Clinic Stories

A Dog and Cat Walk in the Woods

Many people enjoy hiking with their dogs, and on rare occasion, with their cats. Hundreds of dogs have hiked the entire 2181 mile Appalachian Trail. Based on the canoe ferry at the Kennebec River crossing near Caratunc, Maine about 2% of hikers have dogs with them. A handful of cats have hiked the AT although most perch on the top of a backpack a good part of the time. The first cat to complete the AT was Ziggy in 1990. He was picked up as a 2 month old kitten in Ohio near the beginning of a 5000 mile journey – a canoe trip down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, then hiking the AT from Georgia to Maine, then returning to Pennsylvania by bicycle. He covered 25 states.

Many of the precautions of hiking with a dog apply to short as well as long hikes.

Regulations – Some areas do not allow dogs on trails. This includes most National Parks, and some state parks such as Baxter State Park at the northern end of the AT in Maine. In many other areas (40% of the AT) dogs must be on leash.

Conditioning – Not all dogs are capable or comfortable with a vigorous or extended hike. Stay within your dogs abilities. Sporting and working dogs weighing 40 to 60 pounds seem to hold up the best. I saw a Vizsla, normally a hyperactive breed, 1000 miles into an AT hike that could barely raise his head. He did not finish the hike.

Ticks – Ticks are inescapable in the woods and that means Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehlerichia. Hiking dogs should be on flea and tick preventive medication.

Heat - Dogs do not sweat, except for small amount on their pads. They regulate heat by panting. Some dogs, such as pugs and Bull dogs, have constricted airways and should not be exposed to prolonged exercise or heat. Stay with your dog's comfort zone and make sure they have plenty of water. A swim is the best way to cool a dog when available.

Injury – Foot and leg injuries are common especially cut or abraded pads and sprains. Booties help prevent a lot of foot injuries. For longer hikes bring along some Vet Wrap and anti-inflammatories aspirin if not something stronger from your Vet.

Courtesy – Don't allow your dog to bother other people. Some dogs are so bad that hikers will warn others miles in advance of an unfriendly dog.

Keep dogs from chasing wildlife

Do not allow dogs to urinate, defecate or stand in water sources

Pick up or bury pet waste.

In Maine, I met up with four hikers with a very friendly dog on a rope. I asked what they were going to do when they got to Baxter Park which does not allow dogs. "Oh, it's not our dog. We found him a couple of days ago in the woods. But there was a phone number on his collar and his owner is meeting us in the next town to get him." Lucky dog; the next town was another 30 miles.

Cats are naturally nocturnal. Outdoor cats will be most active at night and sleep during the day. Indoor cats are less active overall but adapt to our schedule by beign more active at daytime. A hiking cat is so uncommon because he must be willing to ignore his natural rhythm and to follow along with a person. Beyond hitting the cat lottery, there are no rules fro hiking with cats.

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