Safety Tips for Hiking With Your Dog
With summer quickly approaching, it's time to get outside and those pups want to come along! Hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy nature and get outside. We have so many amazing places that you can explore in Northern Colorado, and many allow your dog on a leash. However, you want to make sure you are prepared for anything that may come your way, so let's dive into some ways to ensure you are ready for hiking with your dog this summer.
1. Before You Go
Finding the best trail requires research ahead of time. You and your dog's hiking experience will depend on how prepared you are and the trail you choose. Remember if you are visiting a National Park, they can be very restrictive when it comes to hiking with your dogs. Check out local hiking guides to determine if where you are planning on going allows dogs. AllTrails is a great resource to look for local hikes that allow dogs.
Also, make sure you know what the terrain will look like. Recently on a difficult level hike, we saw all different types of dogs on the hike, and it was difficult for humans! It involved climbing and scrambling up rocks with steep falls on either side. If it's hard for you, just think how difficult it may be for your dog, especially if they are not used to that type of terrain.
Check the weather forecast. What time of day are you planning on hiking? There were many people out in 80 degree, sunny weather with their dogs on a difficult hike, and I could see the dogs were HOT. Dogs do not have efficient heat exchange like we do through sweating. They rely on panting, and because of this, they can develop heat stroke which can be life-threatening. If you are noticing your dog is panting excessively, lagging behind and their tongues are bright red, stop immediately, seek shade and water and let your dog rest.
2. Start Slowly
Many dogs are getting back out on the trails after taking a long break over the winter and spring. It's best to start with shorter hikes to help your dog adjust to being back out on the trail. This transition will help your dog build up endurance and toughen up their paw pads. As a veterinarian, unfortunately, torn and raw paw pads is a common occurrence at this time of year, because dogs were not ready to go as far as they should or the temperatures were too hot on their pawpads.
Also, you don't want to get too far on the trail and find out you've gone too far for your dog. They can become worn out or be in pain. Dogs are not good at limiting their activity when necessary, so they rely on us to ensure we have their best interests at heart. If you have an older pet, it is even more important to make sure you are building up their endurance and that you know what their limits are. Start slow and build up to greater distances. Your pup will thank you!
Make sure you are prepared with the essentials for a hike with your dog. You want a sturdy dog leash - no retractable leashes! Retractable leashes make it extremely difficult to control your dog and they have an increased chance of getting caught in the brush or around trees. Make sure you are using a leash for your dog also, especially if you are in an area where they require dog leashes. In most areas, there are plenty of wildlife around, and it can be difficult to recall a dog who wants to chase after the wildlife. They can get hurt or even killed by wildlife like bears, mountain lions and coyotes.
Bring enough clean drinking water for you and your pup. Make sure you take frequent water breaks along the trail, so be prepared with a lightweight, collapsible travel bowl or a simple plastic container and plenty of fresh water. Stop often to offer him a drink, especially if he’s panting a lot and the temperatures are warm. Having clean drinking water will also help keep your dog from drinking stagnant water that can be contaminated with bacteria, which can lead to GI issues and other problems later on.
A first aid kit is going to come in handy if anything happens while you are out on the trail and away from a vet clinic. It is important to have tweezers to be able to pull out any splinters or grass seeds. Sterile eye flush to help flush the eyes in case they get a grass seed stuck or develop allergies while hiking or camping. Make sure it is only sterile saline present and no medications for red eyes are present.
Here's a list for everything you need so you can make your own First Aid Kit to take with you hiking to be prepared:
Muzzle — Any injured pet can become aggressive out of fear or pain, however, if your pet is vomiting, do not muzzle them (How to make a homemade muzzle)
Triple antibiotic ointment — Apply to a wound after it has been cleaned with povidone iodine and flushed with water
Sterile water-soluble lubricating jelly — Apply around your pet's eyes if you need to use soap or povidone iodine to clean a wound close to the eyes
Tweezers — For splinter or tick removal
Sterile nonstick pads — To cover a wound before bandaging
Nail trimmer — In case a nail gets torn while camping or on the trail
Elastic bandages — To hold a nonstick pad in place over a wound
Blunt-tipped scissors — To trim hair away from a wound, or to clip out foreign material caught in your pet's fur. Care with cutting the skin
Hydrogen peroxide 3% — To induce vomiting, but only if your vet or an animal poison control hotline instructs you to do so. Do not use this to clean wounds - it causes more tissue damage.
