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Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Dogs, dogs and even some cats
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Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby NMmobileK9CatDrG » Sun Aug 19, 2012 4:17 pm

With the recent rescue of "Lucky" (Missy) from the Sawtooth between Mt. Bierstadt and Evans, I am prompted to contribute a few things to this topic from a hiker's and veterinarian's perspective. I just learned about this rescue a couple of days ago and am so thankful for all the courageous people involved in accomplishing this amazing rescue! Things like this restore my faith in humanity and obviously there is a large dog loving community on this site.

Living in New Mexico, we don't get to hike a lot of fourteeners but we have done approximately 15 over the last 3-4 years, some with our faithful companions Maggie & Piper (aka "Magpie"), ages 8 and 5 respectively. On every hike in CO we have seen dogs and thus far, we have not had a single incident of a dog on dog or a dog on hiker confrontation :). However, on one hike in NM, Maggie was recently attacked by a large Newfoundland X who was leashed but tested the waters anyway. Thankfully, I was able to act quickly pulling Maggie away but in the process tumbling off the trail and down the side of a hill, Maggie and I rolling together for a brief distance.

I don't remember a single hike yet where there has not been some signage indicating dogs be leashed. This is the safest way to go for all concerned. In a recent incident again here in NM, some off leashed dogs were attacked by coyotes and suffered some pretty severe wounds. It is tempting to let them off but if you do this, you must realize the possible consequences both to you (legally) and your dog (medically). In a strange environment such as the wilderness, your dog may not act the same way upon meeting strangers as it might walking in your neighborhood. Some dogs may take off after wildlife, completely ignoring your commands and injuring themselves in the process. And some folks are NOT dog lovers and may react negatively to your dog if they feel threatened. We are lucky in that Maggie and Piper stay between my wife and I as we are hiking. When we see dogs approaching, we move them off the trail, grasp their collar or leash and give plenty of room for other hikers and pets to pass. Frequently however, we suddenly come upon dogs that are way ahead of their humans and don't have time to react. So far, so good but the time will come when a confrontation develops. The bottomline is to have some quick way to secure your dog safely.

The other concern about off leashed dogs is damage to the fragile tundra, defecating without you even knowing it and chasing after wildlife, especially big horn sheep, pica and marmots. I am shocked by the dog feces I see either on or off trail by folks who are suppposed to be practicing the ethic of "leave no trace." Obviously, carrying a ready at-hand supply of plastic bags is an essential for anyone taking their dog with them. You should also be prepared to pack this out with you! Frequently I see poop already bagged up and sitting on the side of the trail, I am assuming to be picked up by hikers coming down after summiting. Good try but it is very easy to forget where you left the bag. My suggestion is to put a small pack on your dog and let him/her carry his/her own poop or double bag it and then you don't have to worry about smelling up your pack! There are also some pretty nifty biodegradable bags you can buy to stow in your pack and always have on hand.

On to the medical stuff. Just as you might get a clearance from your doctor to enter into an exercise program for yourself, so should you get clearance from your veterinarian for your pooch! Remember you are taking your dog to high elevation over extended mileage on surfaces not encountered in your city dog park or neighborhood with the possibility of encountering inclement weather! This is not for the faint of heart and I mean that literally. Have your vet clear your dog for extreme hiking from the standpoint of his/her heart. Heart murmurs or arrhythmias are a warning that something is amiss and your dog should stay off the mountain! Little dogs, especially as they age, are prone to heart murmurs. At low elevation, all you may notice is a low grade cough. At high elevation, this could quickly develop into a heart failure situation. Little dogs such as Chihuahuas and Pomeranians are prone to a condition called tracheal collapse which causes a cough or a gag which again over several miles or high elevation could result in respiratory compromise. Dogs with smushed faces such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, etc usually have anatomical malformations in their upper airways that just don't make them good mountain dogs and they overheat very easily! Overweight dogs are likely to have problems over long distances and again are subject to hyperthermia and poor air exchange especially at high elevation. Little dogs are also more likely to have knee problems that could result in pain and lameness, especially having to negotiate large rocks. Have your vet verify your dog does not have patellar luxation. If so, fourteener hiking is probably not the best activity for him or her! Larger dogs tend to have more problems with their hips, shoulders and elbows. Consider a thorough radiological examination (x-rays) of your pet's hips and possibly elbows if your pet has ever experienced lameness following a hike or other physical activity. Many large breed dogs have occult hip or elbow dysplasia which over several miles on uneven surfaces will result in a pretty lame pooch. If arthritis is detected, your veterinarian can discuss the use of joint supplements and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to use with the frequency dependent upon your dog's level of exercise and activity. Pad abrasions and cuts are probably one of the most common problems encountered especially on hikes involving scree or similar sharp and jagged debris. Consider the use of booties or the pad hardening products discussed in previous posts.

