Pet Health, Pet Safety

Dogs in the Desert: A Guide for Safe and Healthy Hiking

Many Arizonans and their dogs enjoy the warmth and beauty of the Arizona desert. There is plenty of sunshine to encourage you to hit the many hiking trails in the wilderness of the desert countryside.

However, hiking comes with its dangers (especially as mild winter weather turns to hotter spring temperatures), and you should be prepared as you hit the trails for outdoor exploration. These hot-weather outdoor pet care guidelines can help you make sure that your dog stays healthy and safe.

Prevent Dehydration and Heat Illness

By far the biggest danger your dog will face is that of heat stroke and dehydration. Many people assume that their dog has plenty of energy and will have no trouble navigating a difficult hike, and they don’t think about how susceptible dogs are to overheating.

Even if you are feeling only mildly warm, your body is different from your dogs. Dogs are more likely to overheat than people because:

  • They do not perspire. Dogs cool themselves by panting; they don’t sweat. Sometimes, panting is not sufficient to keep up with your dog’s cooling needs.
  • They have fur coats that can trap their body heat. Long-haired, heavy dogs are especially prone to difficulty maintaining their temperature.
  • They have a high running body temperature. Normally, this temperature is an asset in colder and milder weather. But in the extreme heat of the Arizona spring and summer, this higher temperature can elevate quickly.

Start every hike with the assumption that your pet will need help with cooling. Pack enough water for both of you, and bring along a portable shade to allow your dog some resting time out of the sun. If possible, save your adventuring for the morning or late evening when the temperatures are more mild — safer for your dog and for you.

Make sure you know the symptoms of overheating so you can cut the adventure short if needed. These symptoms include:

  • Non-stop panting. Your dog is desperately trying to cool down.
  • Glazed eyes. Loss of coherence will show in the way your dog interacts with his or her surroundings.
  • Lethargy. Your normally excitable animal will instead seek to rest or lie down. They may stagger or lose control of their gait.
  • A rapid pulse. Your dog’s heart will start beating faster as a response to the danger of overheating.

These symptoms can progress from bad to worse in a very short period of time. Fainting, seizures, foaming at the mouth, and a switch from a rapid pulse to a slow or sluggish heartbeat can mean your dog is in immediate danger and needs emergency medical care.

If you notice even slight overheating, seek a cooler environment to completely remove your dog from danger, and provide plenty of water.

Finally, remember that even though dogs have protective fur coats, they can still get sunburned. Talk to your vet about which sunscreen is best for dogs, and rub some on the tip of the nose and anywhere where the hair is thinner, such as around the tips of the ears.

Prepare for Wild Animal Dangers

The next threat to your dog’s safety comes from other animals on the trail. Rattlesnakes, porcupines, and scorpions can seriously injure a dog. You won’t be able to prevent all accidents from occurring, but if your dog is well-trained, their risk of a harmful animal encounter will be lowered.

For example, if you’re hiking with your dog off-leash, they should be trained to stay by your side — don’t allow them to run ahead of you up the trail. This way, you encounter dangers together, and you can give your dog further instructions. If your dog cannot be trusted off leash, then keep them restrained on a retractable leash that allows you to set short distances.

You can also practice teaching your dog to leave dangerous items alone. Dogs are curious by nature, but they should be able to respond to a command to keep away from danger. For example, if you do see a porcupine on the trail, your dog will want to investigate. Dogs who learn the “leave it” command can be called off and can avoid injury from harmful quills.

Avoid Harmful Plants

Finally, you also want to prevent your dog from investigating plants that could harm them. Prickly cactus, desert thorns, and other more hostile vegetation can cause a lot of pain for your pup. Frequently check your dog’s feet for spines along the hike. Don’t allow your dog to chew or lick areas that have been punctured by cactus spines; get a vet to remove them.

Take time to pick out burrs from your dog’s fur; these can cause skin irritation and matting. Foxtails are also harmful to dogs, as they can work their way under fur and into your dog’s skin. Face injuries from foxtails are common because dogs enjoy sniffing and investigating.

Your dog can benefit from the exercise and excitement of hiking with you, but you also need to be properly prepared for the dangers. For more information on protecting your dog during outdoor activities, contact us at 1st Pet Veterinary Centers.