Hiking with a dog is a wonderful way to bond with your pet and get in a workout. Plus, you can reap all the natural benefits of being outdoors. Studies have shown that spending time outside is good for you and can improve your overall health.
You’ll need to take some precautions, though, before taking your furry friend out on the trail.
Obviously, a person can’t go from couch potato to technical climber without physical training and preparation. Our pets also have to be conditioned before taking on a new physical challenge. These preparations involve building stamina and temperature conditioning, and making sure your pet is comfortable with basic trail etiquette.
Prepare for Hiking with a Dog
Before hitting the trails, it’s important to first consider if your dog is in the right shape for hiking. For example, taking a puppy on a strenuous hike can put strain on growing bones. An older dog may have lower stamina and strength than a dog in the prime of life. If you’re unsure about your dog’s readiness, check with your vet before hiking with a dog.
Just like people, dogs need to build strength over time or risk soreness or even injury. Start with a shorter, easier hike. Gauge your pet’s behavior, and increase the workout over time.
Also, be sure your dog has the proper vaccinations to be out in the wild. In town, you’re likely to be less concerned about infection from Leptospirosis or giardia which your dog can encounter by drinking from a pond or stream while hiking.
Your dog should be familiar with basic obedience commands and leash training. On many trails, your dog will need to be on a leash, but having a leash attached is just the first step. Know the basics of trail etiquette. Plus, make sure your dog is under your control even when passing other people and dogs, as well as horses or wildlife (like enticing wild critters or dangerous snakes).
Be in the Know Before You Go
Before going on a hike, be sure to do your due diligence. Check the difficulty of the trail, trail rules such as if your dog must be on a leash at all times, and make sure you pack the appropriate equipment for the conditions. You may even want to consider day packs or other gear for your dog.
Use an app like AllTrails to see nearby trail options. The app includes helpful information for popular trails, such as distance, average time to completion, and elevation. Users can also check recent updates from other hikers, so you can get tips on conditions and prepare accordingly.
For some trails, dogs aren’t allowed — for good reason. Don’t be the jerk who puts your dog through the paces at the Manitou Incline, where dogs are not allowed (but also where these rules are commonly ignored).
To be sure, no one wants to think of something bad happening to their dog. But, when you’re out on the trails or camping in the mountains, you don’t have the same immediate access to emergency care as you normally have. Be prepared for the worst. Pack a dog first aid kit, and be aware of common dog hiking emergencies.
6 Common Dog Hiking Injuries & Emergencies
Dogs are susceptible to many of the same hiking hazards as their two-legged hiking mates. Since dogs can’t speak up when they’re uncomfortable or need a break, pet owners should watch for early warning signs.
Here are some of the most important things to look out for when hiking with a dog:
#1: Excess Heat or Cold
Many emergencies are temperature-related, so learn to recognize signs that your dog feels uncomfortable. For instance, when dogs start lagging behind or are venturing off the trail to lay down, they may be feeling too hot. Stop in the shade for a 10-30 minute rest, and offer water. It may also be a good idea to put cool water on your dog’s stomach and legs to help them cool off faster. At any rate, don’t ignore issues — heat stroke can be life threatening.
Although we don’t typically think of pets getting sunburn, it can happen, especially with the intense sun in Colorado. Sunburn is typically considered a minor injury but can worsen if left untreated. To prevent sunburn, use sun protection — especially if you’ll have prolonged sun exposure or if your dog has a short, thin coat. There are several types of pet sunscreen to choose from, but a white shirt or reflective vest can also be helpful when hiking on sunny days.
On the other hand, in cold weather, if your dog starts to pick up their paws and stops moving forward, they’re probably too cold. Just as the people in your party come prepared with a coat, hat, and gloves, your dog may need extra protection in cold weather such as booties and a jacket. Read our blog on cold weather pet safety for more information.
#2: Poisonous Plants and Other Flora
Dogs are naturally playful and curious. If you let them off leash, they may come in contact with poison ivy, which can manifest in the form of a visible skin rash that causes itching in the affected area. A hydrocortisone cream may provide some relief. Other plant hazards include thorns, burrs, and foxtails which can become tangled in fur, imbedded in paws, or stuck in eyes or ears.
Be careful about allowing your dog to eat mushrooms or other plants on the trail. In case your dog ingests poisonous plants, it’s important to contact your vet immediately to determine the proper treatment.
#3: Animal Bites and Scratches
Your pet may also encounter other pets or wild animals while out on a hike. If they get into a scuffle with another animal, be careful when trying to break it up because you can be hurt yourself in the process. Once the incident dies down, check for any cuts or bites, and clean them with first aid supplies. If the wounds are deep, apply pressure to slow bleeding, and take your dog to the vet immediately.
Ticks can also be a concern. Be sure to check your dog following a hike, and use tweezers to remove any ticks that have attached to your pet.
#4: Torn Paw Pads
A dog’s paw pads are usually tough, but a rough trail or sharp rock can scratch your dog’s feet. When this happens, put on a little petroleum jelly before wrapping the paw in a bandage. This adds extra padding and can help protect a broken wound from dirt.
The cut may heal within a few days, but cuts on paw pads (especially larger wounds) can be more serious due to higher infection risk. When in doubt, don’t wait to have your pet evaluated. You may even be able to send a picture for review.
#5: Water Hazards
Although a cool stream can be tempting for a thirsty dog, it is safest for dogs to drink purified water when hiking to protect them from water-borne pathogens such as giardia. Crossing streams with your dog can also be a danger, as can swimming in lakes and streams if temperatures are cool.
#6: Broken Bones
Just as with humans, broken bones signal the end of the hike. It won’t be hard to notice when your dog has a broken bone, as this situation is painful. Your dog may yelp out in pain, but if not, watch out for limping or if they stop using their legs.
If you suspect your dog has a broken bone, stop them from moving forward immediately. Check for any puncture wounds, clean the affected area with saline or clean water, and immobilize the area.
Fractures won’t always be visible, so don’t try to realign the bone yourself. Instead, carry your dog until you get to the start of the trail. Then, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
What to Pack When Hiking with a Dog
Now that you understand some of the common injuries and emergencies that can occur when hiking with a dog, here are some basic items to make sure you bring along:
- Water and water bowl: Besides what you plan to consume for drinking, bring extra water for emergencies. Budget one quart of water for every three miles of hiking, and never let your dogs drink from rivers or streams, which can transmit waterborne pathogens.
- Dog food or snacks: Just like the protein bars or trail mix you pack for yourself, be sure to bring a snack for your dog in case an energy boost is needed.
- Poop bags: Keep the trail clean by picking up your dog’s poop, and disposing of it properly.
- Towel: To dry a wet dog.
- Extra leash: Just in case the one you’re using breaks. Also remember that non-retractable leashes are recommended for hiking.
- First aid items: Some items from human first aid kits are just as applicable for pets. These include saline solution (as an eyewash), wound care (antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, gauze, and bandages), antihistamines, anti-inflammatory medicine, tweezers (for removing ticks or splinters), and cotton swabs.
You can have your dog carry some of the items you’re bringing with you, but keep the load to within 10-15% of their weight.
Final Words: First Aid Tips for Hiking with a Dog
Hiking with your dog is a great way to get exercise and spend time together. Before going on the hike, condition your dog, choose trails that are easy and dog-friendly, educate yourself on pet first aid, and pack a basic first aid kit. In the event of a hiking injury, it’s always best to be prepared.
If you’re wondering how to handle a specific hiking injury or emergency, get in touch with the experts at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies.