safe for our pets.  It’s ok to drop the bag by the side at the start of a hike or run – just make sure to pick it up on your way out.  

3.  Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke
Dogs are covered in hair/fur. They get much hotter than we do in the summer months and their bodies are not very efficient at rapidly adjusting to hot temperatures.  If your dog is older or has any respiratory issues the likelihood of these conditions is also increased- activity in the mornings or evenings when it’s cooler is best!  Their primary mechanisms of cooling are panting or ‘sweating’ through their feet.  Even a short hike or run of a few miles on a hot day with no shade or water available can bring on symptoms such as excessive panting, drooling, agitation, a bright red tongue, very red or pale gums, vomiting or diarrhea and in severe cases, collapse.  If you notice any of these symptoms immediately head back and on the way seek shady areas or bodies of water for your pet to soak.  Offering frequent small amounts of water is better than having them guzzle a large amount all at once.  Bring water with you in areas that are exposed and dry – dogs learn quickly how to drink from water bottles or have water squirted in their mouth.  If symptoms are not improving within 5-10 minutes, seek emergency veterinary care.  

4.  Injuries
Just like we are prone to sprains, strains, scrapes or damaged toes/nails, so are our dogs.  If your dog has been fairly sedentary all winter or spring slowly ease them into activity.  Going for a 10 mile hike out of the blue is a recipe for disaster!  Make sure your dog is at a level of fitness that they can safely and comfortably make it through the whole distance.  If your dog is suddenly limping or not using one or more of their limbs, regardless of any event such as stumbling or getting a paw stuck between rocks, call and speak with your veterinarian.  If you believe they may have broken a bone, seek emergency veterinary care.  If you tend to run more on pavement or in town than on trails be aware of how hot the pavement is and how long you will be running.  Paw pads can become torn up or blistered and while these tend to heal in 3-5 days, they are extremely painful and can become infected.  Booties are available but need to be properly fitted if used to prevent chafing or rubbing.  They also take some getting used to on your dog’s part.  Torn or cracked nails are also a common summer injury.  If your pet is suddenly limping, you notice blood around a nail or on the trail/road and your pet is very sensitive to having any of their paws touched, attempt to gently hold the paw and visually examine the nails.  If you notice a bleeding or cracked nail, take your time getting back to your house or vehicle and seek veterinary care.  The inner part of the nail, the quick, has sensitive nerves and a strong blood supply.  Having the damaged portion of the nail trimmed back, a paw bandage for a few days and some pain medication goes a tremendous way to getting your dog comfortably back out on regular adventures.  

While this is not an extensive list of tips, tricks and recommendations, your primary care veterinarian is a fantastic resource for helping you determine what kind of summer activities are best for your dog based on his or her health status.  They can also provide you with their recommendations for products such as flea and tick prevention, harnesses or hiking packs, or training tips to help you get out safely on the trail together.  We love to be out there as much as you- see you on the trails!