COLORADO, USA — One of the best parts of summer are those quintessential excursions along rocky forest paths that only the Colorado mountains can offer.
And it's even better with a fur baby to accompany you.
But just because they're overly eager to hit the trail doesn't mean you should forget that they, like you, need adequate preparation to ensure their safety.
To help ensure yours doesn't go through the same thing, we caught up with an expert — Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for Nationwide Insurance — to see how to keep dogs safe.
McConnell offers the following nine tips to keep dogs wagging and happy on each and every hike:
1) Know your dog.
Make sure your dog is capable of the physical exertion involved in a hike. This will vary based on your pet’s age, weight, breed, health history and the trail you’re planning on hiking. Also keep the seasonal temperature in mind: dogs can overheat if exerting a lot of energy outdoors on hot days.
Brachycephalic dog breeds with short snouts, like bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese and Boston terriers, will have a difficult time regulating their breath in warmer climates, and are probably better off staying home.
2) Make sure vaccinations are current.
Leptospirosis is a flu-like disease that affects people and pets, particularly dogs, and is found in contaminated soil and stagnant water. While the leptospirosis vaccine is not effective against all strains it can possibly help if your dog is exposed. If you and your veterinarian decide to opt for the vaccine, it should be given at least two weeks prior to your scheduled hike. Flea and tick meds should be current, and consider adding a tick collar from your veterinarian for added protection.
3) Condition your pet.
Don’t let your dog fall victim to weekend warrior syndrome. Take some shorter hikes and long walks in your neighborhood to prepare you both, and possibly to work on some leash manners. Having your dog pull you down the trail is no fun!
4) Pack for your pet.
Your dog should have a collar with an ID/license (and a microchip ID is an even better idea!) with current information. If you want more of a guarantee of locating a wandering pet off trail, consider getting a GPS beacon for your dog. These collars have a larger range of distance using satellite signals. Leashes need to be short, and not reel-type: There are times when you need good control of your dog on the trail. You’ll also need a lightweight first aid kit (include a tick-removal tool and gloves), portable/collapsible bowls, and food and water.
5) Put a pack on your pet.
Larger dogs can easily carry their own supplies as long as the total weight doesn’t exceed 10-20 percent of body weight. Make sure any pack you purchase fits comfortably, and that your dog is used to wearing it before you hit the trail. (Check for rubbing.) When packing food and water, remember that your dog will need more than usual because he’s working harder and burning more calories.)
6) Know where to go.
Make sure the trails you’d like to be on allow canine companions. Just because it’s “wilderness” doesn’t mean your dog will be welcome. Dogs are not allowed – or must be kept on leash – in areas where wildlife is at risk of dog attacks, or where the dogs themselves will attract the attention of predators. Check guidebooks and websites when planning to know where and when dogs are welcome, and stick to those areas.
7) Don’t let your pet drink the water – or swim where algae blooms.
Bring water for your dog, or carry an appropriate water-treatment kit. Streams and ponds may look inviting, but untreated water can infect your dog with microscopic parasites that can be difficult to eradicate. In warmer times, algae blooms mean deadly toxins that can kill your pet, so no swimming in questionable area. The caveat here: If your dog is overheating – glassy eyes, rapid panting – immersion in a cool body of water can be life-saving.
8) Weather protection (it's a thing).
While your dog doesn’t really need a raincoat, you might prefer not sleeping in a tent with a wet, smelly dog. Lightweight jackets can help prevent that, and for tender footed dogs, boots such as those worn by sled dogs aren’t a bad idea. For dogs with thin or white coats, sunscreen is a must. Apply to noses, ear tips and any exposed areas. While there are canine-specific sunscreens, this is one area where you can share a good-quality water-proof human sunscreen. As for bandanas, they are more for fashion; however, soaked in water, they can help keep a dog cool.
9) Follow the rules, and be considerate.
Dog-owners are not guaranteed the right to trails, and can lose the privileges if enough dogs become nuisances or dangers. Make sure you leash where you are supposed to, don’t allow your dog to pester wildlife or other hikers. Be especially careful around horses: They may look large but may spook easily. Always leash, and give riders wide berth to prevent conflict.
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