Outside in Appalachia: with Dogs
Studies have found that American millennials lead the country in pet ownership, fueling the $69 billion pet industry — an industry that has grown three times since the mid 90s.
This could be a good thing for our health. Other recent studies have found that dog ownership has many positive benefits — from reducing allergies to counteracting negativity. And it’s not just millennials who stand to benefit. A 2017 study of older adults found that owners of dogs are more active than those without, walking about 22 minutes more a day. Besides being good for your mental and physical health, walking often gets you outside. And as explored earlier in this series, getting into nature has significant mental health benefits.
The big question is — how do you explore the outdoors with your pets safely?
“Our pets, as a general rule will do anything we ask them to,” said Dr. Mark Freeman, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine at Virginia Tech.
Freeman said dogs will keep trying to please us as long we ask them to keep trying.
"So, it’s very easy for a pet to become overheated and to become exhausted because their number one goal in life is to please us and to make us happy," he said. "So, as long as we keep throwing that frisbee they’re going to keep chasing it, even to the point of complete exhaustion.”
Heat exhaustion is the biggest challenge. Dogs cool themselves by panting. Panting evaporates saliva, which cools the blood supply.
“In the summertime, when it’s hot, and especially when the humidity is high, that evaporation doesn’t occur," he said. "So they pant and pant [but]... they don’t actually cool themselves. So it’s really important in the summer — when the temperatures are high, when humidity is high — that animals have access to shade, that they have access to lots and lots of water.”
This is particularly important for dogs with short faces like pugs, bulldogs and certain pitbull breeds — the shorter snouts mean less effective cooling and these dogs are even more likely to overheat.
Jonny Warner is a Charleston-based vet. He said his biggest concern is not just dogs being too active — but the time between periods of activity — particularly leaving dogs in the car while you ‘just run into the store’ for something or grab a bite to eat.
“If you’re doing outdoor recreation with your dog, you’re likely getting there in a car and the obvious one is just never leave your dog unattended in a closed car for any amount of time," he said.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the temperature in a closed car can rise 19 degrees in the first ten minutes. So if the outside temperature is 70, it can rise to 89. If it starts at 90, to 109. And the more time that passes, the higher the temperature rise.
The other thing dramatically affected by high temperatures is pavement.
“Seeing really significant burns on the pads of the feet is not at all uncommon in the summer,” said Freeman.
He said that could be an incentive for pet owners to stay off urban roads and get out to explore natural areas with pets such as parks, forests and wooded paths.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Marshall Health, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.