A dog and his human hiking in the mountains of Colorado.

Colorado is full of majestic mountains and scenic trails that are hard to resist, especially, when sharing them with your canine hiking companion.

At Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, we believe that enjoying hikes with your dog involves proper training and preparation. Here are some tips to help your dog have a great time while out on the trails with you.  

Train Your Dog Ahead of Time

As with humans, hiking Colorado trails at both lower and higher elevations can cause problems for dogs. Heat stroke, dehydration, exhaustion, and altitude sickness are just some of the potential risks. You can minimize the chance of these occurring by first making sure your dog has had a recent physical check-up and is healthy enough to handle hiking in general, both at lower and higher elevations. 

You should also follow these training and hiking guidelines:

  • First, ensure your dog is trained to walk by your side on a lead and reliably responds to basic commands such as “heel,” “come,” “stay,” “leave it,” and “no.” If your dog needs assistance with these skills, consider enrolling in a class or consulting with our Pet Behavior Specialist.
  • Take the time to train your dog to be out on a trail and to hike uphill. Work up to longer excursions over a period of a few weeks. Gradual training will also help prevent muscle soreness and overuse injuries. 
  • Use a lead no longer than 6 feet and avoid retractable ones. Always keep your dog on its lead, under control, and close to you. This ensures you can quickly manage encounters with rattlesnakes, other wildlife, people, or loose/aggressive dogs. Avoid letting your dog wander off the trail.        
  • Follow proper trail etiquette to ensure the safety of your dog and others you may encounter. Be prepared to yield to uphill hikers, runners, cyclists, and horseback riders. 
  • During the warmer months of the year, hike during the cooler parts of the day, especially, if you’re covering terrain that is in full sun. Dogs can easily overheat without the benefit of shade, especially, during the hottest times of the day. Overheating, dehydration, and other heat-related problems can affect any dog, regardless of its age, and cause serious problems.    
  • Never force your dog to continue on a hike if it slows down or shows signs of fatigue. Stop and rest, and if your dog doesn’t regain energy, it’s time to turn back. Always monitor your dog’s energy level and behavior.
  • Avoid attempting a high-altitude hike with a dog that has not been properly acclimated to elevations above 8,000 feet and higher. Many mountain trails will take you well above timberline to 11,000 – 12,000 feet. Hiking a fourteener means going up to and over 14,000 feet. Only healthy dogs that are well-trained and acclimated for these altitudes and long distances should be taken on a hike to these elevations.
  • Always give your dog rest days after hiking. Like humans, dogs need recovery time, which varies based on their age, health, and fitness level. Dogs can suffer from muscle and joint overuse issues. Proper rest and gradual training are essential to prevent these problems.   

Packing the Right Gear for the Hike

Before you go out on your hike, do the following:

  • How long you plan to be on the trail?
  • Check the day’s weather forecast
  • Pack supplies for your dog accordingly

The following items are essential when hiking with a dog:

  • A 6 foot lead, properly fitted wonder walker harness, regular harness, or collar
  • Clear identification for your dog
  • Plenty of water ‒ more than you think your dog will need 
  • Food and treats for the day 
  • A collapsible dog bowl that is easy to carry
  • Plastic bags for pet waste
  • Properly fitted dog raincoat or jacket, booties 
  • Canine first-aid kit and emergency blanket 
  • Emergency dog carry-out harness, just in case

Carry a First-Aid Kit

Even if you’re just driving around town, it’s always wise to have a complete pet first-aid kit with you. This is especially crucial when you’re far from home or a veterinary hospital. Read more about preparing a portable pet first-aid kit.

Head Out Early

To ensure you have enough time to reach your destination and return before a storm hits or darkness falls, start your hike early in the morning. This is especially crucial if you plan to go above 10,000 feet. As a sunny morning can quickly turn into a blustery storm by midday at high elevations. Additionally, lightning is always a concern when above the timberline.

Earlier starts also allow for cooler temperatures as you pass through the lower elevations where temperatures can rise quickly by late morning.  

Avoid Altitude Sickness

Denver sits at 5,280 feet above sea level. Although most of us are used to this altitude in our daily activities, our pets may not be. Here are the signs of altitude-related sickness include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive panting, drooling
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Vomiting 
  • Collapse

For more information and guidelines on altitude sickness, read our blog on how altitude affects pets and preventing altitude sickness. Nothing will ruin a hike faster than having to carry your dog out due to exhaustion, sickness or other altitude problem.

A Word On Rattlesnakes

If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, you have about an hour to get to a pet emergency facility for medical care, regardless of where the bite is on the body. Prompt treatment is crucial to prevent debilitating and life-threatening symptoms. 

Rattlesnake venom is highly toxic. It causes pain, swelling, internal bleeding, difficulty breathing, shock and death within a relatively short period of time. Treatment for rattlesnake bites typically requires the administration of Antivenin (sometimes several doses) along with intravenous fluids and 24-hour monitoring. Survival often depends on how quickly treatment is provided.       

Know Your Dog

For most dogs, hiking in the mountains is an enjoyable activity that is well-tolerated. However, some breeds are predisposed to having problems and require additional attention:

  • At elevations above 5,000 feet, brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like Boxers, Pugs, Pekingese, Bulldogs, or any pet with breathing issues should be monitored closely. These breeds are already prone to breathing problems, which can be worsened by higher altitudes. 
  • Dogs with a heart condition or heart murmur, regardless of breed, should NOT be taken on hikes above 8,000 feet. They are at a much higher risk for having a serious, life-threatening problem at higher elevations. 
  • Overweight and sedentary dogs will need to be trained gradually over a period of weeks. Starting out on flat terrain, do short walks out and back (30 minutes or less). Increase the distance and time as your dog adapts. Introduce uphill terrain in the same way. 
  • Some dogs have difficulty tolerating the heat or cold. Pay attention to how your dog is doing and adjust your hike as needed. If your dog seems overly sensitive, schedule a check-up with your veterinarian to rule out a medical problem. Your veterinarian may also recommend ways to keep your dog more comfortable.   

We’re Here to Help

If you have questions about your pet’s health or would like to schedule an appointment for your pet, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to help!