muddy hiking dog

By Dr. Debra L. Weisman, Newtown Veterinary Specialists Medical Director

Does your dog get as excited as mine when you put on your hiking shoes or take out your walking stick? His excitement makes me feel guilty whenever I am not with him on a hike. It’s important for any dog owner to do a little planning prior to heading out with a four-legged companion to keep him safe.

Plan Your Trip
• Be sure you are aware of the trail regulations. Most U.S. national parks do not allow dogs on the trails.
• Maintain control of your dog at all times. Most public, maintained trails require dogs to be on a leash. They may even go on to require the leash to be no longer than six-feet in length. On trips like these, we recommend not using the extendable leash and opting for a conventional one. Extendable leashes may be great at home, but generally are not sturdy enough for trail conditions.
• Your dog should also be calm as others pass (both fellow hikers and their furry friends). Be aware of what situations upset your hiking companion. If he or she is not yet used to other dogs, you might want to hold off on hiking for now. The trails are often quite narrow with little room to pass.
• Mountain bikers are often on the same trails you are hiking. Be sure your dog is under control and does not chase or bark at the bikers. Your dog and the biker could be seriously injured if an unfortunate encounter occurs.

Your Dog’s Physical Ability
• Ease into your hiking routine. Some hikers like to share the load with their pets. If that is your choice, start off with him wearing the pack around the house, then on short neighborhood walks prior to a full day of hiking.
• Start with lighter loads. It is safe for your pet to carry up to one-third of its body weight if he is healthy and in good body condition.
• Older or poorly conditioned dogs may be better off and happier at home.

First Aid
• Our website,, offers tips on first aid for pets. Please remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. First aid is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet’s life until it receives veterinary treatment.
• First aid kits are a great addition to your pet’s backpack. Be sure you include a muzzle, since any injured pet can bite (even Finn!).

Packing for Your Dog
• Hydration is key for active dogs. Be sure to pack a collapsible food/water dish or purchase a hydration system. There are some interesting gadgets available. Do your homework and be sure your dog will drink from your new system. Testing it on the trail is not recommended.
• Most dogs travel almost twice the distance you and I do when hiking, making them quite hungry. Be sure to pack enough food for your trip. Your dog will probably be a bit hungrier after a long hike. (Caution – do not overfeed).

Does all of this info make you want to take a hike? Please remember, if you have any concerns or your pet becomes ill or injured Newtown Veterinary Specialists is open 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Call us at 203-270-VETS (8387). #NewtownVeterinarySpecialists