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Dog Tip: Hiking, Camping and Swimming with Your Dog

Before the trip:

* Make sure vaccinations are up to date and that you take along proof of rabies vaccination. The dog should be healthy before an outing.

* Apply flea and tick preventive.

* Make a temporary I.D. tag displaying the name of the park, campground, motel or other reachable contact at your destination area. A lost pet service, microchip I.D. (available at most animal hospitals) and tattoo I.D. are also good to use in combination with traditional tags. Make sure the tag features your current, reachable phone number.

* Get your dog in condition before hiking and camping by taking him on shorter hikes close to home.

* It helps if your dog has had some obedience training. If your dog barks constantly or is very anxious, reconsider taking him camping.

* Check before your trip to make sure dogs are allowed on the trails and at the parks and campgrounds you plan to visit.


* Take a first aid kit for yourself and your dog. You'll find a great list of first aid kit contents below.

* Also bring sunblock for you and your dog, since dogs can get sunburn.

* Bring lots of bottled water.

* Bring food and dishes for feeding your pet.

* Take an extra leash in case your regular one gets damaged. Note: Retractable leashes can be dangerous, since you want your dog to stay close to you. Bring a short, sturdy leash for hiking. If you're hiking in terrain with cliffs, canyons, big rocks or other challenging conditions, it may be safest to attach the leash to a sturdy harness instead of to a neck collar.

* Bring unbreakable toys.

* Bring an extra towel for your dog.

* Pack a lightweight camping crate in case your dog can get loose from your tent.

* Bring a pad for chilly nights.

* Get a backpack for your medium or large dog so he can carry some unbreakable items. Go on walks before the trips so that the dog can gradually get used to a loaded backpack. A dog can carry a load equal to one-quarter to one-third of his own weight. However, do not place a backpack on dogs under one year of age, or any dog prone to dyplasia, joint problems or other health conditions.

* You can buy a pet pouch to carry a little dog.

* Pack and use dog boots if you are hiking in rough terrain.

* If your dog will be swimming in a lake, bring a canine life jacket and a long nylon lead. See the Swimming section below.

Before you begin the hike:

* Remember to pack plenty of water. You and your dog will drink more than usual.

* Apply sunblock to your dog's sun-sensitive areas such as nose and ears, particularly with pets with short fur and light skin. Sunblock should be at least SPF 15, and should be applied more than 15 minutes before sun exposure. Note: some experts recommend that zinc oxide not be used on pets.

* Keep your dog on leash.

* If you are placing a backpack on your dog, distribute the weight evenly and do not overpack (see above). Keep it light if on rough or challenging terrain.

During the hike:

* Check your dog's footpads every day no matter where you hike or camp. Check for thistles, debris or soreness along the way. Bag Balm and Vaseline are two good choices for soothing raw paw pads. Check fur, paws, nose, eye area and ears for foxtails. Also check for ticks.

* Be very cautious in areas with cliffs, gulches, canyons, caves, big rocks, etc. Many dogs have no concept of heights, and they can slip under railings. Some have drowned in geyser areas. Keep your dog close to you.

* Do not let your dog wander into the brush. He can pick up the oils from poison ivy and other plants and transfer the oils to you. Plus you want to minimize his chances of exposure to ticks and wild animals.

* When your dog potties on a trail, bury it.

* Keep watch for piles of feces, whether from other dogs or wildlife. Animal feces carry any number of germs and parasites. Near the water, they may be subjected to toxins from dead fish or other pollutants.

* Make sure your dog has access to shade and to a clean, non-tippable bowl of fresh water. Dogs are uncomplaining partners, so you need to pay attention to make sure your pet is not suffering from too much sun, heat, exercise or thirst.

* If your dog is bitten by a snake, immobilize the body part that has been bitten. Keep it at or below the level of the heart. Keep the pet calm and still. Carry the pet if possible. Get to a vet as soon as possible, and try to identify the type of snake. Do not manipulate the bitten area any more than necessary. Do not cut over the fang marks. Do not ice pack or tourniquet the area.

After the hike:

* Rinse dogs off immediately after hikes and swims. Pay special attention to cleaning their ears and around their paw pads and toes. Also check eyes and nostrils. For tips for removing foreign objects from skin, paws, eyes and ears, and for removing tar and paint from fur.

* To clean off pine sap or tar, try Dawn dishwashing liquid, or petroleum jelly to soften and follow with washing with baby shampoo.

Swimming with Dogs:

Some breeds are natural water dogs, but most dogs can learn to enjoy a swim now and then.

* Introduce a dog to water as early as possible, and make sure the experience is a positive one. Look for a pleasant, quiet place with shallow water. Keep the dog on leash; you can use a long leash, such as one made of nylon that will dry easily. Start the dog at the water's edge, then him let him trot there awhile. Wade in with the dog. If he inches in a little on his own, praise him.

* Never force a dog into the water, and do not let the dog enter deep water. You can toss a ball a couple of feet to encourage him to venture in a little deeper, but you don't want him to get in literally or figuratively over his head. Belly-deep is deep enough.

* Bring fresh water for your dog. Even freshwater streams and lakes can contain parasites and unhealthy bacteria.

* Do not let your dog swim into currents.

* It may be easy for a dog to jump into deep water, but not easy to get out. A dog can panic and possibly drown. Without an easily accessible ramp, a dog may not be able to get out of a swimming pool or jump back onto a dock. So avoid deep water.

* If you are swimming in lakes or boating, get your dog a well-fitted canine life vest. You can use a long nylon lead to prevent escapes. Keep watch to make sure he does not get tangled in the lead. As always, take fresh water for you and your dog.

* Warning: There are alligators in water bodies in Florida and coastal towns in other southern states.

