By Christie Long
Sometimes I feel like the longer I practice veterinary medicine, the more things I see and hear that make me scared to take my dogs out of the house.
Dogs that go hiking get bitten by rattlesnakes. Dogs that go camping wander off, eat dead things in the woods and get sick. Dogs that go swimming get ear infections and could even drown.
It is, of course, possible for dogs to engage in all of these activities and more, safely.
But if there’s one activity for dogs I can’t condone, it’s riding in the bed of a pickup truck. While it may look like grand fun for the dog, transporting it unsecured in the back of your truck poses numerous serious risks.
Clearly, a dog in the back of a pickup truck is at great risk if the truck is involved in an accident. With an impact of even small proportion, the dog is likely to be thrown clear of the bed and into the road where it is at risk for being hit by oncoming traffic. This can also happen if the truck is forced to stop forcefully and suddenly.
Dogs are not typically the best decision-makers, and many have been known to jump from the bed of a truck, hoping to nail a passing squirrel or cat or just following some random doggy whim.
Whether the dog is thrown from the truck or jumps from it, serious injuries are almost inevitable.
Probably the worst of these is something known as a brachial plexus avulsion. The brachial plexus is the complex bundle of nerves that is nestled into the armpit area. An avulsion occurs when the forelimb suffers a tremendous shearing force that puts extreme pressure on these nerves, causing them to stretch and possibly even tear.
This results in temporary or permanent loss of function of the forelimb. Depending on the severity of the injury, permanent dysfunction can occur. Amputation may even be necessary if the limb is nonfunctional.
Other common injuries include fractures, head trauma, internal injuries and serious skin wounds, known as de-gloving injuries. All of these are painful for the dog and difficult to treat. Contamination from road surfaces adds another layer of complication when dirt and gravel are embedded deep in the tissues.
I understand that it may not always be practical to put your wet, smelly dog in the cab of your pickup truck. But it seems that investing in a good quality dog crate that can be secured to the sides or bottom of the truck bed is a reasonable proposition.
This way, your dog will at least be somewhat secure in the event of a low-speed impact, and it should be unable to launch itself wantonly into the void.
It may not seem like as much fun as rambling unfettered in the truck bed; but as the human in the relationship, it’s your responsibility to make the call when the need for safety supercedes the opportunity for fun.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their 5-year-old son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.