Tips for protecting your dog while hiking

Hiking can be a fun activity enjoyed both by humans and their companion animals. Hiking allows your dog to get outside and enjoy nature, and also serves a good source of exercise.

Although hiking is generally safe, certain dangers in the environment can potentially hurt or, in severe cases, can be fatal to your dog. Fortunately, most of these dangers are easily preventable with a little advanced planning and help from your local veterinarian.

One major danger common see in wooded areas where dogs frequently hike are exposure to ticks. Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that typically live in wooded areas. Tick-borne disease can be found across the United States and have been known to cause diseases in both pets and humans.

Tick-borne diseases that are common throughout the United States include Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Borreliosis (Lyme Disease), Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis and American Hepatozoonosis. Although some dogs will be asymptomatic carriers of these diseases, infection can lead to potential debilitating acute and chronic diseases affecting a variety of organs.

It is important to divulge any recent travel history to your veterinarian and any history of tick exposure if your dog becomes acutely ill. Some of the diseases caused by ticks are treatable if caught early enough.  Certain ticks can also release neurotoxins to cause a condition called tick paralysis where an animal will slowly lose mobility in their back legs and eventually become paralyzed. This condition is reversible if the tick is found and removed.

The cornerstone for protection for tick-borne diseases is a high quality tick preventative. There are several good options including oral tablets, topical medications and tick collars.  It is best to consult your local veterinarian to determine which product would be the best fit for your dog. In areas endemic for Lyme disease, your dog should be vaccinated for Lyme disease.

Another danger seen with hiking is a disease called leptospirosis.  Leptospirosis is caused by an organism that is spread in the urine of affected wildlife species and is commonly found in stagnant or slow-moving water. Flooding of the environment can saturate the soils with organisms, prevent evaporation and prolong the survival of organisms in surface water.

Leptospirosis can remain viable for months in moist environments and peak incidences occur July through November, often following periods of heavy rainfall or flooding. Although lepto is primarily transmitted via contact with infected urine, it can also be transmitted through placental transfer,  bite wounds or ingestion of infected tissues.

Once infected, leptosires multiply quickly and enter the blood stream where they cause damage to blood vessels, hemorrhage and inflammation. They can then spread and replicate in many organs, including kidneys, liver, spleen and central
nervous system.

The kidneys are the first organ usually affected and lepto can cause permanent kidney damage, and eventually, kidney failure. The liver is the second major organ affected with permanent and fatal liver failure. Leptospirosis is fatal if untreated but can be reversed if diagnosed and treated quickly. Leptospirosis can also be spread from the affected animal to humans. The cornerstone of leptospirosis prevention includes being properly vaccinated against leptospirosis prior to exposure.

The leptospirosis vaccine can be given by your local veterinarian. Also, limiting exposure of pets to sources of leptospirosis including stagnant and slow- moving water can reduce the likelihood of contracting the disease. Supplying your dog with fresh clean water reduces the likelihood of drinking contaminated water.

Another parasite that can be contracted through contaminated water is giardia. Giardia is a relatively common protozoan parasite that is often either ingested directly through the fecal-oral route or indirectly though contaminated water or food with giardia cysts.

Once ingested, giardia trophozoites attach to the intestines most commonly causing acute, severe diarrhea and in rare cases acute or chronic vomiting. Although rarely fatal, giardia can cause significant diarrhea and generalized GI discomfort. Supplying your dog with a fresh water source is the best preventative for giardia.

All in all, hiking is a fun outdoor activity for you and your pet. With any outdoor activity, there are some inherent risks. However, most of these risks can be minimized by proper preventative care as outlined in this editorial. The most valuable tool to utilize is your local veterinarian. They have extensive knowledge, training and expertise in limiting these risks.

Schedule your preventative care exam to discuss your pet’s risk factors and develop a plan to best protect them.

Courtesy of Kulshan Veterinary Hospital

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