After talking about heat stroke last week you may find it strange that I'd write about taking your dog on a hike up a 14,000 foot mountain in the Colorado Rockies. We locals just call them "14'ers". Over 500,000 people will visit the Rocky Mountain peaks this summer and many will take their dog(s). It sounds like a great idea to have your favorite companion accompany you on such a feat, but there are some things you should know to keep you and your furry friend safe and ensure a successful round trip back to your starting point.
Let me tell you why!
Just as it is a good idea to prepare for yourself for an all day hike the same careful planning should go into what your dog may need. Some thinking ahead may save you from carrying your 60 pound furry friend off the mountain.
1) Leash laws: There really is a leash law on the majority of the trails up to the 14'er summits. The leash law is for the protection of your dog and the other people on the trail. There is a pretty good chance of running into some kind of wildlife on the trail and it would be bad for "Lucky" to take chase. Often times the trail is on a cliff edge or next to a scree field (aka talus or loose rock) and your dog could get seriously hurt taking off after a pica or mountain goat. If you decide to let your dog be free be sure he is well trained and have a leash handy if other dogs come around. Be warned that if you get caught the fine is $200!
2) Dog booties: The most common injury to dogs on mountain hikes is torn pads on their paws from the jagged rocks and rough dirt paths. Imagine your worst blister and then consider having that on the bottom of your foot and walking on rocks or through the dirt. Yup, painful. To prevent these injuries get your dog a pair of dog booties. REI has some or you can go to dogbooties.com; ruffwear.com; or ultrapaws.com. I am in no way affiliated with any of these sites. I've just heard and read of successful use of these brands for mountain climbing dogs.
3) Altitude sickness: Logically it seems plausible that dogs can get altitude sickness just like their humans, but none of our vets have actually diagnosed an animal with altitude sickness. However, here are some signs to look for:
- Increased panting or difficulty breathing
- Change in gum color - kind of dull or grey
- Stumbling or staggering
- Mentally foggy - just doesn't seem to be there
If you notice any of these signs have your dog drink some water and then head back down the mountain. Returning to a lower elevation should decrease the symptoms. If they continue, head straight to the vet's office.
4) Water and Food: Just like you need lots of water and food to sustain you on the long hike to the summit so does your dog. Some dogs can wear a pack and carry their own water. Check Amazon.com for multiple options of styles and sizes to fit your dog. Dehydration is no fun for you or your dog and can be a precursor for heat stroke if left unchecked.
5) First Aid: It's best to be prepared. See my May 31st post on disaster preparedness. It's a good idea to have a basic first aid kit on hand that includes a guide for emergency response (for dogs and their humans).
6) Timing: Weather is unpredictable in the mountains and storms can move in quickly. The smartest thing to do is get started early in the morning so that you summit the 14'er in time to get back to the trailhead by early afternoon. Colorado is notorious for afternoon thunderstorms and the last place you want to be is on the side of a mountain completely exposed to the lightening strikes with no where to hide. Plus, many dogs are sensitive to lightening and thunder and it would be unfair to have them out in such a storm.
7) Cold and Hot: Another aspect of the weather is the temperature. Really hot days can lead to hyperthermia and heatstroke. Really cold weather can lead to hypothermia and frostbite. Either way you should be aware of your dogs response and make accommodations. For the heat let your dog indicate when he/she needs to stop for a bit to rest and be sure to provide lots of water. For the cold consider getting a fleece jacket of sorts that will warm the dogs core to stave off the chill.
I'm sorry this post is long, but hopefully this info will prepare you to have a fabulous time hiking with your furry friend.
The moral of the story...as the Carpenters sang, a dog's love really can put you "at the top of the world looking down on creation".