Gorgeous desert landscapes featuring canyons, sand marshes and dunes, mountains, or furbulous flat land may seem pawfect for a walk. Deserts are thriving ecosystems filled with specially adapted plant and animal species that may be calling you and your adventure dog, but before you head out, there are some unique factors you should be aware of.
A walk through the desert isn’t like around a city block, as extreme temperatures and environmental hazards can quickly turn a fun afternoon into an emergency situation. To keep you and your pup safe while enjoying the beauty of this unique habitat, here are 9 pawtastic tips for a safe and fun desert walk with your furry sidekick.
#1 Check the Weather First
Deserts can get hot, really hot! In the U.S., several areas in the Southwest actually prohibit dogs from walking outside when temperatures reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent overheating. And if that wasn’t dangerous enough, the weather can quickly turn into severe thunderstorms that can produce violent flooding with rushing water. Always check the weather report and heat index, and if it’s too dangerous, save the walk for a another day and enjoy some inside fun with your pooch.
#2 Choose a Safe Time to Walk
Taking desert walks can be exciting, but you should choose a time when the fun can reign over the heat. On average, 3 PM tends to be the hottest time of day, so it may be best to take your dog for a walk several hours before or after that time to enjoy the cooler temperatures. Morning and evening desert walks are usually not as sweltering, just beware of dawn and dusk when a lot of animal life is out on the prowl!
#3 Protect the Paws
Even if you aren’t walking during the hottest time of the day, pavement, rocks or even just the ground can reach temperatures up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to cook meat. That means it can cook your dog’s delicate paws too! Save your precious pup’s feet by doing a surface test. If the ground is too hot for your bare foot or hand, then it’s too hot for your dog’s, and you should keep them inside and off the ground. Or invest in a set of dog booties to keep your pooch’s paws safe and cool.
#4 Watch for Signs of Overheating
Getting too hot isn’t just uncomfortable- it can be downright deadly! An overheated dog can suffer heat exhaustion which can quickly lead to heat stroke. Always keep a close eye on any signs your dog is in distress. If you notice your dog experiencing excessive panting, drooling, bright red gums, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, disorientation or collapse, it’s time to get out of the sun. If you are out on the trail, offer your dog sips of water, cover with damp towels and seek veterinary assistance immediately!
#5 Prevent Sunburns
On a desert trail, you and your dog are usually out in the open and fully exposed to UV rays. Many local news stations offer a UV index with their weather report, so watch for particularly high days to take a rain check on the walk. Dogs who have been clipped or shaved are at a higher risk for sunburn, as are pooches with lighter colored fur. Refrain from the grooming, and take evening walks if you’ve got a blonde or white furball, or use sunscreen formulated for dogs.
#6 Be Watchful for Local Wildlife
A lot of animals call the desert home, and some of them can be quite dangerous! You’ll need to watch out for hawks and owls that can pick up small dogs, tarantulas, Gila monsters, bobcats, coyotes and javelins. There’re also scorpions that give painful stings that some dogs can be allergic to, and the Sonoran Desert Toad that are toxic if your dog licks or eats them.
Oh, and did we mention snakes? Luckily, several desert cities offer training courses that use a dog’s natural ability to sense snakes to avoid them completely. Always keep an eye on and around the path, prevent your dog from investigating rocks, bushes, or random holes where critters may be hiding, and walk with a flashlight at night. Training your dog to "Leave it" can also prevent confrontations when wildlife is spotted.
#7 Keep Your Dog Leashed
Although it may be tempting to let your dog roam free in secluded areas, it’s just not a good idea. First, a leash can help prevent an animal encounter. Having control over where your dog walks can also prevent a painful experience with a cactus, including the jumping cholla’s painful spines that can often be found in pieces on sidewalks and paths. But most importantly, it’s simply dangerous for your pooch to get lost in the desert, especially since temperatures can drop to freezing and predators come out once the sun goes down.
#8 Always Bring Extra Water
In a hot, arid climate, water is essential, and you’re not likely to find any water sources out on the trail. Even if you do, you’ll need to be cautious of summer monsoon season when that Sonoran Desert Toad we talked about earlier comes out. This little toad is so toxic that it can even poison the water it has been in. Pack more fresh, clean drinking water than you think you'll need, and always use a water purifier if you have to drink standing water.
#9 Pack for Success
The best way to have a furbulous desert walk is to be prepared! Along with your dog’s collar and leash, you should pack a bag of these desert essentials to be ready for any situation.
- Plenty of water
- Portable water bowl
- Water purifier
- Damp towels in a sealed bag or container
- Clean-up bags
- Benadryl for beestings or scorpion bites
- First aid kit including tweezers, bandages, antibiotic and burn treatments
- Dog brush for burrs
- Insect repellant for dogs and humans
- Sunscreen for dogs and humans
- Compass, maps and GPS
- Emergency thermal blankets
With a little preparation and knowledge, you and your dog can enjoy the serenity and beauty of the desert while staying safe. Happy trekking!