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.

Camping With Older Dogs, Part 1


Whether your older dog will enjoy camping, and the activities associated with it, depends on a few factors. Over the next several posts I will address the joys and concerns of camping with older dogs.


How old is your dog?

Dogs reach “senior” status between 5 and 10 years of age. The larger the dog, the sooner they would be classified as senior. A Great Dane is senior by age 6, because many only live to 8 or 10 years of age. A Chihuahua, however, may not be considered senior until age 12, as they can live into their 20’s.

The dog’s general health is also a determining factor.

The old adage that “one dog year is equal to 7 human years” is only partially correct. Experts agree that the first year of a regular-sized (15-65 pounds adult weight) dog’s life is equal to 15 human years, and each year after that is equal to about 4 human years. Adjust up or down, depending on your dog’s size.

What is your activity level while camping?

Are you the type of camper who likes to be on the move? Do you hike a lot? Bike? Climb? Or are you more of a relaxer? You may wish for your older dog to accompany you on all of your physical exploits, but it may not be feasible. She may only be good for a few short walks, one hike, and then mostly relaxing by the campfire with you. You may need to make adjustments to your activity itinerary if you are taking an older dog, or have a safe place to leave her behind.

What is your dog’s normal activity level?

Even older dogs may still be considered spry for their age. As the one who lives with your dog, you are best equipped to know how much exercise he or she needs, and can tolerate, per day. Is she sore the day following a long run? Did she used to play fetch for hours, but now grows tired of it after 10-15 throws? These are the things to look for so that you will know when she is getting tired.

Dogs are stoic by nature, so they don’t always slow down when they are getting overheated or tired. It’s our job to monitor their activity and slow them or stop them when they need a break. Heat and humidity play a large factor in this. Even agile adult dogs expend more energy in the heat, though they might drop from heat exhaustion before ever willingly stopping the game.

Here is an article about recognizing heatstroke in dogs.

What type of activities will you be doing on your trip?

Has your dog ever done this type of activity with you? You may want to bike that 7-mile trail, but if you’ve never taken your dog biking before, it would be best to try a short jaunt around the neighborhood with your bike-leash apparatus before going into the woods. Some dogs are great at running alongside a bike, and some are terrible.

We recommend a product that attaches the dog safely to the bike, as opposed to just tying a leash to you or allowing the dog to run off-leash. The former can be seriously dangerous, and the latter is likely illegal and, unless your dog is really well-trained, may result in a lost or injured dog. It is also not a welcome sight to others who may use that trail who are nervous around dogs or have dogs who are nervous around dogs. Use a leash, please.

(Want to learn more about why you should obey leash laws, and when you can disobey them?)

If you will be hiking on rocky or uneven terrain, or ascending and descending in steep areas, your dog may need some conditioning to do these hikes with you. Don’t assume. Trust me, it sucks to be at the bottom of a huge ravine with a 70-lb dog who cannot make it back to the top without help. I learned this the hard way with my Doberman years ago. I ended up carrying her to the top of Tallulah Gorge. That trip taught me a lot, let me tell you.

Swimming is a bit easier on an older dog’s joints and bones, but it, too, has some hazards and cautions. I’ll address this more thoroughly in a future post.

Has your dog had a senior checkup lately?

We get senior bloodwork done on all our dogs when they reach “that age,” and we do rechecks every 2 years if they haven’t had any problems. That way, we have a baseline and we will know if something is ”off” down the line. If you are planning any strenuous exercise with your dog, it’s best to have your vet in the loop.

Coming Up Next: More Things to Think About When Camping with Older Dogs