There are a wide range of possible problems that can occur on a hike with a dog. If you sense your dog is loving the outdoors and showing fitness for longer walks, go for it, but be aware of how to handle common problems that might arise.
Here are a few common issues to check based on my experience, but this is not a complete list – for that I suggest you do a bit of your own research, and talk to your vet who would know the common problems you might encounter with your dog in your area.
During a Hike
There are a few obvious things for you to do when on a hike with your dog. It starts with knowing your dog’s normal behavior and being aware of any behavior changes. Whether it is constant licking of an area, a limp, or signs of tiredness – pay attention to the clues. If any of these symptoms come up, check your dog for some of the following issues. If your dog is still uncomfortable or behaving strangely, it’s usually safest to cut the hike short and return home.
A limp or seeing your dog bite at its paw pad might indicate it has picked up a burr in its paw. Run your finger between the pads and see if you can feel something other than the expected fur. If there is something, remove it and see if that solves the problem.
If you are in an area where there are Foxtails (see photo) while nearby, keep your dog on a leash and away from them. Keep an eye out for these little grass seeds so you can remove them before they wreak their havoc. Various wild grasses have small seeds that are sharply barbed on one end and fan out like a shuttlecock on the other. They behave like fishhooks, penetrating in one direction. They may seem like nothing much, but they can burrow their way into feet, noses, eyes, ears, and even genitals (ouch!) after a dog walks near the offending grass. Some are easy to remove with your fingers or tweezers. If you see any foxtails on your dog’s coat, remove them quickly before they have a chance to puncture the skin or migrate into places that can cause medical problems. If your dog starts squinting suddenly, having forceful repetitive sneezing, or shaking/scratching repeatedly at his or her ears, look in these places and see if you can easily pull out any visible foxtails… gently! If you can’t solve the problem, the vet is the next order of business.
This includes high air temperature and/or hot or difficult surfaces under-foot. Remember, your dog is closer to the ground than you and will be more impacted by heat reflection off the surfaces on which you are walking. Hot walking surfaces can burn a dog’s paws; a good rule of thumb is to hold your hand on the surface for 7-10 seconds. If this is too hot for you, it is too hot for your dog. If you judge it is too hot, abort the hike. If this is a frequent occurrence in your area, it could be worthwhile to acclimate your dog to wearing dog boots. This will take some effort but is worth it to protect their paws.
Upon Return from a Hike
At a minimum, I always check for two things on my dog upon return from a hike.
Especially hidden in the paws, but I run my fingers all through the fur on top, under belly, and all around the neck and legs. You may need a comb or brush to remove them. If they become matted, you’ll have to cut the hair with a blunt-nose scissors.
While inspecting the fur, keep an eye out for ticks. They can be hard to spot, and they like to hide. A tick check needs to be more thorough than a burr check. Some areas to look are between the toes, inside the ears, under the tail, around the eyes, and under the collar.
If you spot a tick, the best way I have found to remove it is to first part the hair around the tick with your fingers to make it accessible. Use tweezers to surround the tick as close to the skin as possible. Close the tweezers slightly underneath the tick and gently pull upwards. With constant pressure the tick will usually let go and you’ve got it!
If you didn’t get it all and a part of the tick remains, everything I have read says not to try to dig it out; it will come out on its own since it is no longer a live tick. You might consider applying some common antibiotic ointment. If the tick is in a tough place like an eye lid, you may want to take the dog to the vet to deal with it.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. These are the things I check during and after a hike, but you may have a different list based upon issues you face in your local environs. If your dog is up for hiking, don’t let these concerns stop you. By learning how to prepare for these common concerns, you can enjoy the fun of having your best friend and entertaining companion along with you.