Summertime is a popular time for getting outdoors, and there are some great hiking trails around central Texas to explore. But for those who like to hike with their dogs, planning ahead and being prepared is a necessity. In this post, we'll offer some guidelines for making your hike safer and more enjoyable--for both of you.
Health, Stamina and Nutrition
It's important consider your dog's ability to handle physical exertion. For novice hikers who plan to walk level, foliage-covered trails, this is less of a concern. But if you're more of an extreme hiker, ascending and descending more challenging terrain, the physical stamina and condition of your dog is a critical factor. Brachycephalic (short snout) breeds can have difficulty staying cool in hot, humid summer temperatures. Similarly, older, large breed dogs with arthritis are not well-suited to challenging terrains.
Your dog should also be vaccinated for Distemper, Parvovirus, Rabies, Leptospirosis, and Lyme disease since these are all present in wild animal and insect populations. Keep in mind that mosquitos and ticks can be especially problematic in heavily wooded areas. You'll want to be sure your dog is up to date with his heartworm preventative, since mosquitoes can carry heartworm disease. Apply a good flea and tick preventative at least 48 hours before your trip, since ticks can carry Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Keep in mind as you travel that lakes, rivers, and creeks can harbor the causative agents of Giardiasis and Leptospirosis. You should try limiting your dog’s drinking water to whatever you bring or else run water collected in the wild through an approved backwoods water filter. But of course most dogs will still drink at will, so avid hikers may want to discuss a twice-yearly vaccination for Leptospirosis with their veterinarian.
The minimum water requirement for dogs is 1 ounce per pound of body weight per day; and for hiking, this amount should be doubled. Hiking also burns a lot of calories--double for strenuous hiking trails--so as a rule of thumb, you should carry one cup of dry food per 20 pounds of body weight, along with healthy snacks and treats.
For relatively non-strenuous day hikes, consider letting your dog carry some of his own food, water, and other supplies in a specialty dog backpack. This is good exercise for him; just be sure that you get him used to this ahead of time, working up to full carrying weight before subjecting him to a lengthy trek. As a rule of thumb, healthy dogs should carry no more than 25% of their body weight, and older dogs should carry less.
Collars or harnesses with proper identification are also a must so your dog can be found and returned should he wander off or get lost in unfamiliar territory. Many trails mandate leashes as a courtesy to other hikers. But even if they aren't required, keep in mind that dogs are easily distracted by new scents and wild animals. Even those with normally good recall skills may be tempted to run off in the back country, so having a retractable leash handy is always a good idea.
Think about your dog's feet as much as you would think about your own. Level, shaded forest trails usually do not require foot protection, but if you're planning a longer hike over rocky or exposed terrain in the summer sun, dog booties can help prevent serious cuts and pad injuries. It's also a good idea to keep first aid supplies for your dog alongside your own to treat pad cuts, lacerations, and eye injuries until you can get to a veterinarian.
Remember that the principles of "leave no trace" apply to your four-legged friends as well. Come prepared to collect your dog's solid waste and either dispose of it in designated bins or pack it back out with you. Your dog should also be accustomed to strangers and other dogs approaching unexpectedly. If there are other hikers, bikers, or horseback riders around, he should be leashed so he does not intimidate others or intrude on their outdoor experience.
And above all, have fun! Meanwhile, don't forget to check out our pet care aisle the next time you stop by for some great accessories you can use to prepare for your next outdoor adventure together.