Hiking with Dogs: Identifying Injuries + First Aid Tips

Hiking with dogs is a wonderful way to bond and get a workout in, while reaping all the natural benefits of being outdoors. Studies have shown that spending time outside is good for you and can improve your overall health

But don’t take your dog out for a hike without proper preparation.

In the same way people need to train for strenuous physical activity (like marathons), our pets also have to be conditioned before going on an adventure with us. These preparations involve building stamina and temperature conditioning, especially if your dog will be exposed to weather conditions they aren’t used to.

How to Prepare for Hiking with Dogs

Before hitting the trails with your dog, it’s important to first consider whether or not your dog is in the right shape for hiking. 

For example, taking a dog on a strenuous hike before they’ve finished growing can put a strain on their bones, leading to pain and issues with their development. If you’re unsure about your dog’s readiness, check in with your vet before taking your dog on a hike.

Before going on a hike, you’ll want to do your due diligence to scope out the trails you’ll be going on. 

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. It also features recent reviews of conditions from other hikers, so you can get tips and prepare accordingly.

Another important thing to note is the trail’s dog rules. 

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).

Most trails require dogs to be kept on a leash the whole time, while others allow you to let your dog off-leash if they obey voice commands. It takes a lot of training for the latter situation because you never know what you’re going to encounter (like enticing wild critters or dangerous snakes) on your hiking adventure.

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, so you must be prepared for the worst. Pack a dog first aid kit to prepare for some common dog hiking emergencies.

6 Common Dog Hiking Injuries & Emergencies

Extreme temperatures add another challenging element to hiking with dogs. 

Most emergencies are usually temperature-related, so you have to learn to recognize signs that your dog feels uncomfortable. For instance, when dogs start to pick up their paws and stop moving forward, they’re probably too cold. On the other hand, when they’ve started lagging behind or are venturing off the trail to lay down, they may be feeling too hot.

Here are some of the most important things to be looking out for when hiking with dogs:

#1: Sunburn

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.

When your pet does get a sunburn, know that it will go away in a few days so long as it’s not severe. Limit licking at it to help the sunburn heal faster. 

#2: Heat Exhaustion

As mentioned, when a dog lags behind and drags their feet, they may be feeling too hot. Stop by somewhere with shade to let them rest for 10-30 minutes and give them water to recover. 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.

#3: Poison Ivy/Poisonous Plans

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.

In case your dog ingests poisonous plants, it’s important to contact your vet immediately so that they can recommend the proper treatment.

#4: Animal Bites and Scratches

Aside from poisonous plants, 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 could hurt yourself in the process. Once the incident dies down, check for any cuts or bites, and clean them up with first aid supplies.

If the wounds are deep, apply pressure to slow down bleeding, and take your dog to the vet immediately. 

#5: 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 should heal within a few days but don’t hesitate to call your vet for additional health and safety recommendations.

#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, and secure it with a splint to immobilize it.

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 in Your Dog’s Hiking Bag

Now that you understand some of the common injuries and emergencies that can occur when hiking with dogs, here are some basic items to make sure that you bring along:

  • Water and water bowl: Besides what you plan to consume for drinking, bring some extra 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: In case they get hungry and need an energy boost.
  • Poop bags: Keep the trail clean by picking up your dog’s poop, then dispose of it properly when you’re able to.
  • Towel: To dry your dog if they get wet, or to keep them cool when they’re suffering from heat exhaustion.
  • Extra leash: Just in case the one you’re using breaks. Non-retractable leashes are recommended for hiking.
  • First aid items: There are several items from a human first aid kit that are just as applicable to pets. These include saline solution (as an eyewash); antiseptic, gauze, and bandages (for wounds); antibiotic ointment, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory medicine, tweezers, tick removal tool (which you can use on yourself as well), and cotton swabs.

You can have your dog carry some of the items you’re bringing with you, but keep their load to within 10-15% of their weight.

Final Words: First Aid Tips for Hiking with Your Dogs

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.

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