Summer Fun Safety Guide, Part One: Staying Safe on the Trails

Summer has arrived and with it comes a plethora of outdoor activities to enjoy with your furry companions. I would like to offer—from a veterinarian’s perspective—a few ideas to help keep your dog happy and healthy this summer.

Lions, Tigers, Bears…and Porcupines, Oh My!

Slow moving and almost irresistible to curious canines, porcupines can bring an abrupt end to your hike or backpacking expedition. Seldom does a dog in a porcupine encounter end up with fewer than a dozen quills embedded in his or her face, nose, mouth, and throat. The quills have barbed ends, which means that they are difficult (and painful!) to remove. A quilled dog needs to be taken to the vet for sedation, quill removal, and antibiotics.

Other animals such as deer, skunks, and snakes may also be potential threats to your pup:

  • Protective maternal does defending their fawns and breeding bucks can be aggressive. Kicks and antler-related wounds tend to be critical injuries.
  • Skunks are a nuisance from their odor alone, but a dose of spray at close distance can cause eye and lung irritation and potentially anemia from a toxic reaction to the compounds in the spray.
  • Rattlesnake bites are very painful and can be deadly when on a dog’s face or neck. Ask your veterinarian about the appropriateness of a rattlesnake vaccine for your dog. These can help reduce the severity of a bite from several species of rattlers.

Most states’ Divisions of Wildlife have rules against unleashed dogs chasing wildlife, and if your dog is caught doing so, you can be fined. This is where good vocal control—the recall—of your dog is very important.

Work on the Recall

While on the trail, and especially if off-leash, dogs can get easily distracted by all of the wondrous smells and sounds that are waiting to be discovered. They can also get into trouble! It is crucial to be able to call your dog back from other hikers or even the edge of a steep drop! Good trail manners are important for both etiquette and safety reasons. I recommend reading my Zuke’s cohort Amber Pickren’s “Seven Steps to a Consistent Recall” to improve your on-trail communication.

Treat the Feet

Pups that spend most of their time on soft surfaces like grass and carpet have very delicate pads on their feet. They need time to get adjusted to rougher surfaces by starting with short hikes on softer soil and gradually working up to longer stretches on gravel and rock trails. Also, be aware that pavement and rocks get hot enough to burn! If it is too hot to stand on with your own bare feet, then it is too hot for your dog’s paws as well.

Hot Dogs

For full details on heat exhaustion, please read “Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Dogs." Fur coats and no ability to sweat create a troublesome combo for dogs on the move in the summer. Pack—or plan to be near—plenty of water. And remember those feet! Dogs can lose excess heat through their footpads, so allow them to wade or swim in water you encounter on your hike.

Ready, Set, Go!

Most dogs hit the trail at full speed! Older dogs can forget that they’re not puppies anymore. Young dogs can misjudge a leap off of a boulder or over a creek. Uneven or slippery surfaces in combination with canine exuberance can lead to muscle sprains, ligament or tendon injuries, and even broken bones. Hopefully nothing this traumatic will ever happen to your dog, but just in case, bring a first-aid kit for both yourself and your dog on every excursion. Duct tape, bandaging supplies, and antiseptic solution are a good start. You can read, “It’s an Emergency!” for a more comprehensive list of first-aid items for your dog.

My two dogs are at their absolute happiest when they are hiking with my family and me. Go out and embrace the summer months with your dogs, too!

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

Dr. JenJennifer Deming, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She strives to improve her patients' wellness through nutrition counseling and preventative medicine. Dr. Deming lives, works, and plays in the beautiful community of Durango, Colorado.