Going for a hike with your dog can be extremely rewarding, but before you head out with your furry friend, ask yourself: What dangers might be lurking in the grass? Would you be able to carry your dog if you needed to? Could you clean an injury? It’s important to know what dangers can occur, even if some are unlikely. Having a plan for those unexpected events can be a lifesaver for you and your pet, so we’ve put together a list to help you plan your hikes so you can continue to do so problem-free for years to come. And in addition to the hazards below, always remember to have a collar, leash, and ID tags on your dog before you go anywhere, and keep all of your pets up to date on their shots.
Cold weather: Your pet may have thick fur, but if it’s getting chilly for you then it’s probably getting uncomfortable for him, too. It’s especially important to not allow them to get wet for any prolonged period of time in cooler temperatures. Take special care to keep an eye on your dogs pads to check for sores, make sure salts on sidewalks and stairs haven’t built up, and always steer clear of the ice (for your sake and theirs).
Warm weather: On the other end of the spectrum, on those hot days its best to limit your dog’s time spent outdoors and try not to over-exercise them. Their bodies do not contain the amount of sweat glands we humans are lucky enough to have. As always, keeping an eye on your pup’s pads is crucial. We all know how hot blacktops and sand can get on a hot summer day. And always, always, always make sure they have access to plenty of cool, clean water.
Herbicide run-offs, bacteria, parasites. You don’t know what’s in the water and neither does your pet, so before you walk to the water’s edge for a drink, you may want to reconsider. The water may look crystal clear and enticing, but an animal may have died fifty yards upstream and you would never know it. There are multiple filtration systems like the LifeStraw and methods of carrying fresh clean water, so why take a gamble?
Plants & Vegetation
No matter where you live, you’re probably not far from some kind of plant that can cause serious discomfort or even death. By the beaches, it’s sand spurs. In the woods, hosts of poison ivy, sumac, thistles, stinging nettles, water hemlock and other gnarly plants grow wild. In the desserts, it’s the sharp spines of the cactus. Even some of the most beautiful of flowers can be deadly, such as chrysanthemums and oleander. Most flowers are only dangerous by ingestion, and if you don’t know better to not eat flowers you can’t identify, you probably shouldn’t be hiking. Little things like sand spurs can get caught in your pet’s paws and cause pain or even carry threatening bacteria. The best thing to do is look up poison plant and drug information for your state and learn to recognize the plants native to your area.
Boulders & Falling Rocks
We are not talking about the perfectly round boulder that chases down Indiana Jones, but the real life boulders and rocks that maim and kill people. If you are unfamiliar with a rocky terrain, try to speak with someone who knows the trails and can warn or even guide you so you and your pet don’t step where you shouldn’t. Always make sure to have correct footwear to ensure good traction, and if hiking in gullies, always wear a helmet. If you are going to be hiking an area that is considered dangerous, it’s best to leave your pet at home.
Dogs: You may be a responsible pet owner, but that guy coming around the trail from the other direction may not be. If you are going into a trail where a lot of dog owners will be walking their dogs, it may be best to keep your pup on a short leash in case you do come across an aggressive dog whose owner is not as responsible as you.
Porcupines: Take it from me, I have personally witnessed the outcome of a dog that came face to face with a porcupine, and there isn’t much that’s quite as heartbreaking for an animal lover to see than a dog riddled with quills. It’s much better to have a dog with a little less free-run than risk them experiencing that agony.
Lions, moose and bears, oh my!? Ok, maybe that’s not the saying, but it is a more accurate list of dangerous animals in the U.S. Wild pigs, skunks, coyotes, and wolves are just a few of the other four-legged animals to be aware of. As with most travel, if you are unfamiliar with your territory, do a little research and find out what animals may be roaming the woods before you go out for that long hike.
Snakes: In North America, about 7 – 8,000 snake bites are reported each year. Only about 5 – 10 of those actually result in human fatalities, but the risk of death for dogs is much higher. Even though deaths by snakebites may be rare, you and your dog still do not want to run into a poisonous snake. Some bites can result in tissue damage, paralysis and permanent disfigurements. Try to stay in clear paths and out of the high grass. If your dog does get bitten, get to an emergency vet immediately.
Alligators: Although an unlikely encounter, alligator run-ins do happen, and although we may have a good fighting chance, our smaller companions may not. Know your surroundings, try to stay away from unfamiliar water banks, and NEVER entice or feed an alligator.
While snakes and alligators may be the most common of dangerous reptiles to watch out for, there do exist others that don’t receive the same amount of notoriety. Some species of frogs and lizards can be poisonous and snapping turtles have a powerful bite, so know your area and do your research before trekking.
Ticks: Small and sometimes hard to see or feel, they can be a real issue for those of us who like to be outside during the warmer months. Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia are just a few of the disease commonly spread by these little parasites. To deal with ticks look for environmentally healthy sprays and quick kill treatments for your pets, check yourself and your pets immediately after a hike, and as a bonus safety tip, upon arriving home throw your clothes into the dryer for 10 – 15 minutes to kill any that you may have missed.
Spiders: Recluse, widow, hobo, tarantulas and wolf spiders are the names to know when dealing in venemous spiders in the U.S. It’s important to understand that most spiders will reside in dark cool places, so while out on a hike or on the move, it’s highly unlikely you will come across any of these venomous spiders, but when cleaning out the garage in the south, proceed with caution. If bitten, seek medical or veterinary attention immediately.
The U.S. may not rank very high in dangerous insects as far as the world is concerned, but there are a few others to be cautious of, too: Fleas (of course,) wasps, bees, some ants and centipedes can all be dangerous, especially for those with allergies. Travel with your EpiPen, and watch out for these critters on your pets.
BE PREPARED WITH AN EMERGENCY KIT:
- Gauze and bandages for wrapping and covering wounds
- Peroxide, antiseptic spray, and antibiotic ointments for cleaning wounds
- Benadryl for dealing with stings and bites
- Tweezers and scissors
- Pet sunscreen
BOOKMARK THIS BEFORE YOU HIKE: VECCS Emergency Vet Hospital Directory