Hiking can be a wonderful way to keep yourself and your dog fit, but knowing the basics of dog first aid and how to treat common injuries is essential to keeping your pet safe on the trails. Our Lacey vets share symptoms to watch for, and advice on how to respond, including when to take your pet in for emergency veterinary care.
Common Injuries for Dogs When Hiking
When you're preparing to head out on the trails for a hike or another outdoor adventure, your and your dog's safety should be top priority. Our vets at Olympia Pet Emergency always advise our clients to pack a first aid kit for any canine-specific medical needs that might come up. While some of those needs might overlap with yours, dog first aid for hiking differs from human requirements in a few key ways, since pups have unique anatomy (eg foot pads) that requires different care. They are also unable to take many human pain medications.
In this post, we'll cover common risks dogs encounter in the woods, which signs to watch for with various scenarios, and how to help them until you can bring them in to our Lacey animal clinic for emergency treatment, if necessary.
Foot Pad Injuries
While dogs' paw pads are usually tough and dogs who walk regularly are less prone to foot pad injuries, they are essentially hiking "barefoot", so their paw pads are vulnerable to scratches, bruises, and abrasions from sharp rocks, thorns, grass awns, and more.
How to Treat Food Pad Injuries
While treatment options depend on the type of injury your dog has endured, be sure to thoroughly examine the paw pad for foreign bodies that may be hiding in the fur between their pads. You may just need to remove the foreign object that's irritating the paw pad. If there is an actual wound, use clean water to flush it before cleaning and drying it with a gauze pad or other bandage material.
Applying a bit of petroleum jelly to your dog's paw pad before wrapping it in a bandage and special vet tape wrap can also add extra padding and help protect any wounds from dirt.
To prevent these types of injuries, you might choose to use hiking booties to cover your dog's feet, or carry them in your dog's first aid kit in case you hit some unanticipated rough terrain.
It's important to know which dangers you might encounter on your travels, including venomous snakes that are common in the area you'll be hiking with your dog. If a snake does bite your dog, it will help if you know whether the snake is venomous or not. If you can do so without putting yourself in danger, take a photo of the offending snake to show your veterinarian, as this can help him or her know how to most effectively treat your dog.
Where snakes are concerned, dogs are frequently bitten on the muzzle and lower legs.
Symptoms of Snake Bites
Symptoms of snake bites can include:
- Pain and/or swelling in the area of the bite
- Bleeding (depending on the type of snake that's bitten your dog)
- Small puncture wounds at the site of the bite (generally two but sometimes more or less than that)
How to Treat Snake Bites
- Speak with your primary vet before you go hiking, as they may recommend a fast-acting medication or prescribe an anti-inflammatory aid to use in case your dog is bitten. Do not attempt to enlarge the bite site, suck out the venom, or apply a tourniquet if your dog's leg was bitten.
- Early intervention is key with bites from venomous snakes, so get out of the woods immediately if this occurs, while keeping your dog as calm as possible. If they are a small-sized dog you can carry out, this is best as it will keep their heart rate down and may prevent toxins from circulating as much.
- Even bites from non-venomous snakes need veterinary attention soon after they occur, as your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics to prevent bacterial infection that may have entered your pet's body from the snake's mouth. In the event of a snake bite, get your pet to our Lacey vet clinic as soon as possible.
Ticks are becoming more of an issue across many states and geographical areas years after year. Prevention in the form of a tick preventive from your veterinarian is one of your best allies here, as tick-borne diseases can affect your dog's health for the rest of their lives.
Unless you're on a long-distance trail, your dog will most likely not show any signs of a tick bite while you're still in the woods, and even the most watchful pet parent may not have any clue that a tick has landed, since many species of ticks are difficult to see. Add in sunlight, the outdoor elements and a thick-coated dog, and the likelihood of you spotting the tick is even lower.
If you do find a tick attached to your dog, there are some actions you can take as soon as possible.
