Outdoor Safety for your Dog

Beautiful Weimaraner ready for work with his pet parent.

Playing outdoors with your pet is rewarding, not just for you but especially for the dog. We will always remember, years later, how much fun it was watching our favorite friend enjoy our vacations as much, if not more than we. Towards that end, consider the following 20 items during these warmer month of the year.

1. Your dog can’t talk, and is willing to do anything you do – especially young dogs! So be in charge of your dog’s activity. If it’s early in the season (spring) and you haven’t done much other than take short walks during the winter months. Start slowly: 15 minute walks/jogs, then 30 minutes, then working up to an hour or more a day. If you’re dog is overweight (. . . . . if you’re dog is overweight?) consider working out on a high school football field. Walk the bleachers with your pet, up and down, over and over again. Remember, don’t overdue it, take it slowly at first. Dogs have four legs, so climbing stairs is a much better aerobic exercise for them.

2. Always check your dog’s paws before and after any outdoor activity. Paws tell the tale. Too soft – your pet can’t handle hot pavement, snow, ice or sand without injury. Too hard – and your pet’s paws may have cracks which can become infected or pick up a foreign body (more on this subject later.)

3. After playtime, check his hair coat daily for ectoparasites: fleas, ticks, and the like. Use a flea comb! Don’t succumb to the myth that monthly flea prevention is all you need. Plan to be out for longer than a few hours? Consider a tick collar as well! Lyme Disease is painful and preventable.

4. If your dog gets into something smelly: skunk odor, urine, poisonous plants, fecal matter and ‘unidentified items’ associated with “Rolling in something Dead” handle it as soon as possible. Try not to wait until you get home. Dragging your dog with this into the home, a groomer’s, or PetSmart is never a good idea. You are exposing other pets and people to whatever your pet is carrying.

5. Introduce your puppy starting at 12 weeks to as many different people, machines, and noises as possible. If you are an adventurer, let your pet smell and become used to what’s ‘your normal.’ Remember, when it comes to your pet, think like a caveman – if your pet hasn’t seen it before – it can be frightening and a frightened pet can hurt themselves, you or others. Plan ahead and think ahead. Having a pet see a squirrel and dash into the woods (lake?) is never a good thing.

6. If you are not able to introduce your pet to these ‘foreign’ items early. Introduce them to the pet – slowly – a little at a time. Always reinforce a positive event, the feeding of a low-calorie treat with the new item so that your dog associates positive reinforcement with the new event. Taking your adult pet on a boat? Talk to your veterinarian about medication if you have a nervous dog. Don’t forget smells. Your dog’s nose is keener than yours – everything can be new!

7. Consider footware. Long toenails, un-seasoned foot pads, or old age can lead to loose footing. With these realities, consider ‘booties.’ REI carries a wonderful selection to choose from.

8. Stretch your pet limbs (and you too!) before any outdoor activity.

9. Consider a Basket Muzzle! Sticks and other foreign objects can injure the oral cavity, get stuck in the mouth, or cause poisoning.

10. Water safety. Just because your pet is a ‘water’ dog doesn’t’ mean he can’t get a cramp, get bit by something, caught in something or entangled. Always purchase a floatation device for your pet so your pet doesn’t play too hard and become too tired to swim back to you.

11. Heat stroke! Forget the outdoor temperature! The question is what is your pet’s temperature! Always carry a thermometer. If you have to ask what do I do next in the case of heat stroke – it’s already too late.

12. First Aid Kit! REI and Amazon.com carry a great selection of books and supplies for emergencies.

13. Triage Levels. (Key concepts in points 13 and 14 are respectfully lifted from: The Pet Lover’s Guide to First Aid & Emergencies, Thomas Day DVM) Human and veterinary emergency hospitals use the concept of triage to help determine which patients require more immediate attention. Triage is the process of prioritizing sick or injured people or animals for treatment. The patient is assigned to one of three categories of decreasing severity – according to whether the illness or injury is critical, less serious, or minor. The three levels of triage used in clinical practice are: Level I: the illness or injury is critical, and the pet may survive if simple life-saving measures are applied. Level II: The pet is likely to survive is simple care is given within hours. Level III: The pet has minor injuries, so care can be delayed while other patients with more critical injuries are treated.

14. Pet Parents Use of Triage. Pet Parents can use the general guidelines of triage to determine the immediate first aid needs of their ill or injured dog and cat. Look for any obvious emergencies – based on Triage Levels 1 and 2. Any change in alertness, airway, breathing, or circulation means that your pet needs immediate veterinary attention. First aid usually is required in these pets.

15. Always carry more nutrition and ‘comfort food’ then usual. Exercise makes us all hungry. Your dog is not exempt from this rule. If you dog eats two cans of food, twice a day, double it for the trail. I like can food. On the trail, especially in cooler weather, it can be warmed and served ‘hot.’ Pills or medications can be crushed and added easily and for most pet’s it’s a treat since dry food is considered the norm today. Having more of ‘his’ food on hand will reduce the ‘guilt’ associated with campfire meals while your dog ‘begs’ for whatever you’re eating. After a meal, pull out his favorite toy or give him a Kong filled with a favorite low-calorie treat or peanut butter.

16. Place a bell around your pet. You want to be able to find (hear?) him in the dark or ahead of you on the trail if off-leash.

17. Make sure your pet is up-to-date with all vaccines.

18. Make your pet drink water every 15 minutes if actively hiking or at play! Dogs often walk or play with their tongue lolling out of their mouths. Dehydration leads to stress and stress can lead to multiple medical issues.

19. Protect your pet’s eyes and ears! Try not to lead your pet through dense underbrush! Are you crawling on your hands and knees? No. Eye trauma to extremely common in outdoor play, so again, think ahead. Having eyewash on hand for you and your pet is a good idea. Check out those ears too. Pluck long hairs, dry out ears after swimming, and check for grass awns if traveling out west!

20. Be selective about outdoor toys! Having a pet catch a Frisbee, traveling at 30 mph, can realign teeth and cause malocclusion. Tennis balls act like sandpaper, grinding down enamel, and rubber/plastic balls can be irritating. An allergy which presents with intense redness around the mouth and eyes is not uncommon.

Other then the above, have fun this spring, summer and fall!

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