Obviously be smart and take into consideration the trail conditions, mileage and route (taking a dog on the Sawtooth is not a wise idea!). Taking your dog on a 16 mile fourteener hike is definitely not a good idea if all you have done previously is steet walking in the mile high city. Though I have personally never been on a class 4 or 5 hike, I have to imagine these are not suitable to take your dog. Even some class 3s are pushing it for most dogs. Your dog needs to be acclimated (weather and elevation gain) and exercised to be brought into shape just like you do for yourself. In Albuquerque, we are able to keep our dogs exercised even through the winter by hiking them in the nearby Sandias (9,000 to 10,000 feet) and then taking them to higher elevations in the spring (Santa Fe Baldy at 12,000+, Wheeler Peak at 13,000+) prior to our fourteener trips to Colorado. This keeps their pads tough, their cardiovascular system strong, their muscles and joints toned and allows us to spot problems and remedy them before they become chronic. For those using booties, it also will allow you to try different ones out, get your dog use to the idea of wearing boots and allow them to be broken in prior to a big hike. Would you hike a fourteener in a brand new pair of boots? I think not.

Weather is a huge concern if you are taking your dog along. Hike early in the cool part of the day. Give your dog plenty of time to rest throughout the hike. They are subject to hyperthermia and dehydration just like we are. Know your route and know if fresh water streams will be available along the way. Pack plenty of water for yourself and your dog and stow away a light weight collapsible bowl in your pack. Maggie and Piper drink from our camelbacks. With your pack on your back, pressing on the bite valve causes a stream of water to come out which you can direct straight into your dog's mouth. You can also pack some little 8 oz or 16 oz plastic bottles in their doggie packs for them to carry or throw some extra ones in your pack. As someone said in an earlier post and I know this to be true of our own, dogs will go and go as long as you are moving and if you don't take into consideration their water (and energy) needs, you will find yourself with an overheated and dehydrated dog that will collapse. Then you have a real emergency on your hands. Additionally, a wet dog especially in conditions of a fourteener windstorm, sudden temperature drop and rain/snow can suffer from hypothermia just like you can. Please take all these things into consideration prior to subjecting your dog to a situation that you are unprepared for!

In our packs, we carry basic first aid supplies in case we injure ourselves. The responsible and caring thing to do when hiking with your dog is to be adequately prepared to treat his/her injuries as well. At the very minimum, have bandage material available to cover and pad any wounds. Next time you see your vet, ask if you can buy some Vetwrap, Brown Gauze, 3" x 3" white absorbant gauze, 1" or 2" water proof white tape and maybe some Conform bandage or perhaps you could google these items and buy them yourselves on line. Human grade tape just won't cut it. You need stuff that will work under wet field conditions. The important thing to remember if using Vetwrap is not to apply too tightly or you will constrict the tissues. Because I am a veterinarian, I always have on hand pain medications, antibiotics and diuretics in case there is a heart failure situation. I know the lay person will not have access to these medications.

Should the need for a dog rescue occur in the future, by all means contact me and I will do what I can including travel to CO if possible. Obviously being out of state presents some drawbacks. I do believe there are other vets on this site who can add to what I have said and help to make hiking with your dog an enjoyable as well as safe experience for all. I will keep tabs on this sight in case anyone has questions, needs clarification or has other suggestions. This is a wonderful sight which I personally value greatly. Thanks Bill for making this possible!
Last edited by NMmobileK9CatDrG on Sun Aug 19, 2012 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby sandy » Sun Aug 19, 2012 5:00 pm

Ugh...It's Missy. NOT Lucky.
Last edited by sandy on Sun Aug 19, 2012 7:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby NMmobileK9CatDrG » Sun Aug 19, 2012 5:11 pm

Yes...Missy...I used the name that the rescuers affectionately gave her at the time (Lucky). Thanks for the clarification Sandy but it was sooooo Lucky that they found and rescued her!