Symptoms of Ticks
If your dog shows any of these symptoms within about a week of your hike, and you're aware that a tick was attached at one time, get them to your veterinarian as tick-borne disease may be setting in:
- Nose bleed
- Head tilting
- Problems walking
Some species of female ticks release a neurotoxin in their saliva that can cause dogs to become paralyzed. This paralysis doesn't typically occur until about a week after a tick lands. If you do notice these symptoms and have recently been on a hike, take your dog to your vet as soon as possible so they can thoroughly screen your pet for ticks.
How to Treat Ticks
You'll want to screen both yourself and your dog for ticks once you finish your hike. If you do find ticks, protect your fingers with a bandanna or cloth, or use a pair of tweezers to grab the tick near its head, so you can make sure to remove the entire tick. Fortunately, prognosis for a dog's full recovery from symptoms of tick bites is good as long as the tick is removed and care is provided.
Heat Exhaustion or Stroke
Because a dog's body temperature is naturally higher than ours, they wear a fur coat year-round and are unable to sweat, the risk for heat exhaustion and stroke is higher in warm temperatures. Some breeds are more vulnerable to heat-related issues, especially English bulldogs, Pugs, Pekinese and other flat-faced breeds. If you have one of these, taking a short walk around your block may be a safer form of exercise for them than a nature hike. You might also decide to invest in a cooling vest, which can help bring down your dog's body temperature in the heat.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion or Stroke
- Listnesses, fatigue or hesitance to keep hiking
- Excessive panting or salivation
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of coordination
- Glazed eyes
- Vomiting, collapse or loss of consciousness
Heatstroke is a much more serious health issue than heat exhaustion, and usually involves diarrhea/vomiting, stumbling, lack of coordination, collapse, seizures and/or loss of consciousness. Prevention is important again here, in terms of watching your dog carefully while hiking or outdoors and addressing any symptoms of heat exhaustion early.
How to Treat Heat Exhaustion or Stroke
- If possible, stop hiking and find shade, or create natural shade by shielding your pet with your body or using a blanket from your dog's first aid kit.
- Use water to cool your dog down, applying it near the neck and abdomen. However, do not submerge him or her in cold water or use ice water if you think he or she may be suffering from heat stroke. You'll want to cool them down efficiently but not too quickly, which may cause more problems.
- Fan your dog to circulate air after applying water to the body
- Apply alcohol wipes to the foot pads
- Get out of the hiking area. If you're able to carry your dog, this is ideal, especially if their body is still overheated.
First Aid Kits for Dogs
Before setting out on a hiking adventure, make sure you've got a dog's first aid kit stocked with essentials you might need to care for your pup until you can get them to a vet. These items may include:
- Gauze pads
- Alcohol wipes
- Vet-prescribed anti-inflammatory medication, or other medications your pet may need
- Veterinary medical tape to apply to a gauze and in case of a small wound or cut
- Antibacterial pain relieving ointment for minor scrapes, cuts, bites, and more
- Small bandanna or cloth to create shade, make a tourniquet, or wet or cool down your dog
- Blanket to put over or under your dog in case they need rest or are injured
You can also purchase a pre-made dog first aid kit at a number of pet stores, which will come with a bunch of necessary supplies that you can easily toss in with your own items.
Emergency Treatment for Dogs at Olympia Pet Emergency
Whether you're planning to head out on a long-distance hike or are taking your four-legged best friend out for a one-hour nature escape, prevention and preparation are key to keeping yourself and your dog safe, as injuries or illnesses can happen to pets with even the most doting owners.
Part of that preparation includes having contact information for your closest 24-hour emergency vet, where you can bring your pet for exceptional care should illness or injury occur.
At our Lacey emergency veterinary hospital, our dedicated veterinarians are here to provide state-of-the-art emergency care for your pet. We have a full surgical suite, if required, along with exam, triage, and comfort rooms. We are equipped to provide comprehensive diagnostics, oxygen delivery systems, comfortable kennels, and other amenities for exceptional care.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.