The Five most Common Trail Dog Ailments

A question I am frequently asked is: “what should absolutely be carried in a canine first aid kit?” This is a very complex question, so I want to answer it in the simplest way possible. And that is: well, it depends. Many different variables go into what you need to carry and what you can leave behind in the truck or at home.

But the easiest way to answer this question, (other than just telling you that it depends) is a discussion about the most common trail ailments. Think about it, what is most likely to happen when you are hiking, biking, or running through the woods with your dog? And is your dog off leash? Because that can open a few more doors and possibilities (I am guilty here as well).

So let’s talk about the 5 most common ailments you are going to run into, and what should be carried for each condition. **Hint** stay til the end for an added bonus tip!


  • Foot pads injuries must be on the list. We did an entire blog post on caring for you pup’s pads a few weeks back. In fact, most of you have probably dealt with something like this or something similar.  And by similar, I mean… torn toe nails anyone?  With foot pad injuries being so common bandaging material is a must in any first aid kit. And carrying enough bandaging material is even more crucial. Keep in mind that they are going to wear through, soil, and ruin any bandage you apply very quickly if you have along hike back to the truck.


  • The other oh so common injury or ailment we run into on the trail is cuts and abrasions. More commonly on the limbs but can essentially affect any part of your dog’s body. This makes sense, as our creatures run low to the ground and love running though brush, plant matter, rocks, ravines etc. all the while not really paying attention to where they are going. Especially if they are on sensory overdrive (a common occurrence for dogs in nature). Another plug for bandaging material, cuts and abrasions can be cleaned and kept clean with water from your pack and a light wrap depending on the location of the insult and the severity. If you have extra room in your pack triple antibiotic is acceptable, but not a requirement depending on the length of the trip.


  • Similarly, eye injuries need to be on the list. And for two reasons. Your dog running through brush, vegetation, and dusty trail conditions might end up with irritated runny eyes, or worse; a scratch or corneal ulcer. It is beneficial, if you have the room, to carry some type of sterile eye wash or flush. Also keep in mind that if you have sterile eye wash it can be used to clean out deeper wounds where you are worried about infection. Here here for multi-use items.


  • Next is the never-ending list of all the things your dog likes to get into where he could potentially have an allergic reaction. Stings, bites, bugs, pollen, weeds, grass, you name it. I am sure we have all seen the symptoms of itchy, red, irritated, weepy and swollen eyes, hives, red skin, swelling, swollen muzzle etc. So for insect stings and potential allergic reactions carrying a couple doses of Benadryl is always a good idea. Benadryl is just a good all-around drug to have on you because once again, in our world multi use items are king. Benadryl is an antihistamine, which is beneficial for reactions and allergies (such as itchy and red eyes and skin), but also can be used for mild motion sickness. Yes, antihistamines can have an anti-nausea effect. Bear in mind that they can also have a mild sedative effect which is normal and sometimes welcome in a painful or anxious dog.


  • Finally, the last ailment we will talk about when it comes to common issues on the trail is heat stress, and with that dehydration. And we aren’t talking about full blown heat stroke here. (which yes, could absolutely and God forbid happen) For the purposes of this post we are talking about mild symptoms of heat stress that are sometimes inevitable when we choose to go outdoors with our dogs in the summer (even on the mild days!). While I don’t have one good ‘fix it all’ first aid item for you here- it is still worth noting. And, the only solution is keeping them cool, frequent rest, and keeping them hydrated. So, carrying enough water for your dog is imperative. Always plan on brining extra – especially when you aren’t running across any natural water sources. Rethink the trails you are hiking if there is little airflow, minimal shade, and no natural water sources. Dogs can develop heatstroke very quickly and it is absolutely awful to witness.


  • Bonus tip!! If you have a dog who likes to pick things up along the trailside or eat something he shouldn't you may consider carrying hydrogen peroxide as well. This will vary from dog to dog. If you would like to read more on this subject we have two separate blog posts on this very topic! Click here to read the post on treatment with hydrogen peroxide.


So there ya have it. The most common ailments you will encounter on the trail and a few of  your ‘must bring’ first aid items. This post does not include all the necessary items, no. But that can be a post for another day. Common ailments will vary depending on the type of dog, activity, and trail you are hiking or exploring, but this is a general rundown.

When you know what can go wrong you can be better prepared for what’s next or how to handle these things. Practicing awareness and preparedness with our dogs is so important. They are our family members and we are responsible for keeping them safe. Yes, accidents can and will happen. But we need to do everything in our power to be prepared and ready for that day. Maybe it’s not our dog. Maybe it’s a stranger’s dog. But let’s be prepared for all the dogs because they are precious creatures who bring so much enrichment to our lives.


And on that note, until next time.

Get out an explore more with your pup!

Libbie Fort, DVM

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