In the first article of this series, we talked briefly about the benefits of exercise both for ourselves as well as our dogs. Different dog breeds possess physical and behavioral characteristics that can make them better running partners than other breeds. Matching our intended activity with the capabilities of our individual dog is a first step in making running and hiking a safe activity for all.
We also talked about what age your dog should be before beginning rigorous outdoor activity and provided a rough guide to distances which may be safe for different age dogs.
Before taking on any outdoor activity with our dogs it is important to make sure that they have a clean bill of health. Assuming that your dog has the proper musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health to match the proposed activity you want to undertake and it is appropriate for their state of health, we will now turn our attention to my recommendations to follow to help avoid common problems I frequently see in patients at my veterinary practice at Northwest Animal Hospital.
1. Choose an appropriate activity for you and your pet, especially when just starting out.
Just like building a “couch to 5K” program for ourselves, it is best to start with slow hikes and shorter running distances, and build on a foundation over time. Too much, too often, before your dog is ready, can lead to sore joints and muscles just like us. In addition to sore muscles and joints, I often see dogs presented with painful and bleeding pads from over activity. Too much, too soon! It takes time to toughen the pads. Do so gradually over at least 30 days with walking and running on different surfaces to build up the pads. Inspect the pads regularly out on the run. We dispense a product called Pad Tough, which accelerates the process.
Make sure the nails are trimmed. Broken nails are painful and if they break, they may need to be removed to allow appropriate healing. In some cases this requires sedation and antibiotics. Keeping your dog’s nails at an appropriate length can prevent this. If you are not experienced at trimming nails, a professional groomer or a veterinarian should perform it.
If your dog is not up to date on all vaccinations, and you are running/hiking throughout our area, you are risking their health and the health of others. Vaccinations are a simple and effective way of preventing illness and controlling the spread of contagious diseases. And the cost of vaccinating your dog is a fraction of the cost necessary when treating these common and potentially life-threatening diseases.
Keep in mind that the risk of exposure increases greatly as your dog moves about in areas frequented by other dogs and in close contact with wildlife common to our area. For that reason, and due to our experience in dealing frequently with contagious diseases, Northwest Animal Hospital recommends regular immunization against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, bordetella, parainfluenza, parvovirus, canine influenza and rabies. (If you are traveling to other areas of the country, further vaccinations may apply for the safety of your dog. Call us for those recommendations).
If your dog frequents areas where a high rattlesnake population exists, a vaccine for rattlesnake bites is available and may make sense for your dog. Details can be found at Red Rock Biologics. Northwest Animal Hospital sees rattlesnake bites every year in dogs, usually in those dogs running off leash. A further note about rabies vaccination is that it is a required vaccine in the state of Colorado. Due to the increased incidence of rabies we have seen in our area, it is more important than ever to make sure your dog is up to date and does not lapse in their vaccination for rabies.
3. Keep your dog on a parasite control plan year-round for both external and internal parasites.
Dogs frequently eat things out on the trail that can lead to serious gastrointestinal disturbances and can expose them to internal parasites. They also find dead flea and tick infested carcasses. This means that their exposure to external and internal parasites and other zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans) is also increased. Fleas, ticks and flies may carry tularemia (a disease of animals and humans caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Rabbits, hares, and rodents are especially susceptible and often die in large numbers during outbreaks. Humans can become infected through several routes).
The plague bacteria Yersinia pestis may be transmitted through fleabites or direct contact with infected carcasses. Ticks may transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever (caused by a bacteria called Rickettsia rickettsia), tick paralysis (tick paralysis is the only tick-borne disease that is not caused by an infectious organism. The illness is caused by a neurotoxin produced in the tick’s salivary gland. After prolonged attachment, the engorged tick transmits the toxin to its host) and Colorado tick fever (caused by a virus). This puts both our dogs and us at risk.
Heartworm disease, transmitted by mosquitos, is seen less frequently in our native dog population. However, due to the influx of dogs from out of state that test positive for heartworm disease and therefore act as a reservoir of infection, the incidence of heartworm disease in our native dog population is bound to increase. The wild coyote population has been found to test positive for internal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms and also act as a reservoir for heartworm disease.
It makes sense to follow the simple and safe guidelines for prevention of all these parasites by using preventive medications and avoiding contact with potentially infected sources.
4. Proper Identification
I recommend that your dog have a pet tag on their collar in addition to having a microchip implanted for best protection. Many lost pets have been returned to their owner following this simple measure.
5. Obeying the leash law.
A leash law exists throughout El Paso County for the safety of your dog, hikers, bikers, runners and other dogs as well as native wildlife. Unless there is a posted off leash notification, plan on keeping your dog on a leash. Make sure that the lead is not a retractable leash for best control. A well constructed 6’- 8’ non-retractable nylon or leather lead works best in most cases.
What I see regularly in my practice are dog bites and fights, severe lacerations, bites from rattlesnakes, accidents including automobiles and bicycles, vomiting, diarrhea from eating something they shouldn’t, death from wildlife interactions (deer, bear, mountain lions, etc.), falling off bridges, and the list goes on. Obeying the leash law could largely prevent most of these.
It is understandable to want your dog to have more freedom to run and exercise, but is it worth the health consequences for people and our precious dog companions, as well as the associated cost for treatment, to put your dog and others at risk of serious injury or death? We all have to give a little so that all have a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience throughout our beautiful area. Obeying the leash law goes a long way to getting us there! Always check the regulations in the area to determine if your dog may be permitted off leash. There are some areas where off lead exercise is permitted and are well known to most dog owners.
6. Prepare for special conditions of weather, terrain and season.
In some cases a protective coat, especially in smaller thin skin, short hair breeds may really increase their comfort. Booties can also help protect paws against rocky terrain and can prevent ice build up between the toes during the winter months. Running and hiking during the heat of the day can put you and your pet at risk for heat stroke. Choosing the cool parts of the morning hours and latter parts of the day are best. Carry plenty of water for yourself and your dog and take necessary breaks to keep yourself and them well hydrated. During hunting season, a bright colored vest will help with easier identification and help avoid a disastrous accident.
7. Carry a small first aid kit.
Carry a small tube of antibiotic ointment, vet wrap and gauze if you are hiking and running in more remote areas and teach your dog how to carry a pack with these supplies – let them do some of the work. Potentially build up the pack weight over time but don’t go much over 30% of their body weight in weight carried.
8. Let other’s know your intended plan and location.
Always let a friend or family member know your location, intended duration, time of departure and anticipated time of return, in case of an accident. I like the Road ID app where you can leave ecrumbs and GPS location along with personal identification. Plan on the unexpected happening.
9. Protective devices.
Considering carrying bear pepper spray or other protective devices. Know how to properly use them. Always seek expert instruction if you do choose these measures, as many accidents can be self-inflicted.
10. Leave a minimal footprint wherever you run or hike
Aim to leave behind a minimal footprint by hauling out trash. And, please pick up after your pet. To make it easier, pick up poop in a plastic bag and place in a zip lock baggie for odor control. Leaving plastic bags full of poop along side the trails is just as bad as letting them poop and not picking it up. Be prepared and take the necessary means to haul out the poop and plastic bags. Keep our trails clean and free of clutter so that all can enjoy our great outdoors!