First Aid on the Trail: 3 Common Dog Injuries You Need to Know

First Aid on the Trail: 3 Common Dog Injuries You Need to Know

The weather around Durango, Colorado has been steadily warming and my two dogs are fully aware that we are springing into summer. Every day, they sit eagerly by the door to my house, waiting none-too-patiently for their nice long romp outside. With warm weather’s arrival, this also means that I will soon be seeing an uptick in the number of trail-related injuries at my veterinary clinic. Let me share with you three common injuries that I see almost daily this time of year…ones that you might not have heard of!


foxtailThese little grass seeds (or “awns”) can wreak a lot of havoc on dogs. Many species of both cultivated and wild grasses in the United States have small seeds that are sharply barbed on one end and fan out like a badminton shuttlecock on the other. They behave like fishhooks, penetrating in one direction, the barb preventing the seed from working its way back out. These little seeds may seem like a mere annoyance but they can burrow their way into feet, noses, eyes, ears, and even genitals (ouch!) after a dog walks near the offending grass. Some are easy to remove with your fingers or tweezers. Foxtails in ears may require special forceps to reach. If in the eye, they can painfully scratch the cornea and cause infections. If you see any foxtails on your dog’s coat, remove them quickly before they have a chance to puncture the skin or migrate into places that can cause medical problems. If your dog starts squinting suddenly, having forceful repetitive sneezing, or shaking/scratching repeatedly at his or her ears, take a peek in these places and see if you can easily pull out any visible foxtails…gently! If you really have to tug, leave it for your veterinarian. For more information about these nuisances, visit

Avulsed Toenails

You wouldn’t think that trauma to a toenail would warrant a spot in this article, but let me assure you that these injuries are nothing to dismiss as a minor problem. Our human fingernails and toenails grow out of soft nailbeds under the cuticle. In dogs and cats, the claw grows out of the last bone in the toe. Overgrown nails or blunt injury to a toenail can cause the nail itself to lift up (or avulse) off of the surface of the toe. Painful, yes, and if left untreated, an infection can set up in the soft tissues around the nail and move upwards into the bone. This can lead to serious long-term complications.


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Prevent this problem by keeping your dog’s nails trimmed short. If you notice bleeding from the toenail area or see a deep fissure or crack in the nail, wash the area, apply antibiotic ointment, and keep the area covered. I recommend seeing your veterinarian after you get home to see if oral antibiotics are also warranted.

Bite Wounds

Bite wounds not from wild animals, but rather other dogs, are what I see most often. Keep in mind that I absolutely love hiking with my dogs off-leash; it is one of their favorite activities on the entire planet! However, if I am hiking on a popular trail that I know will be crowded with other dogs, I will keep my pups leashed for their own protection. Your dog — like mine — might not have an aggressive bone in his or her body. But know that on the trail, if he approaches another dog who isn’t quite as friendly, your peaceful pooch might get the brunt of the other dog’s aggressive tendencies. At the very least have a leash with you on your hike that you can slip on if you need to. Also, to safely enjoy those leash-free romps, make sure to work on your pet’s recall. Check out “7 Steps to a Consistent Recall” for some training tips. Being able to pull your dog aside and having control over the encounter is critical to keeping things stress-free…the way you want your hike to be!

If your dog is in an unfortunate altercation, be aware that bite wounds are often worse than they first appear to be. Bites from sharp teeth can inject bacteria deep into the wound, while bites from larger, stronger jaws can cause deep tissue damage. If you are able to gently wash the wounds with water when on the trail, do so. Make sure to keep the area very clean, and cover any skin that is bleeding or lacerated with a bandage to keep out any dirt and debris. Reevaluate the area when you get home. If the wound is painful or drainage develops, see your veterinarian.

Potential injuries aside, the benefits to enjoying the outdoors with your dog greatly outweigh the risks! Get out there and seize the sunshine!

Disclaimer: This information is educational in nature and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical prevention, diagnosis, or treatment.

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About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Deming, DVM

Jennifer Deming, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian at AspenTree Animal Caring Center in Durango and member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She strives to improve her patients' wellness through nutrition counseling and preventative medicine. When she’s not at the clinic, Dr. Jen enjoys trail running, gourmet cooking, hiking, and enjoying all things Durango with her family—including cats Fujita and Toonces, and dog Leia.
Dr. Jennifer Deming, DVM