Hiking with your dog can be great exercise — for both of you. However, hiking does also come with some risks and challenges, particularly for your dog, who can't exactly talk and tell you when something is wrong. As such, it's a good idea to have the following conversations with your vet before you begin taking your dog on hikes.
At what rate should you condition your dog to hiking?
Hiking can be strenuous. Your dog may have the cardiovascular health to handle longer hikes, but it can take their muscles, tendons, and ligaments longer to adapt. You don't generally want to jump right into hiking 8 or 10 miles with them. Rather, you should start slow with shorter, easier hikes, and then work your way up. How quickly you can progress will depend on your dog's previous activity level, their age, their breed, and even their personality. So, it is worth asking your vet for some recommendations in this regard. They may tell you, for instance, to stick to 30-minute hikes for the first month. Or, they may tell you hiking for an hour once a week is okay for now.
Does your dog need any extra vaccines?
Now that your dog will be spending more time in the woods with you, there may be some additional vaccines they need. One of these is the vaccine for Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a serious, bacterial infection that causes nausea, fever, eye problems, and sometimes even death. It's spread by wild animals through water, which means many hiking dogs are at an increased risk for it. Your vet may also recommend that your dog is vaccinated for Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks. Vaccinating your dog is a small step to reduce your dog's risk of serious illness later on.
What kind of flea or tick protection should you be using?
Most dogs need a regular, monthly flea and tick preventative whether or not they go hiking. But as you begin to hike, your vet may recommend a different preventative. Or, they may recommend some additional measures, such as putting a tick collar on your dog before hikes. Since fleas and ticks are not only nuisances, but can spread disease, it's important to adhere to your vet's recommendations in this regard.
As long as you take precautions and address risks, hiking with your dog can be a great choice. Talk to your veterinarian for more recommendations and advice.