Trail Safety Q&A: Dog Injury Prevention and Treatment

September 16, 2014

The Fall is the perfect time to get out and explore the local trails: the leaves are changing, the temperatures are cooler, and traffic on the trails is reduced.

But before heading out, remember that no matter what the time of year, injuries and hazards are lurking.

Because dogs lack common sense about these sorts of hazards (they are more curious about the rattling snake than they are scared of it!) it's important to know the most common types of trail injuries and how to treat and prevent them. 

Here are five common questions about dog injury prevention and treatment on the trail.

Can dogs overexert themselves? 

Yes!  Just like humans, dogs can certainly overexert themselves. This is especially true when the weather is hot, but overexertion can happen even when it's snowing outside! Because dogs don't sweat, they rely on their ability to "pant" as a way to cool down their systems. Evaporation from their panting mouths acts as a air condition for dogs, so it is incredible important to keep them hydrated and tend to the first signs of overexertion. 

How do I know if my dog is tired?

There are signs for overexertion and/or heat stroke:

1. Extreme panting
2. Body temperature over 104
3. Dark or bright red gums and tongue
4. Clumsy stupor
5. Diarrhea or vomiting
6. Seizures
7. Change in behavior

What are some basic injury prevention techniques?

1. Keep them on the trail. Just like humans, dogs can encounter potential hazards off-trail such as wildlife, rattlesnakes, burs, and uneven terrain.

2. Know their limits. Also like humans, dogs need to progressively work on endurance before tackling a major hike. Slowly work your dog's fitness and endurance up before pushing them on an extended adventure.

3. Be prepared. It's always a good idea to bring a few emergency items with you just in case such as water, a collapsible dog bowl, a leash, bandages, and an emergency guide.

What are the most common types of dog injuries?

There are a variety of injuries fairly common to dogs while hiking, backpacking, and trail running. Some of those injuries are due to the physical demand on the dog: ligament strains or tears, bruising, or exhaustion. Other common (and mostly preventable) injuries include lacerations, abrasions, worn paws, paw injuries, and torn nails.  The final type of trail injuries are those produced by outside hazards: snake bites, ticks, mosquitoes, and other wildlife encounters. Having your dog on voice command can help keep them on the trail and out of harm's way.

What do I do if my dog is injured on the trail?

Since there are so many different types of injuries and treatments, we recommend bringing along a pocket emergency guide for pets when on an outing with your pet. Other options include useful pet first aid apps for your phone like this one from the American Red Cross

Remember, part of your adventure is preparedness to keep you and your dog out of harm's way. By understanding the basics of injury prevention and first aid, you can ensure a much more worry-free adventure!

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