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Hiking with Dogs: How to Protect Your Dogs Against Common Hiking Dangers
By Emily Gantt
Published: 07/02/2021, edited: 08/10/2021
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Hiking with dogs is a fun outdoor pastime, but there are some hazards you should be aware of when hitting the trails with your pooch. Heat exhaustion, predators, and poisonous plants are just some of the dangers lurking on hiking trails, but that doesn't mean you can't still hike safely with your fur-baby. We'll detail some precautions you can take to protect your dog against common hiking dangers, as well as a packing list of everything you need to keep your woofer safe.
Precautions to take when hiking with dogs
While hiking is usually a leisurely activity, there are some precautions you should take to protect your dog during your trek. Here are a few ways you can keep your pup safe when hitting the trails.
Prepare your dog before the hike
Like humans, dogs need to build their endurance before tackling a long hike. Exercise your dog regularly for a few weeks before your hike to build their stamina — especially if you're planning to hike a long trail or one with rough terrain. Dogs can easily wear themselves out and even hurt themselves if they push themselves harder than they're used to.
Keep Fido cool
Dogs of all ages can come down with heat exhaustion if the conditions are right. Hot weather, few water breaks, and lots of walking create a perfect storm for heat exhaustion. Watch your dog for symptoms of heat exhaustion like excessive drooling, a change in heart rate or breathing, panting, restlessness, and collapse.
There are some ways you can prevent heat exhaustion in dogs in hot weather. Invest in a doggy cooling vest to help Fido regulate their temperature during their trek, and keep instant ice packs on hand in case Fido starts to overheat.
Keep your pup hydrated
Dehydration is always a risk in the dog days of summer. So make sure you bring plenty of water and purification tablets in case you run out of water on your journey. A collapsable bowl can also come in handy and will waste less water than trying to get your dog to drink from a bottle.
Use caution with brachycephalic breeds
Be careful bringing brachycephalic breeds (like French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers) on hikes since they often have lower stamina than most dogs. The face shape of brachycephalic breeds makes it difficult for them to get adequate airflow when exercising, making them prone to heat exhaustion and overexertion. If you must bring your short-faced pup along, you may want to bring a wearable pet carrier for when they start to tire out.
Watch out for poisonous plants
You'll probably encounter some poisonous plants at some point or another on your hike. The best thing you can do to protect your dog against these leafy dangers is to educate yourself on which plants are poisonous to dogs.
Some of the most common poisonous plants you may come across on your adventures include:
Some types of mushrooms
No matter if you're able to identify the plant or not, it's best to discourage your dog from eating any plant matter along a hiking trail. Bring treats and food for when your pup gets hungry to keep them from nibbling on things they find on the ground. Watch out for cacti, too, since these can injure Tucker's skin and paws.
Beware of freshwater sources
Refrain from letting your dog drink out of or swim in rivers, puddles, lakes, or streams. These water sources may carry microscopic bacteria and microorganisms that can make your pup very sick. Waterborne pathogens may cause your dog to develop diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration.
What's more, some of these bacteria can even eat away at your pup's flesh, causing a condition called necrotizing fasciitis. If you must drink from a water source, make sure you collect flowing water rather than stagnant water, and use purification tablets before consuming it.
Protect Fido from parasites
Your pet should be up-to-date on their flea, tick, and heartworm medications before hitting the trails. Fleas, ticks, and mosquitos are more than a nuisance; they can transmit serious diseases and parasitic infections like Lyme disease, tapeworms, and heartworms. In addition to parasite preventatives, you might want to bring along dog-safe insect repellant, too, since you can never be too cautious.
Bring along some bear spray
You're bound to come across some wildlife on your adventure, and while this is usually a welcome sight, you need to be prepared in case the wildlife isn't friendly. Most animals will leave you be if you don't mess with them or their offspring, but you should come prepared with bear spray in case you encounter an aggressive animal.
Keep bear spray in a holster rather than in your bag for easy access, should you need it. Follow the directions on the can to a T since bear spray can harm humans and pets. Before your hike, practice using the spray in an open area away from animals or people to make sure you are acquainted with the procedure.
Remember, bear deterrent isn't like bug spray — it's to be sprayed at a bear, not on you or Fido. Keep bear spray away from open flames and out of hot cars since it can explode in temperatures exceeding 120° F.
Protect those paw pads
Dogs' paw pads are sensitive to heat and rocky terrain, so you must protect them when you're hiking. Dog booties are great for this, but they do take some getting used to. Have Fido practice walking in them before it's time to hit the trails.
It's a good idea to pack some paw balm in your knapsack to moisturize your pup's paws after hiking. Salves and balms will help soothe any abrasions or microscopic skin tears caused by walking bare-paw on rough terrain.
Invest in some doggy gear
It's easy to get separated from your dog on a hiking trail, especially if you have a dog with a high prey drive. A scurrying squirrel may be all it takes for your pooch to slip out of their collar and take off into the woods. There are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening and to make Fido easier to find if they run off.
First and foremost, equip your pup with a well-fitting harness and a short leash. A good harness will be almost impossible to slip out of, and a short leash offers more control than a long one.
Secondly, make sure your pup's ID tags are current. If someone stumbles across your lost pooch, this is the only way they have to get in contact with you. You may also want to invest in a GPS collar, which will allow you to see your pet's location right from your phone.
Minimize fall risks
Minimize fall risks by selecting trails with stable terrain and avoiding those with steep inclines and cliffs. Equipping your dog with a handle harness can help your steady your dog while they walk on inclines.
What should I bring when hiking with dogs?
Here’s a list of essentials you should bring along when hiking with dogs:
- Booties to protect Fido's paw pads.
- Bottled water
- Water purification tablets
- Collapsible water bowl
- A well-fitting harness
- First aid kit
- Any daily or emergency medications your pet may need
- Collar with ID tags
- Pet-safe insect repellant
- 4-foot leash
- Instant ice packs
- Paw salve
- Several plastic grocery bags for waste disposal
- Bear deterrent spray
- Wearable dog carrier for brachycephalic breeds
New to hiking with dogs? Check out these hiking etiquette rules for hiking with dogs.