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Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Dec 8, 2013

DianneErskineHellrigelYour dog relies on you to keep him safe on the trail. There are a lot of hazards out there you should be aware of to keep yourself and your best friend safe.

Many people think of a hike as a place where their dog can run free and off of the leash. Unfortunately, this is not true. If a dog is running around and playing off-leash, predators such as mountain lions and bears can be attracted to them and attack.

The dog can also run into poison oak when he is off-trail. Even if it won’t affect the dog’s skin under his fur, he can be susceptible to infection of the eyes or pass the oil from the plant on to you at a later point, which can cause a reaction.

Ticks, snakes, contaminated water and food are other things a dog might encounter when he is off-trail. And if he laps up contaminated water or eats poisoned food, chances are you won’t be in the brush to stop him.

Any of these things can be harmful or fatal to your pet. Not to mention that if you’re caught with your animal off-leash at a local park, it can cost you hundreds of dollars in fines.

The bottom line is that you are responsible for the health of your pet.

dogsontrailhikeA first prudent step would be to confer with your vet to see if your pet is healthy enough for a rigorous hike. Once that has been established, you might consider taking first-aid items for your animal with you when you hike.

Your vet can give you help in assembling your doggie first aid kit, or direct you to a book on the subject. But you might start with an assortment of items including saline eye wash, a muzzle, blunt scissors, gauze pads and wrap, dog booties for injured paws, doggie nail clippers, tweezers, ointments – and don’t forget to take him lots of water and a bowl.

After every hike, you should check yourself and your dog for ticks. Spread his fur and look for embedded ticks, and comb his fur thoroughly to check for ticks hidden but not yet embedded.

Avoid grass and overhanging brush, and make sure your dog is reined in so as not to touch the brush, as well. A tick repellent used before going out is also a good idea.

Poison oak is prevalent in our valley. There is no poison ivy. The best thing to do is to learn what poison oak looks like, and avoid it. Remember the saying: “Leaves of Three, Let it Be.” When you see it, rein in your dog and keep him from touching it. Remember, he can pass it on to you or your family.

This time of year, there are no leaves on the poison oak, but the twigs and berries still have the oil, urushiol, on them, which is what causes the reaction. So, look out for the twigs – and berries, too.

Insects that sting can be another problem. Bees, wasps, mosquitoes and black flies can not only be irritating, but also dangerous. Use repellents and nets on yourself, and get a prescription repellent for your dog. If your dog is agreeable to wearing a net, this would be helpful for him, too. And it might just be a great conversation starter on the trail.

Irritating plants such as stinging nettles also abound near our creeks and trails. Brambles and thistles are another concern. Again, avoiding them is the best defense. If you and your dog stay on the trail, you are less likely to be exposed to these nasty plants.

Most of the snakes you will come across will be non-poisonous. However, they can still bite and cause an infection. It is best to avoid all snakes at all times. It is also important to be able to recognize a rattlesnake, and if you or your dog are bitten, it is important to get help immediately.

Do not use a snakebite kit, and do not apply a tourniquet. The most important thing is to get to a hospital (or veterinary hospital) immediately. Call 9-1-1 and have an ambulance meet you at the trailhead if you are bitten. If your dog is bitten, pick him up, if at all possible, and return to your vehicle as quickly as you can, and get him to the vet’s office.

Snakes like grass, so keep your dog in the middle of the trail whenever possible and away from grassy areas.

Most water you will find along the trails will be polluted or contain a micro-organism called Giardia, a bacteria that will cause chronic diarrhea. It is best to avoid water in the wild. Bring your own and bring enough for your dog. If you are gone for days at a time, there are purification pumps you can add to your pack and iodine or chlorine pills that will help to keep you healthy.

Any wild or dead food your dog may find along the way is most likely to be hazardous to his health. Bones can fragment; the animal might have been poisoned; or a carcass could contain lead or any number of other pollutants. Be sure both you and your dog have a sufficient supply of food any time you go on a trip – even a day hike.

Another consideration, and one of the most important, is weather. I witnessed a dog expire this summer as he was running in extreme heat, trying to catch up to his mountain biking owner. Extreme heat or cold can kill your pet. Plan your activities so you will avoid the heat of the day in summer. Check the weather report and avoid days of extreme cold, rain or snow. Be kind to your pet. Remember, he is out in the heat of the day with a fur coat on, or in the snow with bare feet.

Finally, be considerate of others on the trail. Keep your dog under control, as he may frighten others.  Pick up after your dog and keep “it” off of the trail so someone else doesn’t step in it.

Hike responsibly, stay safe and be comfortable. Happy trails.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy.

 

 

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