By MICHAEL KRUEGER and AMANDA STUART | Moonshine Ink
In summer, we all want to be outdoors with our dogs. Just like we bring Band-Aids and water on long hikes for ourselves, there are a few keys to keeping our dogs healthy in the wilderness. That’s why ski patroller and outdoor enthusiast Michael Krueger teamed up with veterinarian Amanda Stuart to offer classes this summer called Wilderness First Aid For Dogs.
Krueger says for humans, the main question a wilderness first aid responder needs to keep in mind is, “What do I need to do to quickly stabilize an ill or injured person and get him or her out of the backcountry as fast as possible?” Dog owners should be prepared with the same question for their canine hiking companions: “What do I need to do to stabilize my dog and get him or her out of the backcountry to a veterinarian as quickly as possible?”
Here are some highlights for dog safety in the wilderness. ~LG
Know Before You Go
In order to diagnose and treat your dog, first learn how the dog behaves normally so that you can recognize when something is wrong. This is your baseline from which to effectively assess your dog.
Also, be familiar with the environment that you and your dog will be entering. Ask yourself before you leave home: How long is the hike and is the dog fit enough to take it? Is there water along the trail? How hot is it going to be outside, and is there shade along the way? Will there be wild animals and/or snakes? Will the trail be crowed with people and other dogs? Finally, did I pack extra water, snacks, first aid stuff, and dog waste bags?
Like humans, our furry friends need to train for those long summer hikes. If your dog has been a couch potato all winter, you’ll want to start out with shorter hikes to get both of you in shape. Overweight dogs, just like overweight people, need to build up to bigger hikes that demand more physicality. They also need time to build up callouses on foot pads. On many Tahoe trails, granite rocks can tear your dog’s foot pads, and hot surfaces can cause blisters. It’s a good idea to carry dog booties in your first aid kit.
Dehydration involves the loss of water and the depletion of electrolytes, including the essential minerals potassium, sodium, and chloride. Signs of a dehydrated dog include sunken eyes and dry mouth, gums, and nose. Poor skin elasticity is another dehydration symptom. You can test skin elasticity by gently pulling up on the skin at the back of your dog’s neck. If it doesn’t immediately spring back to its normal position, your dog may be dehydrated.
One ounce of water per pound of weight is an estimate of a dog’s normal daily water intake. Increase those numbers when exercising or when visiting from lower altitudes.
Heat-related dog conditions can become life-threatening without immediate treatment. Overheated dogs can suffer heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or sudden death.
Overheating is signaled by panting, change in behavior, and stumbling, followed by disorientation and fast, noisy breathing. More severe signs indicating heat stroke are: collapsing, convulsing, vomiting, diarrhea, and having red or bluish gums. Unlike humans, dogs do not sweat to release heat. Panting is your dog’s only form of thermoregulation, so pay attention to whether it seems like they’re working too hard. Take frequent breaks and give the dog plenty of water.
If you suspect your dog is overheating, do whatever you can to cool him down — including wetting him with cool water, or having the dog lie in a stream or puddle. Offer water to drink, and find shade. When your dog is stable, slowly make your way back to your car and head to a veterinarian as soon as possible.