* Owners who fish should take steps to make sure their pets cannot access their fishing lines, lures, hooks and bait.

* Also keep them away from feces and fish and shellfish washed up on the shore, which can contain toxins.

* In addition to using sunblock (see above), make sure your dog has access to shade. Too much sun can lead to a medical emergency.

* At the beach, sand and salt water can irritate paw pads. Rinse paws immediately after visiting the beach.

* Dry out ears immediately after playing in the water to prevent ear infections.

* If you use a flea collar, remove the flea collar before letting a dog enter water, since wet flea collars can irritate the skin, and the active ingredients will wash off.

* Pools. If you have a pool, keep it securely fenced off and, when not in use, covered with a sturdy pool cover. To enable dogs and children a way to climb out of the water, the pool needs to have graded steps out of the pool. Dogs and toddlers cannot climb ladders. If a dog cannot get out of the water, he will soon tire of paddling and drown. Also, do not assume a dog will automatically know where the steps are and how to exit the pool. You need to teach him.

* For pools secured into the cement around the pool with heavy duty springs and fasteners, the pool cover should be made of nylon mesh to allow drainage. Water cannot drain off solid fabric, so a dog or small child could slip and drown in the water on the pool cover.

Rescuing a Drowning Dog

Adapted from a July 2003 Dog Fancy article about drowning by Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, author of First Aid for Dogs:

Even a dog who loves to swim can get tired, get cramps, swallow water or get caught in currents.

Dogs with low body fat (such as Dobermans) are less buoyant and have less protection against the cold of the water.

If the dog is limp, unconscious, or unresponsive, wrap her in a towel. Keep her neck and back immobilzed in case of spinal injury. Use board to move the dog.

If the dog is not breathing, lay her flat on her right side, make several quick compressions to her chest to expel water, then feel for a heartbeat just behind the left elbow. If a heartbeat is present, but she still is not breathing, check the back of her throat for obstructions.

If there does not seem to be an obstruction, close the dog's muzzle by firmly encircling it with your hand. Put the dog's tongue in her mouth first so she doesn't bite it. Then blow into her nose. The force of your breath should vary depending on the size of the dog. Watch for rising of her chest wall, and keep checking the heartbeat a few times a minute. If you can't feel it, make one or two quick, firm compressions on the chest wall with both of your palms pressed flat on top of each other, and begin artificial respiration - about 15 breaths followed by a chest compression. Continue until the dog regains consciousness, respiration and heartbeat, or when emergency workers take over.

* Blue-Green Algae -- a special report from PAW volunteer Lynne Keffer:

Hot, sunny weather brings out people, and with many people also come their dogs. Caution is in order for both humans and canines when frolicking in a lake or pond, however, as such bodies of water can be home to blue-green algae, which can contain high levels of toxins, such as microcystin or anatoxin.

Blue-green algae form in warm, nutrient-rich water. Hot, dry, calm weather conditions promote the growth of blue-green algae. The blue-green algae appear as a heavy greenish-blue scum on the water or shoreline, where they congregate. Sustained gentle winds can concentrate the algae on the leeward, or down wind side, of the water body. When blue-green algae bloom, they look thick like pea soup or blue or green paint on the water. They are mostly blue-green, although they can also be brown or purple. When blue-green algae wash up on shore, they resemble a thick mat or foam on the beach.

People should avoid swimming in areas where there is visible green or blue-green scum collected on the surface of the water. The presence of dead animals such as birds, muskrats, and other animals indicates a high toxin level. Ingestion of algae that are producing toxin can result in symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Skin exposure can result in irritation or allergic reactions. Children should especially be kept from entering scummy water since they are more likely to ingest the water than adults. The treatment for blue green algae intoxication is symptomatic, and usually unsuccessful.

Dogs are at risk if they eat the algae or drink the water in an area where a toxic algae bloom is taking place. They may also ingest the algae by licking their fur after they have been in water that is thick with algae. Experts advise pet owners to keep their dogs away from the algae. If your dog does get into the water in an area where you see the algae, wash the dog off immediately with clean water. Be sure to clean the dog's ears too.

Not all blue-green algae blooms produce toxin. However there is no way to tell just by looking at them. Most other algae lake plants do not produce any toxin.

Generally, lots of wind, cooler weather, rainfall, and cloudy days will lead to the collapse of an algae bloom. Some blooms die off after a few days or weeks, while others persist for a few months.

First Aid Kit and Guidance:
Keep a pet First Aid Kit with you. This webpage lists items to include:

The Hiker First Aid Kit for Canines:

When traveling, you can find a nearby veterinarian using the AAHA Animal Hospital Locator:

Poison Emergency 24-Hour Hotlines:
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
1-888-4-ANI-HELP or 1-888-426-4435
National Animal Poison Control Center

First Aid for the Active Dog by Sid Gustafson. Take this guide when you hike, camp or travel with your dog.

Other web sources about outdoor activities and travel with dogs:

Car Trips and Car Safety:

Travel with Pets -- Packing, Preparation and Other Trip Tips:

Hotels, Motels, Lodging with Pets:

Fleas, Ticks, Mosquitoes - Prevention and Treatment:

Remedies for Insect Stings and Bites, Hot Spots and other Skin Conditions:

Summer Health and Safety Guide:

Lawn, Outdoor and Warm Weather Safety Tips:

Outdoor Fun with Pets:

Pet-Friendly Campgrounds, Parks and Beaches
Hiking With Dogs: Becoming a Wilderness-Wise Dog Owner by Linda B. Mullally


For more Dog Tips about pet care, adoption and the work PAW does, visit our website at:

Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

Last Updated: May 23, 2018 (LET) PawSupport