KAILUA (HawaiiNewsNow) -The Lanikai Pillbox Trail in Kailua is extremely popular, but what many hikers may not realize is how dangerous it can be for their dogs because of the potential for either heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
It's not the only trail that has prompted concern from veterinarians: Makapuu Lighthouse is another, because of their locations on the back of ridges where there typically is no breeze, no shade and lots of asphalt — all of which pose significant risks for dogs.
“It's ignorance. It's not irresponsible pet ownership in my experience. It's just that people don't know that dogs can't sweat the way humans do. They pant. It's hot. It's humid. We live in Hawaii. It's not something we just see during certain months of the year. This is a year-round epidemic,” said Michele Morlet, a manager at Feather and Fur Animal Hospital in Kailua.
Veterinarians say on a hot or humid day, pet owners may not be aware of how much heat their dogs are absorbing from the sun — both directly and indirectly — as it reflects off the hot surfaces that they're walking on.
Feather and Fur Animal Hospital is the closest animal clinic to the Pillbox trail, and it saw such an uptick in heat exhaustion and heat stroke from dogs who've been taken on that hike that they posted warning signs in all of their exam rooms, their lobby — even the bathroom just to educate people.
“It's just such a hot hike with no shade, no shelter and we've never taken our dog out there — but the dogs we see are always panting and struggling up there. It's just brutal sunshine. Not a good hike for a dog at all,” said Jonathan Sladky, who chooses to take Carly, his 8-year-old lab mix, elsewhere and only early in the morning or early evening.
Veterinarians at Feather and Fur say they treated eight dogs with heat stroke in 2017 — all were out at Pillbox — and half of them didn't survive.
Officials say they had fewer cases this summer — only three between May and September — but they believe that may be due to the fact that the Pillbox trail was closed for maintenance.
Experts say heat exhaustion and heat stroke for dogs can occur within 30 minutes.
Excessive panting or shade-seeking are warning signs, but symptoms can include vomiting or diarrhea. In the most serious cases, dogs can have seizures and experience organ failure within an hour or two of exposure to intense heat.
Vets say many pet owners are unaware of the risks or consequences.
“Their intentions were good, getting their dog out and having some exercise and enjoying a beautiful day in Hawaii, and they never dream they would end up here at the clinic with their dog sometimes dying,” said Katie Hancock, a veterinarian at Feather & Fur Animal Hospital.
Experts say never hike without enough water for you and your pet, and always be sure to avoid the hottest time of day, especially when there are Kona winds and no trades.
If you suspect your dog has heat exhaustion or heat stroke, try to immediately cool your pet by pouring water all over them, especially their belly and feet.
Move into the shade or even better, a car with air-conditioning, as soon as possible.
Keep a close eye on your pet, and if your dog develops any bruising on their skin, that can indicate serious disease and you’ll need to take them to the vet immediately.
Vets say there is not an age that dogs are more vulnerable to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, but there are breeds, like those with shorter noses, for example: boxers or bulldogs, because they don't pant as efficiently.
Experts also warn it’s not just hikes that pet owners need to be aware of, but leaving their dogs in cars as well. Even a short time inside a grocery store or running an errand can put them at risk of overheating.