Pet Safety During Mountain Recreation

The 2007 fire storms destroyed a large portion of wildlife habitat. Locally, residents are reporting higher instances of wildlife sightings. Which has brought up questions such as, how do I prepare and keep my pets safe while hiking, boating, fishing, or camping?

Prior to a vacationing, or embarking on outdoor adventures with any critter, make sure that all vaccinations are up to date. In some cases, carrying a health certificate may be necessary when traveling long distances.

Needless to say it is a good idea to get pets­­­­ in better condition before heading to the mountains. Taking short hikes close to home will help pets get in shape and give them the edge in the higher altitude.

Be sure that pets are allowed on the trails, at parks, rentals or hotels, and the campgrounds where you plan to vacation. Believe it or not, businesses in the San Bernardino Mountains are known for being pet friendly.

However, leash laws apply even in the forest. Disobedient pet owners can be ticketed and fined if pets are off leash, threaten other hikers, or harass wildlife–so don’t disregarding these laws.

Planning to venture into the brush or forest? Then be sure to protect pets with tick repellent before embarking onto the trails.

Now I have to take a moment to discuss the most overlooked pet safety precautions–travel safety devices. Pets should be secured safely in a carrier or tethered in the back seat when traveling short or long distances.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that distractions caused by unrestrained pets during vehicle operations account for tens of thousands of driving accidents each year. This is of special importance on the winding mountain roads.

Dangers pets face when involved in vehicle accidents include death and dismemberment from air bag deployment and trajectories.

Injuries also happen when critters fall out of vehicle windows or truck beds. I remember one dog that was incorrectly tethered. He sustained painful injuries from being dragged over the asphalt at 45 miles per hour.

Other risks include being catapulted through windows or panic and escape. Many animals face additional hazards when they bolt into traffic or run away in fear and confusion.

Another important but simple step for animal safety is to make a temporary ID tag displaying the name of the park, campground, motel/hotel of where you will be staying. Be sure to include a contact number at the destination area.

Enrolling in a lost pet service, and using microchip or tattoo identification methods are also good to include in combination with traditional tags.

Be sure to pack a pet first aid kit, animal sun block, towel, and water. The ultra-violet rays at high altitude are intense, so apply any pet block to sensitive areas at least 15 minutes prior to exposure.

A good strategy is to plan pet hiking excursions when the temperature is cooler. Be aware that dawn and dusk are also the prime times for wildlife activity.

Once at the destination, locate the nearest emergency veterinary clinic in the area. Take a mobile phone and an extra car key with you to prevent stranding accidents.

Maps are invaluable but also let the camp host, ranger station, or reservation center know any hiking plans for the day.

Consider using canine hiking packs to let pets carry their own supplies on the trail. The load should not exceed 1/4 to 1/3 of the animal’s weight. Smaller pets can be carried in a specially designed human pack.

Other helpful supplies for vacationing with canines include booties (for rough terrain), pet visors, sunglasses, and other active wear. These items can usually be found in resort areas but it may be wise to obtain these prior to the trip.

Don’t use retractable leashes on the trail because it is important to keep your canines close especially when hiking in terrain with challenging conditions such as cliffs, canyons, fallen trees, and boulders.

People often fail to keep their animals on the trails. Pets that wander into the brush might pick up irritating oils from plants and share them with owners.

I once got poison oak from smooching my dog on the head after a hike—and I have to say that it wasn’t pretty!

Keeping pets on trails will also minimize risk from ticks, bees or hornets, venomous snakes, and wild animals.

If a pet poops on the trail, it is best to pack it out with the rest of your trash. Fecal matter can transmit parasites and disease to the native wildlife. If this isn’t possible at least bury the pile.

Monitor your animals to avoid pet heat stroke, sun burn, raw pads, or dehydration. If pets slow down or want to rest, take a break and make sure to give them ample water.

After a day out on the trail don’t forget to inspect your critters from head to tail. Pay close attention to paw pads, look for ticks, and watch for thorns, thistles, and foxtails.

Be alert to signs of fatigue, pet stiffness, or soreness. There are balms, salves, and healing ointments specifically for protecting and soothing paw pads.

If your pets get into pine sap it can be removed with mineral oil or alcohol. Some locals soften the goop with grease oriented dishwashing liquid (or petroleum jelly) followed with baby shampoo.

Should your pet be bitten by a snake, immobilize and calm the animal. If possible, carry the pet out–but get to a veterinarian immediately. Be sure to attempt to identify the type of snake since different snakes require different types of antivenin.

Supply pets with fresh water even when playing on the shoreline or out on the lake. Many water bodies contain parasites, algae, or bacteria that could harm pets.

On the shoreline remember to keep animals restrained and away from the dangers of fishing lines, lures, hooks, and bait.

It is also a good idea to rinse or bath pets after swimming. Dry the ears immediately to prevent ear infections.

For optimal safety in the wilderness, take a hiking partner and don’t let your animals wander. Wildlife pepper spray is a helpful deterrent when facing a threatening encounter with a bear or cougar. These can be found online or at sporting goods stores such as REI.

There are cases where pets have lost their lives protecting their owners from a predatory attack. One incident reported earlier this year in British Columbia involved a dog named Blackie.

The dog lost his life by launching a protective attack against the predator–which bought the man (and other dog) enough time to escape. Wildlife authorities later found and shot the cougar.

The Department of Fish and Game recommends the following hiking safety tips in cougar country. Their list only included kids but I have included pets in the list and the trade names of a couple of deterrents to help you find the products.

Ultimately taking precautions is the best prevention for avoiding risks and injury while you are enjoying time in the outdoors.

Don’t hike alone

Travel in groups or pairs.

Keep kids and animals close.

Adults should keep children and animals close and supervise them on trails or in camp grounds. Predators will hunt weak, small, or sick animals. Children trigger predatory behavior through their activities and vocalizations. Animals can attract predators. If hiking with a group, keep an adult in front and behind.

Do not approach wild animals.

Most wild animals will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape and don’t purposely approach them. Don’t run to escape from a mountain lion.

Stand still.

Running can stimulate the instinct to attack. DFG recommends that you stand, face the animal, and make eye contact. Small children and animals should be pulled into you, or picked up if possible. Keep them quiet and prevent panic.

Remain upright.

Squatting, crouching, or bending presents a similar image to that of a four-legged prey animal. Avoid those activities.

Appear more threatening.

Raise and wave your arms slowly. Throw stones, branches, or whatever is within reach without crouching or turning your back. Speak firmly in a loud voice. Convince the animal that you are not prey and be dangerous.

Fight back if attacked.

A mountain lion (cougar) usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. People have fought successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands.

Consider other preventative measures.

Pepper spray such as Counter Assault® or Pepper Power® have been found to be effective for deterring bear and cougar attacks.

About Ark Lady

+ArkLady is a cyber-jungle trailblazer, author & speaker. Join thecyber-jungle explorer email list or connect via ARKlady website.