Go for a Hike with your Dog
“Go for a hike?” It’s a question many of us in Colorado ask our dogs to get the excitement started. Even if it’s just your tone of voice, your dog will likely pick up on the impending fun. Pack up the car for a day or a weekend of hiking to get your pup ready for the adventure, just be sure to be prepared.
As you head off to explore nature, your dog gets to spend time with their favorite human – you! Preparing yourself for your hiking journey means preparing your dog, too. And just as emergency situations can happen for people, you will want to prepare for a pet health emergency out on the trail, too. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Hiking with Dogs: Preparation
Heading out for a hike with a dog is a wonderful way to stay healthy. It can give you time to reconnect to your pet and to nature. You will both get exercise, fresh air, and will probably sleep great after the hike. But don’t take your dog out for a hike without proper preparation.
Both the American Kennel Club and REI have great ideas for getting the best gear for hiking with dogs. Consider a snug-fitting collar or harness for the day and be sure that it has your name and phone number on the collar itself and that your dog’s ID tags are up to date in case your pet gets lost.
Use a short leash so that your pup won’t wander too far from you. Consider a backpack that can help you carry your dog if the terrain is too tough, or a saddlebag pack for your dog with handles in case you need to lift them up over a log or rock, pack and all. If your dog’s feet are soft, consider hiking booties to reduce the risk of paw pad injury. There are a ton of great dog hiking gear options.
GET IN SHAPE, THEN GET GOING
Training for physical fitness challenges might be part of your workout, but did you know that your dog needs to be in shape before strenuous hiking, too? Consider the conditions of your hiking destination and do some real training before considering a hike. Build up to big hikes at elevation like you would for yourself. And when weather conditions could be extreme or extremely different from your usual routine, consider whether your pup is up to the challenge. Your dog will want to please you and could become exhausted.
Also, if your dog is not in good shape for hiking, or when they are too young and still growing, strenuous hiking could lead to pain, injury, or other health challenges. You may want to check with your veterinarian before taking your dog on a particularly grueling hike or to see if they are fit or old enough for the hike that you have planned.
PLANNING MAKES FOR A GREAT HIKE
Speaking of planning, to better prepare to take a dog on a hike, plan out the trails that you will be taking. There are some great apps like AllTrails, Peak Visor, and others that can help. You will be able to explore trail options in advance, with important data on distance, the average time to completion, and elevation. You can also read about conditions in reviews from other hikers, with tips to help you prepare.
Be sure to check into the rules for the trails you plan to tackle. Though some trails are dog-friendly, there are many trails where dogs are not allowed, for their own safety or to preserve natural areas. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado does not allow pets in most areas other than the campground and parking areas. You may wish to plan ahead and pick another spot where you and your dog can hike together safely.
DO NOT DROP THE LEASH
Dogs are required to be leashed the entire time that they are on most trails so be sure to follow the rules for leashing. Plus, play it safe and don’t take chances. You don’t want your dog to wander or run off after wild animals or simply follow their nose rather than your voice and get lost.
HIKING WITH DOGS: TRAIL ETIQUETTE
Other trail etiquette for taking a hike with your dog includes keeping your dog with you and under control at all times. Give hikers without dogs a chance to go around you. When you meet others on the trail, put your dog on their leash, step out of the way, and keep your dog with you until others have passed. If you find a loose dog with their owner on the same trail, leash your dog and allow the dogs to meet and sniff each other before continuing on your way. Clean up after your dog and carry out their waste with you or bury in a hole that is 6-8 inches deep and is at least 200 feet away from trails, campsites, and water sources. Do not disturb plants or wildlife. Stay on the trail and walk on rock as much as possible, especially above the tree line.
HIKE PREP BASICS
Because emergencies can happen, at a minimum be prepared with:
- Water: Bring enough water and your own travel dog water bowl so that your dog can stay hydrated, just like you need to. Plan on one quart of water for every three miles of hiking, and never let your dog drink from rivers or streams, which can transmit waterborne parasites and poisons.
- Food: Bring dog food for nourishment and energy.
- Dog Waste Bags: Pack some poop bags and pick up after your pooch.
