Hiking and Camping with your Dog

by Dr. Sandy Tisdelle

One of the best things about having a dog, for me, is the opportunity to get outdoors with my pet.  North Carolina offers so many trails and mountains and beautiful places to take a short hike or overnight camping trip.  I love bringing my dog so she gets some fresh air and a chance to take in all the smells.  Before I set out, I always make sure I have a few things not only in case of an emergency but also just to help keep my pet comfortable.

  • Vaccines: While all the vaccines we give your pet are important, be sure that your pet is up to date on both rabies and Leptospirosis if you are going to be in the woods. The rabies vaccine is the law but it is also a very dangerous and deadly disease.  If your dog gets into a scuffle with a wild animal while hiking or camping and he/she is not up to date on a rabies vaccination, he will have to be quarantined for up to 6 months!!  Not to mention the danger of him actually getting rabies.  If your pet is up to date, most likely he or she will just need a rabies booster.  Leptospirosis is a dangerous bacteria that lives in standing water and is shed in the urine of some wild animals.  While it is not the law for you to vaccinate your dog against this, the disease is often fatal and is contagious to people.
  • Water: I cannot stress this one enough.  Water, water, water.  If you plan on hiking even a few miles with your dog, especially during the summer, you MUST bring water for her.  Dogs do not dissipate heat very well because they do not sweat.  Therefore it is very important that they do not overheat and that they stay hydrated.  I take a backpack and put a few extra water bottles in it with a bowl for my dog.  In the summer, I use one of the water bottles just to soak her down in the middle of the walk.  Keep in mind that before dogs are really full grown (8 months to a year for most breeds), excessively long walks or strenuous exercise is hard on their joints.  It is best to wait until your dog’s skeleton is mature to go on long hikes.
  • Preventatives: As a veterinarian, I feel like I cannot remind my clients enough…heartworms come from mosquitoes!!!! All dogs need to be on heartworm prevention but if you are out in the woods with your dog, he is at greater risk of exposure to mosquitoes.  Make sure your dog is getting his monthly heartworm prevention.  Flea and tick prevention is also extremely important.  Dogs have a lot of fur and if they get ticks, you may not realize right away.  Most tick diseases are not transmitted immediately and transmission depends on how long the tick is attached.   Ticks transmit a wide variety of silent and difficult to diagnose diseases to dogs that can make your dog very sick for a long time.  Ask your veterinarian about proper preventatives and which are right for you pet before embarking on outdoor adventures.  HA, em”bark”, get it?!
  • First Aid: On long trips, some of the following items might be useful as a doggie first aid kit.   Benadryl tablets can help with allergic reactions from bites and stings.  Ask your vet about a proper dose.  Water can and should be used to flush cuts and scrapes or bring peroxide if you are camping.  Bandage material consisting of gauze underneath a self-adherent wrap (can be purchased at drug stores) is a convenient way to cover lacerations in dogs since band aids generally do not stick.  If you are really going on a long trip, doggie hiking booties (which can be found at most large pet stores, online, and even some outdoor recreational stores) will help protect your dog’s paw pads from getting worn off and raw.  Dog sunscreen (zinc oxide) is important for many light colored breeds with pink skin on the ear tips a and bridge of the nose.  These also can be purchased at most pet stores.  Even dogs can get sun induced cancers.  On the opposite spectrum, small breeds and thin coated breeds will benefit from clothing (yay, a legitimate excuse to dress our pets!) in the cold and snow.
  • Leashes: One of the fun things about taking your dog out to run on the trails is letting them off leash. However, no matter how well trained your dog is, they can still get spooked and they still have instinct.  Unless you are certain about your surroundings, leashes are advised while on trails.  This helps deter your dog from running after a scent, getting lost, being spooked by another dog or hiker on the trail, and pulling them out of the way for bikes and other hazards which may be sharing the same path.  It is one of the best ways to keep your dog safe when hiking.

The moral of the story is that these journeys will be more fun if everyone stays safe!!!  That being said, enjoy the adventures.