It is always a pleasure to be able to take your dog for a long walk in the mountains, free from all the worries of busy dog parks and public spaces. This experience does however come with some responsibilities that many pet owners are often not aware of. Depending in which part of the world you live in, each area has its own different risks which should be taken into consideration.
What is the weather forecasted for your hike day?
As an experienced hiker, start with looking at the weather forecast before you go for a walk. From there prepare yourself and your dog for the conditions that you will be exposed to. Choose a hike that is suitalbe for the weather of the day. From a temperature point of view, we recommend that you walk your dog on a day that you can walk without shoes on yourself. Their paws can get damaged and cause blisters which could take up to 4 weeks to heal. So, hot or cold, either way, extreme temperatures can damage their paws and if it is too hot or too cold for you to walk bare feet, then it is propably also not the right conditions for your dog to be exposed to.
The summer in South Africa can produce extremely hot surfaces, especially on the mountains. The best time to walk a dog in South Africa is in cool or mild winter conditions, where the ground is cool enough for them to also enjoy the outing.
Herewith a few basic tips that should be kept in mind when you are going to take your dog for a walk.
- Dog Health - Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up-to- date before you hit the trail. It’s always a good idea to have your veterinarian give your dog a check-up to ensure he/she is in good health. If your dog is not used to long treks, build endurance with shorter hikes before attempting longer, more difficult ones.
- Find the Right Trail - Make sure your hike is in a park or open space that allows dogs. National and regional parks are typically more dog-friendly than state parks. Do your research and familiarize yourself with any restrictions such as which areas of the parks allow dogs, and whether they have to be leashed at all times.
- Manners - A well-mannered dog can be a great trail mate, so it’s best if your dog is well trained on the leash before you bring him/her on a long hike. Many experienced hikers advise never taking your dog off-leash even if it’s allowed, because too many things can go wrong. Even the best-trained dogs can ignore voice commands and bound after a squirrel through bushes or shrubs, which can be dangerous to the dog and damaging to sensitive off-trail habitats.
- Wildlife - Always be aware what kind of wildlife is present, particularly if your dog is smaller.
- Dog Backpacks - Packs are a great way for dogs to burn extra energy during a hike and give them a sense of purpose. My dog seems to hold his head a little higher when wearing his pack. Make sure you obtain the right size — if the doggy backpack is too small or too large, it can cause discomfort and even injury. Get your dog used to it by letting him wear the empty pack on short walks in the neighbourhood.
- First Aid - Even for short hikes, it’s a good idea to bring basic first aid supplies like gauze pads, bandage tape, topical disinfectant, tweezers (for ticks and porcupine quills). Keep your vet or emergency vet’s phone number on speed dial.
- Hydration - Dogs get dehydrated much faster than humans do, so bring plenty of water and a collapsible bowl. Many hikers let their dogs drink out of creeks and lakes, but they risk ingesting the giardia parasite, which settles in the small intestine and can wreak havoc on your dog’s system. If you allow your dog to drink from a creek, purify the water first.
- Elevation - If the trail will take you to higher elevations, ascend at a slow and steady pace and make sure both of you drink plenty of water. Watch your dog closely for signs of altitude sickness. If he/she is panting heavily or slowing down, consider heading back down the trail or at least giving him/her a long rest. Dogs want to please their owners and will try to tough it out, so it’s up to us to make sure they are not overdoing it.
- Poop Bags - Bring them. Use them. Pack them out.
- After the Hike - Thoroughly check your dog for cuts or injuries as well as ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. Dogs burn energy faster than humans, so you keep kibble handy so your happy, trail-weary dog can have a little nosh before you head home.
Finally, two more tips we would like to add to this comprehensive list put together by PawPaw Pet Insurance:
- Identification: In the event that your dog decides to make a run for it when he sees a creature trying to escape his presence, he might get totally carried away and get lost. Make sure your dog is clearly identifiable by means of a collar and tag, as well as being microchipped. Also add a bright safety vest for the walk to help find your beloved pet in the event of them going missing.
- Caution for Leash free walking: If your dog is off leash, the chances are very high that they 'take the lead' and walk a few paces ahead of you. This can very dangerous for them, as they could startle a lazy snake basking in the sunbaked hot path. Snakes, especially Puff Adders love to bake their cold blooded bodies on the hot surfaces. The puff adder* is responsible for more bites (and therefore fatalities) in South Africa than any other snake, even though other snakes have higher venom yields. The reasons for this are simple: it is very adaptable, is found in multiple, varied habitats and it is one of the few lazy snakes. They like to lie and wait for their prey, and if your dog is running off leash, the chances of them getting bitten by a Puff Adder (or Cape Cobra) are very high. Please do try to keep your dog behind you or on a lead when walking in the mountains and or secluded paths.
If your dog does get bitten by a snake, pick the dog up and get it to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Keep calm and run as fast as you can to get your dog to the nearest vet. Dogs can pick up on our emotions, and keeping calm will also help to keep their heartrate down during this critical time of trying to get them medical attention.
A snake bite can be very costly - but if treated in time - and Pet Insurance fully cover accidental injuries like snake bites and other possible injuries which your dog might experience when on a fun outing. Most pet emergencies happen after hours, which could double the expenses that might come your way in the event of an accidental injury. Consider having your pets fully covered with Pet Insurance today, to avoid unnecesary and unwanted financial difficult situations in the case of a pet emergency.