By Sophie Vershbow
Reviewed by Sarah Wooten, DVM
No matter the breed, all dogs need to go outside on a regular basis. Depending on your pet’s physical ability––and your own schedule––that can mean anything from a quick stroll around the block to an all-day hike in the woods.
“Dog walking has great health benefits both for the pet and the walker,” says Dr. Ian Wright, a veterinary surgeon and head of the European Scientific Counsel for Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP) U.K. and Ireland. However, “there are potential hazards that need to be considered before, during, and after the walk.”
Luckily, there are steps you can take to help keep your pet safe while exploring the outdoors. The more you know about the potential dangers to watch out for when walking your dog, the better you can protect her.
7 Potential Outdoor Dangers When Walking Your Dog
Since dogs can’t speak for themselves, it’s our job as pet parents to keep them out of harm’s way. Part of that means paying close attention to the weather when we are walking the dog.
If you’ve ever seen a dog panting in the sun, it’s no surprise that hot weather poses a risk to our canine companions. “On hot, sunny days, dogs’ feet can be burned on paths that have been heated up in the sun,” says Wright. “Dogs also often suffer from heatstroke if exercising in hot temperatures.”
Owners of short-nosed or flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds should be particularly careful when bringing their dogs out in hot weather, he adds, because they can’t cool down as easily as long-nosed dogs.
How to protect your dog: Not sure if it’s too hot for your dog to be outside? Wright recommends testing the pavement yourself. “[If] a surface is too hot for you to keep the palm of your hand on, then it is too hot for the dog’s feet,” he says. Avoid walking your dog at peak temperature times in the summer. Cut walks short, and always make sure your dog is getting plenty of water.
Despite their fur coats, dogs are just as vulnerable to winter conditions as we are. Beyond the obvious dangers that come with icy streets, cold weather can exacerbate existing medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease, in dogs––especially senior dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (1). Small dogs, or those with short hair, are particularly at risk of hypothermia, no matter their age.
Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets. If you need help determining your pet’s temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.
How to protect your dog: Limit your dog’s outdoor exposure in frigid temperatures. When outside, there’s no shame in having them wear a sweater or coat to stay warm. To avoid thermal injury and protect your dog’s paw pads from snow, ice, and salt, try putting booties on them before leaving the house. You can also wash your dog’s paws off after a walk to remove any de-icer that may have gotten on their feet.
While walking your dog, he could be exposed to a variety of internal parasites—especially if he’s known to roll around in (or eat) dirt or poop from other animals. Dogs can also be exposed from cleaning and licking dirty paws after a walk, picking up muddy sticks, sticking their nose in the dirt and then licking it off, and drinking from outdoor sources.
“There are many microscopic parasites that lurk in the outdoor environment (eggs from roundworms, hookRemove featured imageworms, whipworms, and others),” says Dr. Jennifer Pearl, assistant director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America.
Dogs can contract roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms from ingesting infective eggs in contaminated soil or feces. While out for a walk, your dog may encounter worm eggs in any location frequented by other dogs or wild animals like foxes and coyotes. Eggs can live in the soil long after the stool is gone.
If your dog ingests water (or other substances) soiled with feces, he could be exposed to giardia, another common parasite that causes digestive distress. If you live in an area with rodents, squirrels, raccoons, pigs, or cattle, your dog may be at risk for leptospirosis, a bacterial disease.
If you live in an area where mosquitoes are prevalent, your dog could also be at risk of contracting heartworm disease if bitten by an infected mosquito and can be fatal if left untreated.
How to protect your dog: Be knowledgeable about the parasitic risks you might encounter when taking your dog for a walk. “Eating prey animals can also lead to parasitic infection,” Wright warns, so be careful if letting your dog off-leash. If your dog enjoys hunting or chasing smaller animals, like rodents and rabbits, know that he could be exposed to roundworms, hookworms, or certain species of tapeworms. These parasites can also be spread from animals to people. You should also use caution around unknown water sources, Wright advises. If your dog drinks out of a stagnant pond, it can lead to toxicity or intestinal upset.
Both Wright and Pearl stress the importance of year-round parasite protection for the health of dogs. For instance, Interceptor® Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel) is a tasty monthly chew that helps protect dogs against five types of parasitic worms: heartworm disease, hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and tapeworm. To find the right option for your pet, talk to your veterinarian.
See important safety information below for Interceptor® Plus.
One of the most serious potential hazards for dogs are infectious diseases passed by ticks, Wright says. Ticks are external parasites that often reside in long grass or shrubs. They wait for an animal (or person) to brush by so they can grab on and start feeding. Aside from Lyme disease, ticks can transmit several other life-threatening diseases that diminish a dog’s quality of life, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. Humans are also susceptible to some of the same tick-borne diseases that affect pets.
Although ticks are more active during warm months, some species like cooler weather, so consider them a year-round threat. Ticks can be out questing any day that the temperature is above freezing. Wright strongly advises year-round tick protection for any dogs who walk in tall grass or undergrowth, in areas of known tick infestation, areas shared by wildlife or livestock, and in those dogs with a history of tick exposure.