Pre-soaked povidone iodine (Betadine) pads — To clean out cuts, wounds or abrasions, and flush the wound with bottled water after using the pre-soaked pads
Clean cotton towel — For use as a pressure bandage, blanket or sling to lift a pet who isn't able to walk
Saline solution — Regular human contact lens saline drops can be used to flush out dirt, sand or other irritants from your pet's eye; it can also be used to flush away debris from a cut or scrape. Make sure to stay away from red eye human solutions.
Flashlight — To help you see the thorn or cactus prickle in your pet's paw or the tick between their toes
Styptic/clotting powder — To stop bleeding from broken toenails. You can also use cornstarch powder if needed
There are also pre-made pet first-aid kits that you can purchase from REI, local pet stores or even off of Chewy and Amazon.
There are many risks when out on the trail with your dog, ranging from heat stroke, to cactus, to rattlesnakes, and other wildlife, depending on where you live and hike.
It's always important to be aware of where your dog is on the trail, especially when in the backcountry. There have been numerous cases of dogs that are led away by a coyote that appears to be playing but is really bringing your dog to the rest of the pack to be attacked. By keeping your dog on a leash, you can ensure that this will not happen. When hiking in the forest or backcountry, we are in wild animals', like bears and mountain lions, natural environments. You and your dog could come into contact with these animals at any time.
Another huge risk to your dog's health are rattlesnakes. If your dog is off-leash, there is a much higher chance of them being bit by a rattlesnake. By keeping them on a 6 foot length or less leash (not retractable), you can bring them back in if you come across a snake. Slowly back away until the snake stops rattling and then remember that if there is a snake, there are more than likely more of them around.
If your dog gets bit, carry them to the car if possible or if you can't, walk (do not run) back to the car. You want to limit exercise to keep the blood from pumping the venom throughout their body, and then go to a veterinarian immediately. Many emergency clinics will carry anti-venom which can help limit the severity of the bite to your dog. If you are concerned because you live in a dense rattlesnake area, there are rattlesnake aversion classes you can take with your dog. Keep in mind though that your dog will receive a strong electric shock when it comes into contact with a live (but defanged) rattlesnake to create the aversion if they come into contact with one on the trail.
Other risks to your dog on the trail, especially if you are in Colorado, include cactus. If your dog runs through an area with cactus, they can get the spines (needles) of cacti stuck in their mouth, feet, coat, eyes, and ears. While not life-threatening, cactus spines can cause your dog a lot of discomfort and pain. If this happens, first assess your dog to see how severe the issue is. A large amount of cactus spines may require immediate veterinary intervention, because your dog may need sedation to remove all of the spines. Also if the mouth and eyes are involved, you will want to take your dog to the veterinarian immediately for assessment.
Treat a cactus spine as a puncture wound and use the right tools while removing the spines from your dog's skin. You can start with a relatively coarse comb to get rid of the needles, but you need to be careful in case the needles are near blood vessels. Therefore, it is always good to keep a styptic stick and gauze close to you, which are tools in your first aid kit you have with you (see above).
After using the coarse comb to remove some of the needles, remove the remaining individual needles with a pair of forceps or tweezers by pulling each one of them in the direction of fur growth. Clean the area with Betadine and apply triple antibiotic ointment to the wound areas. If there is any worry about removing the needles, don't be afraid to see veterinary assistance.
Remember dogs are natural explorers and love going on adventures with us. Make sure you are prepared to keep them safe and healthy while on the trail. By being prepared, you will increase the chances that nothing bad will happen to your furry friend and you will create lasting, happy memories out on the trails!
Make sure you opt-in to our weekly newsletter to never miss out on when new blogs post and free weekly tips on how to help your pet thrive with natural medicine.
*Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Dr. Katie Woodley cannot answer specific questions about your pet's medical issues or make medical recommendations for your pet without first establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.