Camping With Older Dogs, Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed physical activity and how it may affect your older dog, as well as making sure your senior dog is medically cleared to do activities with you.

How is your dog’s eyesight, hearing, and mobility?

Cataracts, glaucoma, deafness, and neurological changes are just a few of the signs of aging. Your pooch may love hiking with you, but may not be able to see as well to navigate rocky terrain. If she’s not leashed, will she hear you calling her? If she falls, will she be able to regain her footing? If she gets hurt, will you be able to get her out of the woods safely? These are all questions to ask before you go.

No matter the age of your dog, you should always have a pet first aid kit with you while camping, and on you while hiking. It’s generally best to make your own so you can stock it appropriately for your dog. You might also entertain the idea of taking a pet first aid class so you’ll know what to do in an emergency. Being able to create a travois or sling for a large dog that has taken lame, knowing what to do if a snakebite occurs, and how to stanch bleeding quickly are important things to know.

Is your dog on any medications?

As dogs age, their health begins to falter, and we start to see changes. If your vet has prescribed any medications for maladies that affect senior dogs, make sure you have adequate supply for your trips and a way to administer them if you don’t know how to pill a dog, or if your pet isn’t crazy about taking the meds. What if you normally pill your dog with a canned food “meatball,” and you are only taking dry food with you? Experiment pillwith Pill Pockets and other delivery systems, or learn how to pill a dog.

Some medications can have side effects that could affect your camping experience. For instance, a dog on steroidal meds like Prednisone will drink more water and need to urinate more often. He may also be a bit cranky and not want attention (especially from strangers you may meet on the trail) as much. You may think this is no big deal (“we’ll be in the woods!”), but will you be able to get out of your warm sleeping bag to take Fluffy out to pee every few hours, or will you give her a pee pad in the tent? Be aware of side effects before you go.

Will your dog cope well with locations that aren’t home?

As dogs age, health concerns like diminishing eyesight or hearing can cause them to become anxious and neophobic. Your dog is used to routine at home. Will camping mess that up? The woods have different sounds, sights and smells that can be exciting, or they can be concerning.

How will your dog react if a deer steps onto the trail? Will Fluffy be “on alert” all weekend to strange noises, especially at night? A dog on hyper-alert will probably bark more, which could be annoying to other campers. Our dogs are alert to sounds at home, and when we camp. But they are less likely these days to be on hyper-alert when we camp as they are more used to it.

Whenever we travel, crates are always a part of the trip, from the ride itself to the destination. Our camper has crates set up in it for times when we want to leave them in the air-conditioning and go somewhere they can’t, or shouldn’t, go. If we are staying at a hotel, crates help the dogs stay calmer, especially when we are not in the room. Crate-trained dogs tend to travel better, regardless of age.

If your dog is crate trained, consider a crate in your tent, especially if your dog has never camped before. It can help him feel safe and secure. And it may help you sleep better, as well. Put a familiar bed in it, too. It will also help if you need to leave the campsite for a short time without him, as a dog can escape a tent pretty easily if they are so inclined.

Do you know where the closest veterinary emergency clinic is to your location?

It’s easier than ever these days to find out where the closest veterinary hospital is. I’d suggest finding this out before you go if you have a set itinerary, as it will mean you don’t have to search frantically with a sick or injured pet. If you have a problem, call them and let them know you are coming—it may speed things up.

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