How to protect your dog: There are several methods of tick protection for dogs, such as monthly chewables like Credelio® (lotilaner). In addition to protecting your dog’s health, year-round tick control can help stop your pet from bringing ticks into your home that could potentially feed on other pets—or you. Because tick-borne diseases vary by region, both Wright and Pearl recommend consulting your veterinarian about protective measures specific to your dog.
See important safety information below for Credelio®.
When possible, steer clear of tall grass on walks and always check your dog for ticks when you get home. (Don’t forget to look between his toes and in his ears!)
We all like to think our pets are perfectly behaved, but the truth is that dogs need to be under our watchful eyes to stay safe, especially when walking along or crossing busy streets.
There’s nothing scarier than the thought of your dog running into oncoming traffic, yet thousands of animals are killed by cars each year. No matter how much you trust your dog, it’s vital to keep her leashed when moving vehicles are nearby.
How to protect your dog: Learn the signs that your dog is about to make a break for it. As soon as you see this happening, try distracting your dog with treats or toys. Use positive reinforcement and praise throughout the walk to communicate that not reacting to cars will be rewarded.
“Some dogs have noise phobias and can become very frightened or reactive to the noise,” Pearl adds. “Loud traffic noises and trucks can be problematic as well as the noise of bicycles, skateboards, and skates…avoiding and/or training may be used to defuse or desensitize the pet to the noises.”
Most important, Wright reminds owners to “keep dogs on a lead outside of designated dog exercise areas” for safety.
If your leashed-dog is still chasing after cars following extensive training, you may want to see a behaviorist for more specific guidance.
Every owner has cried “what did you just eat!” after seeing their dog lurch at a mysterious lump. “Dogs love to eat things they shouldn’t,” says Wright, warning that “this [behavior] can lead to toxicity or intestinal obstruction.” There are countless risks lurking inside the garbage or on the ground: prescription medications, cleaning products, toxic foods––so always be aware of your surroundings as your dog sniffs around.
How to protect your dog: Teach your dog to “leave it” so he’ll move away from questionable items. Pearl also recommends “using treats, praise, attention, and play throughout the walk, [so] the dog can be trained to turn their attention to the walker for further instruction such as sit, when the walker asks the dog to do so.”
No matter how well-behaved your pet is, you can’t account for the behavior of other dogs while out on a walk. Pearl notes the importance of taking every dog’s unique personality into consideration. Understanding your dog’s behavior—“particularly regarding triggers or situations that may cause the dog to become overly reactive”—is crucial to keeping them safe, she says.
How to protect your dog: “Having proper leashes, collars, and harnesses for the dog…[is one of] the best precautions that dog owners can take to ensure a safe and enjoyable walk outdoors,” Pearl reiterates. “Collars and harnesses need to fit well so that they are comfortable and the dog won’t slip out of it,” she says. In addition, “harnesses, where the leash attaches to the middle of the chest rather than on the back, will deter pulling by the dog and allow greater control.”
Pearl also advises against retractable leashes. “In an urgent situation, a dog owner’s reflexes to shorten the leash may not be fast enough to keep the dog from running and extending the leash, thereby getting into a dangerous situation, like interaction with an unfriendly dog or eating something inappropriate.” This is especially important with young or untrained dogs who are just learning their abilities and limitations outside of the house.
As long as you take the right protective measures and keep an eye out for potential hazards, all walks with your dog can be good ones.
Credelio kills adult fleas and is indicated for the treatment and prevention of flea infestations, treatment and control of tick infestations (lone star tick, American dog tick, black-legged tick, and brown dog tick) for one month in dogs and puppies 8 weeks and older and 4.4 pounds or greater.
Credelio Important Safety Information
Lotilaner is a member of the isoxazoline class of drugs. This class has been associated with neurologic adverse reactions including tremors, incoordination, and seizures. Seizures have been reported in dogs receiving this class of drugs, even in dogs without a history of seizures. Use with caution in dogs with a history of seizures or neurologic disorders. The safe use of Credelio in breeding, pregnant or lactating dogs has not been evaluated. The most frequently reported adverse reactions are weight loss, elevated blood urea nitrogen, increased urination, and diarrhea. For complete safety information, please see Credelio product label or ask your veterinarian.
Interceptor Plus Indications
Interceptor Plus prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs and puppies 6 weeks or older and 2 pounds or greater.
Interceptor Plus Important Safety Information
Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor Plus, dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity, incoordination, weight loss, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. For complete safety information, please see Interceptor Plus product label or ask your veterinarian.
Disclaimer: The author received compensation from Elanco US Inc., the maker of Interceptor Plus and Credelio, for her services in writing this article.
- Cold Weather Animal Safety. American Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/cold-weather-animal-safety
Credelio and Interceptor are trademarks of Elanco or its affiliates.
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