By Rebecca Smart, park ranger, Mission Trails Regional Park
When you hike or camp with your pet, take a few minutes ahead of time to make sure you’re both prepared—a little prep makes for a great experience. Follow these tips every time you and your furry friends hit the trails and you’ll be wilderness experts for sure!
Know before you go. Make sure pets are permitted on the trail or campsite you’re planning to visit. Hiking on designated trails is the best way to stay safe.
Gear up. You’ll need a sturdy 6-foot leash, reflective collar and current ID tag. Bring a collapsible water bowl and plenty of water for the both of you, and always bring bags to pick up after your dog.
No one wants to see poop on trails!
Dress for the weather. City dogs may not be used to changing weather conditions, so bring along appropriate “canine clothing” for the climate (snow, rain, wind, sun). If your furry friend is going on a boat or around water, then it’s a great idea to put a life jacket on her, too.
Bug off. Depending on where you’re going, you might want to apply topical tick repellant to your pet a few days in advance.
Carry an emergency first aid kit for you and your pet.
Protect those paws. Booties are a must-have for dogs who don’t get out much. Their paws are not used to rough terrain, and may become blistered, cut, or burned.
Bring a long cable to tether your dog near your campsite, but away from campfires or cooking areas. Make sure he can’t get tangled and has access to fresh water and shade. Never leave a pet tethered alone at a campsite.
Appreciate wildlife. If you see a wild animal, even a rattlesnake, let it do its thing without harassment—chances are it will ignore you. Give a wide berth to let wildlife pass, and continue on your way. Yet another reason to keep dogs leashed at all times—for their safety and yours!
Be mindful of your pet’s health, endurance and physical shape when planning outdoor adventures. If your pet is a couch potato or doesn’t get out much, it’s not a good idea to plan long or strenuous hikes. Dogs need to be in shape just like people.
Respect elders. Senior pets may not have the stamina to go the distance. Be realistic about your dog’s ability and desire to hike. Even young dogs who aren’t conditioned to long climbs and outdoor exercise are subject to injury and overheating.
Take frequent breaks while hiking with pets. Offer plenty of water, both to drink and to cool down, and check paw pads for stickers, blisters or bruising.
Watch the weather. No matter the season, it’s important to check weather and trail conditions before you head for the great outdoors—temperatures in San Diego County often range from 70 to over 100 degrees from March through December. Many open-space parks and mountain trails offer little to no shade; so if you’re hiking on a warm day it could be dangerous for you, and deadly for your pet.
Sadly, there have been many heatstroke deaths of dogs while hiking or playing outdoors. Even in perceived “cooler” temperatures, dogs and their people can get overheated. Keeping safety in mind, try to plan outdoor activities during cooler hours or at locations with shade or water nearby.
Remember, dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as effectively as people. They do not sweat to release heat. If it’s hot and you’re hiking with your dog, she might be at risk of brain injury or death from a combination of heat exposure and physical exertion, even with drinking water along the way.
Be extra sensitive with breeds like pugs, boxers and bully breeds, long-haired dogs, senior pets and out-of-shape pets. They are at higher risk of heat injury due to their physiology, breathing capacity, age, or previous illness.
Watch for signs of heat stress in your pet: rapid panting, disorientation, stumbling, red paws, drooling, vomiting, or lethargy.
If your dog has become overheated, immediately ask or call for help. Move him to shade and apply cool—not cold—water all over his body to lower body temperature. Apply cool packs or cold towels to your pet’s head, neck and chest. Let him drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take your pet directly to a veterinarian; it may save his life!