Outdoor Enthusiasts and Their Companion Animals

There is an increasing awareness among campers, hikers, backpackers, and other outdoor enthusiasts that while we are enjoying the open spaces that nature has provided us, we should also be aware of the risks that come with the wilderness experience, and certain safety precautions should be taken. The AVMA has the following advice on certain health concerns linked with outdoor activities.

This document is by no means intended to discourage people from enjoying outdoor activities; instead, it is intended to inform them of the risks they face and steps they can take to reduce those risks.

When asked about the risks of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, etc., many people think first of wildlife attacks and physical injuries. Although these are real concerns, they are less common than you might think. In fact, the risk of exposure to disease is much higher than the risk of an animal attack.

Outdoor enthusiasts and their animal companions (including dogs and horses) can be exposed to infectious diseases not only from infected animals and improperly cooked food, but also via insect vectors and contaminated soil and water. Diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans, either through direct contact with the animal or a contaminated surface or water, through ingestion of animal products (including meat and milk) or through insect transmission from an animal are called zoonotic (pronounced ZO-oh-NOT-ik or zoo-NOT-ik) diseases. Insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas or mites serve as vectors, capable of transmitting infection from an infected animal to another animal or a person.

Hunters are also encouraged to read the AVMA's reference guide on Disease Precautions for Hunters, which includes hunting-specific guidelines.