ActivPhy Top Tips to Prevent Hiking Health Hazards

ActivPhy Top Tips to Prevent Hiking Health Hazards

By Dr. Patrick Mahaney

I’m a big fan of hiking, both for myself, my dog, and my canine patients. Provided it is done in a safe and responsible manner, hiking great exercise and behavioral stimulation for human and canine outdoor enthusiasts.

In the greater Los Angeles area there are many accessible canon hikes.  One can quickly be greeted by vast city or valley views some of which stretch all the way to the ocean and beyond. It’s a great pick me up when one’s personal or professional life is challenging; I call it my natural antidepressant.  Living in West Hollywood, I find myself frequently hitting the trail either solo or with my dog Cardiff (depending on Cardiff’s health in relation to his cancer treatment).

Although there are many benefits that go with hiking with your dog, there also are some safety concerns that always must be prioritized to in sure illness or injury does not occur.

Proper restraint

Pending on the rules of the location you plan to take your dog for a hike, your dog may be able to be off leash. Yet, just because he is allowed to be off leash doesn’t mean doing so is safe or appropriate.

In Southern California and other arid areas, hidden dangers like rattlesnakes potentially lurk behind a random bush.  If you dog was romping around off-trail while also being off-leash, he could encounter such a creature and have a life-altering interaction.  Rattlesnake vaccination can reduce the severe inflammatory response associated with a rattlesnake bite.

I recommend the rattlesnake vaccination for my healthy canine patients that hike.  Aversion training can make your dog less reactive to and more prone to avoiding  rattlesnakes.  But, it’s best that your dog doesn’t even have the opportunity to to encounter such a deadly creature during his exercise hike.

Keeping your dog on a leash permits more control over his actions and interactions with other dogs and wildlife.  Avoid using an extendable lead, which doesn’t permit the same degree of control as a six-food-or-less, non-extending leash (“flat lead”) that restricts your dog’s movement only in a limited area dictated by you.

Frequently hydrate to prevent dehydration

Water is a crucial nutrient to maintain normal cellular function as it makes up 70-80% of a dog or cat’s body mass.  A loss of only 10% of the total body fluids can cause serious illness, so it’s crucial that owners frequently promote hydration on hikes.

You may not feel particularly thirsty, but that doesn’t mean your dog couldn’t be in need of water.  Having your dog eats a moist diet also helps satisfy some of his hydration needs.  After all, if he is eating his water there is less of a need to seek water from a potentially unclean source.

During your hikes, take a break every 10 to 15 minutes to offer an appropriate volume of water.  Provide fresh water that you’d be willing to drink instead having him drink from stagnant sources, like puddles, public water dishes, slow-moving streams, etc.) potentially harboring pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria, parasites, virus, etc.) or toxic chemicals (fertilizer, pesticides, etc.) that could harm your dog’s internal organs.

Avoid giving very cold or ice water as the chilly temperatures can constriction of blood vessels or muscles lining stomach or intestinal tissues and inhibit the absorption of water and normal digestive tract function.

Seek shade and rest to prevent hyperthermia

Just like with hydration, your pet’s internal body temperature needs consideration during your hikes.

A dog’s normal body temperature is 100-102.5F.  Hyperthermia is a temperature elevation above the normal range.  Prolonged or severe hyperthermia can lead to lethargy, vomit, diarrhea, multi-system organ failure, prolonged blood clotting times, seizures, coma, and death.

Even if your pooch is athletic, don’t rigorously exercise in hot or humid environments.  Dawn, dusk, and evening hours typically have the coolest temperatures and provide the safer times for activity.

Provide rest, shade, and hydration at least every 15 minutes during exercise to ward off hyperthermia and dehydration.  If your pooch refuses to run or walk, never force him to continue and schedule an examination with your veterinarian to explore for underlying health problems.

Brachycephalic (short faced, like the English Bulldog and Pug), geriatric, juvenile (puppies), overweight or obese, and sick dogs have an increased difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature during warm seasons and should not be made to perform on a hike like their healthier and younger counterparts.

Hopefully, by taking appropriate steps to prevent injury, dehydration, and hyperthermia you and your dog will have a safe and fun hiking experience.

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