For us dog parents, walking our pup is just part of our daily routine. Sometimes, it’s a long walk through a favorite neighborhood. Or an afternoon hike in the woods, into the hills or on the beach. Even if it’s just a short walk around the corner, it’s one of the highlights of our dog’s day — and often our own. It’s a great bonding exercise, and it keeps both us and our dogs healthy and happy.
And walking is, in fact, essential to our dog’s health. Unlike cats, there is no such thing as a “house dog.” Dogs are social beings and need to interact with other dogs, people and their environment. They need to sniff and explore. They need mental stimulation and exercise. They even need the exposure to outside germs to keep their immune system healthy.
Yet, when taking our dog on walks, there are dangers that can lurk – everything from poisonous food to bacteria-infested water.
Here are some things to watch out for when walking your dog — and how to keep your four-legged friend safe.
Discarded chicken bones, bread, broken glass, candy, gum — all of these things can cause injury, illness or worse. Chicken bones are a choking hazard; if swallowed, they can splinter in your dog’s stomach and cause internal bleeding. Gum and candy often contain Xylitol, a sugar substitute, that is toxic for dogs and can even cause liver failure. Bread containing raisins is toxic to a dog’s kidneys. Get familiar with the list of human food that’s toxic to dogs.
Always be on the lookout for potentially dangerous trash, especially substances that you know your dog will go after, like chicken bones for example. It’s a good idea to train your dog to “drop it” and “leave it” in case she hoovers up something before you can stop her.
With all the money some of us spend on fancy water fountains that aerate and filter our dog’s water, pups just love to lap up puddle water – the more disgusting, the better. Standing water is often contaminated with germs and parasites that can make our dogs extremely ill. Some of the deadliest include leptospirosis (which can be fatal), giardia (causes diarrhea) and cryptosporidium (causes watery diarrhea leading to dehydration).
For the dog parents living in the burbs or more rural areas, drinking from streams, rivers and creeks can be just as dangerous. Blue-green algae found in ponds is highly toxic to dogs. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common organism in water that causes very painful ear infections. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so keep your dog from drinking standing water.
Pesticides and Rodenticides
These are common poisons used both in the city and the country. They are good for repelling harmful insects from plants and controlling the rat population, but they’re also extremely toxic to our dogs. Your dog can be exposed from rolling around in a patch of treated lawn, eating plants in a park or sniffing around the bait put out to kill vermin.
If your dog rolls around on a treated lawn, he may experience a contact rash. Washing him with dish soap is helpful as it removes the oil-based products typically sprayed on grass. But if your dog gets into rat poison, it’s extremely dangerous as rodenticides cause internal bleeding. If you think your dog has eaten poison, take him immediately to your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital for an antidote. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, vomiting, bloody urine, bleeding from the gums and coughing.
Extreme weather can be dangerous for all dogs. Both very hot and very cold weather can be harmful to our best friends. (Other weather to be aware of are thunderstorms and any kind of high-wind event.)
Watch out on very hot days for signs of heat exhaustion (panting, excessive drooling, reddened gums, rapid heartbeat), sunburn (particularly on dogs with light fur and pink skin) and burned paw pads from hot pavement. Look out for bright red snouts, reddened skin and burned or blistered paws.
In very cold weather, watch for signs of hypothermia (paleness, shivering, listlessness, lethargy, frostbite). Use warm coats, sweaters, and boots on dogs with thinner fur and breeds that don’t tolerate cold temperatures.
Related: Yes, Your Dog Needs Sunscreen
If your dog loves to sniff and snack on foliage, it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with the list of plants that are toxic to our dogs.
Some of these are common outdoor plants, even in the city. These include azaleas, daffodils, periwinkles, oleander, Easter lilies, buttercups, day lilies and others. If you’re not able to recognize the plants in your area that are toxic to dogs, it’s always safest to pull your dog away from the potential plant salad bar. If your dog shows signs of toxicity like weakness, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea and drooling, take her to the vet immediately.
Keeping your dog on a leash will help keep them safe. A leash makes it much easier to intervene if another dog is aggressive. Plus, it prevents your dog from running out into traffic, chasing a squirrel, skateboard, bicycle or getting lost. Leashes give us control when the unexpected happens.
Additionally, dogs on a leash may feel threatened when approached by an unleashed dog. Even if the owner assures you his dog is super friendly, be cautious. The last thing you want to deal with on your daily walks is breaking up a dog fight. If you see an unleashed dog, turn around and walk in the other direction. And if you think the unleashed dog is lost, either bring your dog home first or have a friend take over before trying to help the lost or stray dog.