Let your dog have its day in the outdoors, but be careful
Our dogs are dauntless, rough-and-tumble companions. They face off against threats thrice their size. They drink from mud puddles with reckless abandon. They seem to have boundless energy for the things they love, whether it’s chasing a stick, a ball or, to some owners’ dismay (such as myself), cows and the neighbor’s housecat.
But they’re not invincible, says Seth Bynum. An avid bird hunter, he’s plenty versed in keeping his two German shorthairs, River and Shine, hale and hearty. He’s also had ample experience in treating canine injuries—he is, after all, a veterinarian based in Lewiston, Idaho. I asked him for some tips on how to keep our canine companions safe when we’re out on the trail.
Seth’s first order of advice might come as no surprise to dog lovers: make sure your pups get plenty of water. While the folk wisdom is technically wrong (dogs do, in fact, have sweat glands, but only on the pads of their feet) its conclusion holds true. Dogs keep cool primarily through a combination of convection and evaporation driven by panting, drooling, and an enormous, capillary-filled tongue.
It’s a system that relies heavily on hydration, and the onus is on us owners to make time for water breaks. For starters, dogs can’t tell you they’re getting hot, and if you wait for a sign, says Seth, it may be too late. “We see so many cases of dehydration and overheating because the dogs don’t show many symptoms other than lagging behind the group a bit.”
Although a dog can (and often will) drink from any water it can find without health consequences, it doesn’t mean you should let them. Their stomachs are much more acidic than our own, so most waterborne pathogens don’t survive the trip to the intestines. But given a strong enough dose, even a dog can catch beaver fever. “You kind of roll the dice every time you let them drink from natural water sources. They can get giardiasis or leptospirosis if there’s enough exposure.”
Vaccines are available to help prevent infection, but your safest bet is to bring along your own source of clean water. With a little training, your pup will even learn to drink from a squeeze bottle, says Seth, a skill that helps conserve water on longer outings.
Some plants can also make your dog ill if ingested. Many dogs are what Seth calls “grazers.” If your dog (like my own) takes to long, broad-leafed grass the way a sommelier settles in with a flight of wines, you’ll want to make sure they don’t try to expand their sampling to mushrooms, wildflowers, or any other plants. A simple deterrent might be a handful of dog food or a doggie treat. They may just be hungry for a snack.
Wild animals, too, can pose a threat to your pooch. But don’t worry too much about predators. Just as with humans, snakes and ticks are much more of a danger to your pup than any bear or mountain lion. (Though be careful with overly exuberant dogs who may take off after wildlife. Every animal has a chance of standing their ground, or even attacking a barking, charging threat.)
With rattlesnakes, prevention is the best cure. Stay away from snake-infested areas until after they go into hibernation. “I would definitely recommend the vaccine for rattlesnake venom, too,” says Seth. The treatment won’t grant bite immunity, but it will lesson the reaction, which will buy you extra time to rush your pup to the emergency room. If you’re afraid your dog may get too close to a rattler, there are avoidance classes available in some areas that use defanged snakes to train dogs to keep their distance.
Ticks especially pose a problem for dogs, and our pups can and do get Rocky Mountain spotted fever. (One of Seth's dogs actually caught it two Thanksgivings ago.) “A flea and tick preventative is pretty much mandatory for the season here in Lewiston,” says Seth. There are a variety of treatments, but he recommends Bravecto—a relatively new product that comes in the form of a quarterly flavored chew treat that will kill ticks as soon as they try to dig into your dog.
Even with the treatment, a post-trip inspection wouldn’t hurt after every outing. Check for ticks, but keep an eye out also for grass seeds and burs. Cheatgrass barbs can become lodged in the fur, embed itself in your pup’s skin, and with time wriggle under the tissue, causing severe infections. Next time you get home from a camping trip, and you’re settling down to your favorite Netflix series, use the half hour to comb through your dog’s fur, especially around the ears, eyes, and paws. They’ll love the extra attention as well.
One major cause for dog injuries in the outdoors has its roots in day-to-day activity around the home, or rather a lack thereof. In other words, don’t let your dog get out of shape. “The single biggest issue we face amongst active animals is obesity. It’s being linked to so many other health issues, including sports-related injury and arthritis.” Daily exercise is something needed by human and dog alike, so getting out for a walk or a game of fetch will do both parties some good.
Finally, I asked Seth what to do if the unthinkable happens, and you lose your dog. His answer was to stay in one spot. “Dogs are pretty good about circling back. Try not to panic, and just stop for a water break. They will usually turn back to where they left you.” If you want extra peace of mind for an especially wanderlustful dog, you can purchase an inexpensive GPS collar to help track them down.
Giardiasis, rattlesnakes, grass seeds that burrow beneath the skin—it all seems pretty scary, right? Don’t sweat it too much, says Seth. Just be aware, and be prepared. But don’t let it stop you from bringing your pal along for the journey. “Getting out with your dog is a great way to strengthen the bond with your pet. It also helps with many behavior issues that can be remedied with exercise or mental stimulation. If you’re ever in doubt about bringing them along, you should just do it.”
Many thanks to Seth Bynum for his valuable veterinarian advice. You can learn more about Seth (and view some of his gorgeous photos of his own two pups, River and Shine) on his Instagram: @birddogvet