I called this article “holistic hiking with your dog”, however I used to walk to the beach on a regular basis, feeling rather like the Pied Piper, accompanied by three large dogs and three small cats nose to tail. So if your cat enjoys going with you on small hikes too feel free to use the relevant information for them as well.

I grew up from an early age going on long hikes alone with my dog, who was a rambunctious Springer Spaniel called Patch. In a time and country where it was still safe for a ten-year-old child to hike alone, I explored the beautiful English countryside with my faithful companion. I know many women who hike with dogs, and feel safe and protected, and nothing beats the sheer joy of seeing a dog leaping through the wilderness chasing imaginary rabbits, and full of energy I only wish I could begin to match. So this article addresses holistic things you can do for your dog, that can help improve their health so they can enjoy their adventures toe the fullest, and hopefully hike into a healthy old age as well as some day to day tips for hiking with dogs.

In order to hike long distances and sniff out things along the way, dogs need a lot of energy. A good quality vitamin and mineral supplements helps a lot, and an oil such as Salmon Oil will help keep their skin and coat in optimal condition, and helps prevent arthritis too. Just like people who hike or run long distances there is a lot of wear and tear on the body, so it’s a good idea as dogs get older and signs of arthritis start to develop to consider adding in some glucosamine and chondroitin to keep their joints healthy and strong. There are some good anti-oxidant supplements available for animals that can help prevent organ degeneration, and cancer and other health problems and some like Coenzyme Q 10 are good for healthy heart function as well.

Acupuncture can also have its place with many arthritic conditions, but also other orthopedic problems that can be seen at a younger age, such as hip dysplasia, panosteitis, disc problems and many other conditions, Regular chiropractic treatments can also help balance the body and keep your canine companion fit and healthy for long hikes, and also with any subluxations from running and jumping and twisting, which can put strains on ligaments and joints. Don’t forget to give your dog a deep massage when they come back from a hike too, like us they can be a weekend warrior, and be stiff and sore the next day, and a massage can have the same effect as a nice hot bath would for ourselves. There are some excellent books on canine massage and also acupressure, which are clear and easy to understand and apply, and actually giving a dog a massage is therapeutic and relaxing for the person giving the treatment too, which is an added benefit. Above all build up to a long hike, and get your dog fit and in shape gradually, which is a good idea for all of us, so include your dog in your exercise regimen to get to the point where you both can handle a long and strenuous hike.

When planning a hike with your dog, its important to pack for them too, and if you have a large dog they can even carry their own special backpack and water, though try to keep it light so they do not carry too much extra weight on their back. They should be able to carry up to about one third of their weight but again get them used to the pack gradually and make sure its comfortable, on longer or more strenuous hikes reduce the weight if possible. There are some very well designed collapsible water bowls that are very handy.

Always take adequate breaks and snacks for people and animals alike. It is a good idea to pack a first aid kit as well. I prefer to use homeopathic remedies and there are good ones for injuries such as Arnica, and Arnica or Traumeel ointments which can be applies topically. For insect bites I like a remedy called Apis Mel, and there are also ointments with various homeopathic remedies for helping soothe insect bites too. I would take both the topical and the remedy that is taken internally to be safe. These are available in health food stores in the homeopathic department for people. You can also get natural insect repellents which help preventively against mosquito’s ticks and this is very helpful especially since parasites such as these can spread disease like Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, West Nile Virus, Heartworms and other diseases which are prevalent in certain areas, and spreading westwards in the case of West Nile Virus. So natural tick and mosquito prevention is well worth considering for your animal friends as well as yourself.

Natural repellents include citronella, neem oil, and other essential oils, though some such as pennyroyal are not safe for cats, and should be avoided. Try and find one that is designed for dogs not people if possible, and be cautious with using essential oils on cats at all. Also include in your first aid kit bandages, tweezers and gauze swabs in case of injury, thorns or other accidents. I like to take Bach Flower Rescue Remedy along too as it comes in useful for any kind of emergency from bee stings to heat exhaustion. Its probably a good idea to take some dog booties along in case of an injury to the paw, and some soft pawed dogs can even wear them in any case though its best to get them used to the distance gradually if possible.

A dog is such a devoted loyal companion to bring along on a hike, and these suggestions can help make it a more pleasurable and fun experience for them and you, and help them hike by your side for many long days and years.


Reading List: 

  • A Guide to Backpacking With Your Dog by Charlene G. LaBelle, Alpine Publications.
  • The Canine Hiker’s Bible by Doug Gelbert, Cruden Bay Books.
  • Hiking with Your Dog: Happy Trails by Gary Hoffman, Mountain N ‘Air Books.
  • The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier, Plume Books.
  • Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Dr. Richard Pitcairn DVM, Rodale Press.
  • Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats by Diane Stein, Crossing Press.
  • Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs by Donald Hamilton, North Atlantic Books
  • The Healing Touch for Dogs: The Proven Massage Program for Dogs by Michael W. Fox, Newmarket Press.
  • Four Paws Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs by Cheryl Schwartz, Celestial Arts.

Dr. Anna Maria Gardner is a holistic veterinarian, based in Washington State, and is certified in acupuncture and homeopathy. She lives in Washington with her daughter, two dogs, seven cats, sixteen chickens, two goats, a donkey, a horse, two ducks, a pair of geese and one bossy parrot. She loves hiking and exploring nature, as well as photography, especially animal and nature photography.