Many dog owners begin taking their pet hiking or running with them as warmer days arrive, but area veterinarians warn that could be dangerous unless precautions are taken.
Overheating, dehydration and cut or chafed paws are common afflictions, doctors of veterinary medicine Audrey White of Alder Creek Veterinary Clinic and John Williams of Battle Ground Animal Hospital told The Reflector.
“Think about the dog as if it were a child you have with you,” Williams said. “While I might walk five miles in a straight line, the dog could be zig-zagging 15 miles. Be cautious about heat, take water and even food if it’s an extended hike.”
Over-exertion, especially if an animal hasn’t had much exercise all winter, can easily occur, White said. Owners especially need to be conservative while bicycling with their dog on a leash.
“I see a person wearing really light clothing and shorts, and I’ll see them with a dog trailing behind them and the tongue is lolling out because they’re wearing this big fur coat,” White said. “There are times when a human’s fitness level is greater than the dog’s. Then maybe you do a short loop. A lot of times we need to think about what we’re doing and what is the physical conditing of the animal.’’
She added that running on asphalt can be bad, too.
“I want to tell these people ‘take your shoes and socks off and walk on this for five or 10 minutes,’” White said. “I have seen paw burns and abrasions. Think about how your dog is doing if you’re jogging with it. Is it keeping up with you or is it lagging behind? If it’s on a leash, they’re going to try to stay up with you.”
Williams has treated damaged paws as well.
“Dogs don’t have tough pads after winter,” he said. “We’ll get a lot of dogs with pad sloughing. It can be painful and take a lot of time to heal. Start small and let those pads build up, as if they were a person hiking barefoot. Another option that helps is paw covers, little booties.”
Both veterinarians emphasize being aware of ticks while hiking, especially the farther east a person goes in the Columbia River Gorge. Williams said products such as Advantix and Frontline Plus are effective. Rattle snakes can be an issue in the dry eastern slopes of the Cascades, and the Cherry Orchard Trail on the Washington side of the Gorge in Lyle is notorious for rattlers and ticks. Williams said snake venom vaccine is available, but if a dog isn’t going to venture out of the wetter side of the Cascades it probably isn’t needed.
White and Williams caution that salmon poisoning can occur if dogs get into water and eat a contaminated minnow or lick rocks with salmon residue. If that happens, gastro-intestinal symptoms will appear within seven to 10 days and a veterinarian should be consulted.
White suggested that dogs, especially those that are older, get a health check prior to summer season activity. That will detect any problems the animal might have with hips or other things. And it’s critical to make sure all vaccinations – particularly for rabies – are up to date, she said.
Williams encourages hikers to carry a first aid kit for their dog, just as they do for themselves. That will help if the dog cuts a pad and it’s bleeding or the animal gets cut going through a barbed wire fence, he said.
Whether to leash a dog while hiking depends on terrain, the number of people using the trail, and whether other animals such as horses might be encountered. Many U.S. Forest Service trails and those in the Gorge require dogs to be leashed at all times.
White said dog owners should be realistic about how well socialized their pet is with humans and other dogs.
“A lot of people want to let their dog off leash, but we have to remember we’re sharing the trail with other people, including horseback riders,” she said. “And how many times have I seen dogs with porcupine quills? Sometimes it’s not so much fun chasing that bunny if they come back with a quill face.”
There’s also the need to clean up after your dog, which is simply a courtesy to other trail users. Carry plastic bags and don’t be afraid to use them. Nothing gives dog owners a worse reputation that leaving unwanted “gifts” where other people walk or jog.
White says there are considerations even before dogs and their owners reach the trailhead, however. She said owners should consider how hot it is, whether there will be stops to get gasoline, and how long the drive will be.
“Nothing is greater than going out on an adventure with our dogs,” she said. “Think about overheating of dogs in the car. It happens quickly. They’re wearing a heavy coat with a scarf around their neck and a wool hat on their head. Sometimes we don’t realize that 10 minutes can make a big difference in how a dog feels.”