5 Biggest Trail Hazards

Each year three times as many people die from being hit on a head with a coconut (180) than are killed by shark attacks (63). But what one does Hollywood make horror movies about?
It is the same way with trail hazards. What are the biggest dangers we face when hiking with our dogs? Bears? Mountain lions? Alligators? Snakes? In all of North America only 43 black bear mauling deaths have ever been recorded through the end of the 20th century. Big cats are extremely rare - you could hike several lifetimes in the Western mountains and never see one. Alligators can scamper 30 mph for short distances but do not chase prey on land so it is a simple matter to keep your dog out of murky water in the Southeast to keep her safe. Snakes are not particularly aggressive animals; unless cornered or teased by your dog a rattlesnake will crawl away and avoid striking. The general rule for any dangerous animal on the trail applies: "give the animal an escape route."

With that in mind, here are the Top 5 things your dog should find really scary on the trail...

1) Sparkling mountain streams. Surface water, including fast-flowing streams that are begging to be gulped, is likely to be infested with microscopic nasties waiting to wreak havoc on a dog's intestinal system. Discomfort form ingested parasites can last more than a month. The most common symptoms are crippling diarrhea, listlessness and weight loss.

2) Deer. One hundred years ago deer were practically eliminated from Eastern forests that had been stripped to fields of stumps. 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. Even in the dead of winter.

3) Sandspurs. If you are lucky enough to hike with your dog at the beach you may be unlucky to find these coastal pests. Tiny seeds lying on the sand, sandspurs are almost composed completely of sharp spines. While we in bare feet know immediately when we step one one of these barbed land mines, our dogs are more stoic. Tiny enough to hide in between your dog's paw pads, it can take some detective work to discover why she is limping. Away from the beach, the sandspur has plenty of nefarious relatives waiting to hitchhike on your dog. Left unattended, burrs at their worst can work into your dog's skin and cause infection. At the very least, burrs hidden in the coat will lead to mats and knots, especially if your dog has enjoyed a good swim.

4) Boulders. 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 his life jumping down and around rocks and boulder faces. We tend to think our energetic trail dogs are indestructible athletes but the fact is that even a bad landing on a jump from the couch can damage a tendon. Same thing 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.

5) Porcupines. Perhaps the most dangerous animal in the woods for your trail dog may well be this docile creature. 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 (that you are most likely not carrying in your pack so your dog will be forced to play pin cushion in the meantime) to properly remove the quills. Grasp as close to the flesh 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 at the vet. Ouch.

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