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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby tharlow » Sun Aug 19, 2012 5:15 pm

Wow, that whole post and your only comment is to chastise the poster for the mistake with the name, really? To the OP, thanks for the insightful and helpful post, hopefully it will help the dog lovers to take better care of their friends and be better stewards of the fragile environment.

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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby sunny1 » Sun Aug 19, 2012 7:59 pm

tharlow wrote:Wow, that whole post and your only comment is to chastise the poster for the mistake with the name, really? To the OP, thanks for the insightful and helpful post, hopefully it will help the dog lovers to take better care of their friends and be better stewards of the fragile environment.


Agree.

To the OP, thank you for taking the time to post - good info, informative.
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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby Tigerbear » Sun Aug 19, 2012 8:08 pm

Dogs should not be on summits.
What makes people think they are having fun?
How do you know they are not having symptoms of high altitude sickness. I can't bear to look at the faces of most dogs I see up high. Owners are really selfish and ignorant.
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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby 2_Salukis » Sun Aug 19, 2012 8:39 pm

Tigerbear wrote:Dogs should not be on summits.
What makes people think they are having fun?
How do you know they are not having symptoms of high altitude sickness. I can't bear to look at the faces of most dogs I see up high. Owners are really selfish and ignorant.



Same goes for those walks in the park, hikes on any trail, and rides in the car. I can't imagine why anyone would think they're having fun.....except that is for their excitement, wagging tails, and anxiousness to get going.

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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby Robinsch » Sun Aug 19, 2012 8:44 pm

Thank you for the useful and thoughtful post. It is clear you put a lot of thought into it. From an animal welfare officers perspective I can say that I do not believe the courts I have worked with here in Colorado would be lenient in cases like the one with Missy/Lucky.

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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby NMmobileK9CatDrG » Sun Aug 19, 2012 9:21 pm

TigerBear brings up a great concern regarding altitude sickness. Let me address this a bit. We have to assume that animals can suffer from altitude sickness from a physiological standpoint. Symptoms of altitude sickness in canines include:

•Panting
•Excessive drooling
•Vomiting
•Pale gums (normal gums should be pink just like your own...unless you are sick)
•Bleeding from the nose and retina (only in extreme cases)
•Increased pulse
•Dry cough
•Swelling of feet and possibly the face
•Sudden collapse
•Dizziness
•Fever
•Lack of coordination
•Lethargy and refusal to move

The symptoms may vary and may be less severe, depending on how sensitive the dog is. If the ascent has been gradual, the dog may have fewer symptoms. If your dog is dehydrated, the symptoms will be worse.

Altitude sickness can only be detected judging by the dog's symptoms. If the dog displays this behavior whenever exposed to high altitudes and has no other health issues, the diagnosis may be altitude sickness.

We do not know if animals get headaches and there is no readily available diagnostic test to confirm their presence. When I am observing my own dogs for signs of altitude sickness, I monitor for all of the above. Vomiting, incoordination, coughing or gagging and excessive panting especially with drooling and increasing lethargy are sure signs to turn back.

As I said in the original post, have your canine appropriately evaluated for cardiopulmonary disease and if found, you have no business dragging him/her up the mountain. If you are not prepared to give your dog water frequently during the hike, leave him/her at home with the petsitter. Dogs less than one year and definitely older dogs (age dependent upon breed/size) should be limited to the lower elevations. Avoid lingering on top or trying to bag many peaks in one day. Personally, I would do no more than a class 2 with my dogs that were of limited mileage. My dogs live at 5500 ft as do dogs in the mile high city of Denver. Still, proper acclimating to higher elevations is essential and I addressed this in my previous post.

In my personal experiences with my own canines, I can definitely differentiate between the utter satisfaction and happiness my dogs exhibit when we hit the trail and hike to the summit vs the almost seemingly depression they exhibit on the weekends when we are stuck at home. Hike smart and prepare your dog adequately for hiking the big mountains. If you are not prepared to make that investment in your time and wallet (vet care), leave him/her at home.

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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby ajkagy » Sun Aug 19, 2012 10:16 pm

seriously? now everybody needs a lecture on this site about dogs and 14ers now? when will the madness end ](*,)
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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby Shawnee Bob » Sun Aug 19, 2012 10:32 pm

ajkagy wrote:seriously? now everybody needs a lecture on this site about dogs and 14ers now? when will the madness end ](*,)


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Re: Hiking with your dog from a veterinarian's perspective

Postby harrise » Mon Aug 20, 2012 7:29 am

Too long. Don't care.

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