- Leash: Bring an extra short leash in case the one you’re using breaks (do not use a retractable leash for hiking).
- Pet First Aid Kit: Things like saline solution for eyewash, antiseptic, gauze and bandages for wounds; a tweezers and tick removal tool, petroleum jelly, antibacterial ointment, and cotton swabs can help.
If you plan to have your dog carry some of the items in a pack or saddlebag, make sure to limit it to under 10-15% of their body weight. The ASPCA also has tips to make your own pet first aid kit for hiking and to keep at home.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE WEATHER
Extreme temperatures add another challenging element to hiking with dogs and there are different health concerns depending on the season and weather conditions. For pet health concerns in the summer, if your dog picks up their paws and stops moving forward, the ground is likely too hot. (Of course, if you are hiking in the winter, your dog is probably too cold.)
Learn a little pet first aid to recognize the signs that your dog is feeling pain or discomfort. Some important things to watch out for when hiking with dogs include:
If your dog is lagging behind and picking up or dragging their feet, they may be feeling too hot. Stop in the shade if possible to let them rest for at least ten minutes or longer, giving them small sips of water as they rest.
And of course, never leave your dog in the car alone – even with the windows cracked, it takes just minutes for a dog to overheat in a car and can lead to heatstroke or even death. Watch for signs that your pet has heatstroke, including:
- Excessive panting
- Increased heart rate
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Bright red gums
- High temperature (over 104° F)
- Collapse, seizure, coma
If you suspect heatstroke, seek emergency care for your pet as quickly as possible. Call us right away at 303.660.1027 or bringing your pet into our 24 hour pet hospital in Castle Rock, Colorado. You may also want to read up on the other situations that require emergency vet care in the summer.
Yes, your dog can get a Sunburn
Prevent sunburn by applying pet sunscreen if you expect to be out for a long time in the sun. You can also use white or reflective pet clothing when hiking on sunny days. If your dog gets sunburned, it should go away in a few days if it is not too severe.
POISON IVY/POISONOUS PLANS
Taking a hike, especially off the beaten track, means sometimes coming in contact with poison ivy or other poisonous plants. This can take the form of a visible skin rash that causes itching in the affected areas. Hydrocortisone cream may provide some relief. Also, remember that your dog can spread poison ivy from their fur to you, so giving your dog a soothing bath (cool, not too cold, especially if they are overheated) before heading home can be worthwhile.
If your dog eats a poisonous plant, call the ASPCA pet poison control center hotline at (888) 426-4435, or contact your vet immediately so that they can recommend the proper treatment.
ANIMAL BITES AND SCRATCHES
Your dog may meet other pet dogs or even a snake or another wild animal during a hike. If your dog gets into a fight with another animal or is bitten by a snake, be careful in trying to separate them as you could also become injured. When it’s safe to do so, check your dog for bites and scratches, cleaning them with your packed pet first aid kit supplies. If you find a deep wound, apply pressure to slow the bleeding and bring your dog to our 24 hour emergency vet hospital or your nearest vet right away.
TORN PAW PADS
Your dog’s paw pads may be tough enough for most walks, but a stone, thorn, or another sharp object could tear your dog’s paw. If a tear happens, apply a bit of petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) and wrap your dog’s paw in a bandage from your pet first aid kit. The cut should heal within a few days but check for any sign of discomfort or infection and call your vet with any concerns.
A BROKEN BONE
If your dog breaks a bone, he or she will likely let you know. They may vocalize their pain, begin limping, or stop using one of their legs. If this happens, stop hiking immediately. Check for any puncture wounds or broken skin and if there is evidence of a wound, clean the area. You may also wish to gently immobilize the affected limb with a splint. Do not try to realign the bone, however. Carry your dog to your car and get them right to your vet or our 24 hour emergency vet hospital.
Safe HIKING WITH YOUR DOG
Get the great benefits of exercise and spending time with your dog by taking a hike. But before you go, be prepared. Be sure that your dog is in shape for the hike, choose trails that are easy and dog-friendly, learn a little pet first aid, and pack a basic pet first aid kit.
If your pet experiences a hiking injury or other pet health emergency, contact us at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies.