In the past one hundred years, only 43 black bear mauling deaths have been recorded in all of North America. Mountain lions are extremely rare and reclusive – you could hike several lifetimes and never see one. Alligators can sprint for short distances but do not chase prey on land,so just keep your dog out of the murky swamp water. Snakes are not particularly aggressive animals; unless cornered or teased by your dog, a rattlesnake will crawl away and avoid striking. A general rule for any of these animals on the trail applies: “always give the animal an escape route.”
Perhaps the most dangerous animal in the woods for your trail dog may well be a porcupine. Porcupines are easy for a curious dog to catch, and quills are more than simple needles – the ends are barbed which makes removing them from your dog’s face an adventure. You will need a pair of pliers (which you probably don’t carry on your hike) to properly remove the quills. Quills are air filled, and removal is easier if you snip the tips off. To remove a quill, grasp as close to the skin as possible and work the quill out steadily rather than jerking it. If you get the quills out, wash the wounds with warm, soapy water and apply a topical antibiotic. If a quill breaks off, it can lead to infection and will have to be removed surgically. Take precautions – even the best behaved dog may not be amenable to quill removal without sedation.
Deer are also very common danger. One hundred years ago deer were practically eliminated from U.S. forests, so much so that whitetail deer had to be reintroduced in the wild in many areas from private deer herds. Unfortunately, the deer were reintroduced without any of their natural predators, like wolves that had also been eradicated.
Today there are more deer than anytime in history – destroying young forests, nibbling gardens, straying disastrously onto roadways. More to the point for your dog, Bambi is nurturing deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. After any trail outing it is mandatory to perform a thorough tick hunt on your dog, and if you hike your dog off-leash in an area known for deer, make sure your dog has strong recall – taking off after a fleeing deer can be devastating.
Wild animals aren’t the only danger on the hiking trail. Sparkling mountain streams begging to be gulped are likely infested with microscopic nasties such as leptospirosis or giardia. The most common symptoms are crippling diarrhea and listlessness, and they can last more than a month and cause weight loss. These bugs can be avoided by using water purification tablets and having your dog boostered with a leptospirosis vaccine.
Sandspurs,burrs, and foxtails are plant seeds can also be a big pain. Foxtails can burrow under your dog’s skin, get in their ears and up their noses. After any hike, while you are checking your dog for ticks, also check for plant material, especially in between the toes.
Some of our best hikes involve trails where we have to make our way up and down mountains. Your dog will look like he is having the time of her life jumping down and around rocks and boulder faces. We sometimes think our energetic trail dogs are indestructible athletes, but the fact is that even a bad landing playing fetch can damage a ligament: same thing goes for obstacles on the trail. The advice for us on mountain trails applies for your dog as well: “You get tired going uphill but you get hurt coming down.”
Make sure your dog takes it slow, and enjoy a safe and fun time hiking with your fur buddy.