Well-Equipped First Aid Kit
All owners, trainers, and dog handlers should be knowledgeable of basic first aid care for hunting dogs. We ask our dogs to hunt and work over varied terrain and conditions, therefore numerous emergency situations can be encountered.
Anyone taking a dog afield should have a well-equipped first aid kit available. Do not wait until an injury occurs to gather the necessary items. I find a non-locking medium sized fishing tackle box will carry the most frequently used items. It should be non-locking to provide for easy access to the contents. Label the outside of the box “DOG FIRST AID” for easy identification. Make sure the name, location, and phone number of your regular veterinarian is listed on the inside of the upper lid for emergency use. If traveling out of your immediate neighborhood — try to locate the phone numbers of veterinarians in your hunting areas. Different environmental conditions as well as different medical skills may warrant the inclusion of different items but in general, each first aid kit should include:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- 3″ gauze sponges
- Dose syringe (12 cc)
- Triple antibiotic eye ointment
- 1″ porous tape thermometer
- Maalox liquid Telfa pads Hemostats or tweezers
- Pepto-Bismol liquid
- Vet wrap
- Imodium AD liquid
- Latex gloves
- KY lubricant jelly
- Nail trimmers
- Saline eye rinse
- Cotton balls
- Blood quick stop
- Canine ear cleaner
- Nylon paw boot
- Buffered aspirin 325 mg.
- Small hand towel
- Child’s tee shirt
- Benadryl 25 mg.
- Paper towel
- Mineral oil
- Small flash light
- Naso-gastsric tube
- Nexaband “super glue”
- Bandage scissors
- Duct tape
Advanced Kit Items
Some individuals with more medical training may include the following in their kits:
- Lidocaine injectable
- Needle drivers
- Roll cotton
- Amoxicillin tabs
- Skin staples
- Scalpel blades
- Fluoroscein stain
Familiarity of Dog’s Normal Anatomy
Basic familiarity with your dog’s normal anatomy will help when medical treatment is necessary. Review the normal appearance of your dog’s ears, ear canals, eyes, eyelids, mouth, teeth, muscle structure, limb anatomy, joints, gait, heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperatures during different times of the day and night. To recognize the abnormal, one must know the normal.
- Rectal temperature 102
- Pulse 100 – 130 beats per minute
- Respirations 22 breaths per minute
Most Common Field Injuries
The most common field injuries include trauma to the eyes, puncture wounds, lacerations, broken toe nails, overheating, and muscle fatigue. Other situations encountered include: porcupine quills, insect stings, snake bites, hive reactions, bloat, bone fractures, dog fight wounds, stress diarrhea, and sand burrs. In general, frequent evaluations of your dog’s condition while hunting or training will assure prompt and proper care of any emergency situation that arises.
Eye injuries can be dangerous. In the worse case scenario, an eye can be lost if the cornea is punctured and the contents of the eye escape through the wound. An eye can be damaged by branches or twigs snapping into a dog’s face; corneal punctures occur if injured by thorn or pricker bushes; seeds or debris can accumulate under the lids and rub on the eye; and dog teeth and porcupine quills can puncture eyes also. If you notice a dog’s eye tearing more than normal or a dog squinting its eye, then more than likely the dog has some trauma to the eye, eyelids or tissue surrounding the eye. Evaluate the eye for a laceration to the cornea, foreign body accumulation under the lids, or trauma to the conjuctiva. It is always safe to flush the eyes with a saline eye rinse (human contact lens products) and the application of a triple antibiotic ointment (neomycin product without steroid) will soothe the eye and inflamed tissues. NEVER use an eye ointment with a steroid ( dexamethasone; hydrocortisone; betamethasone) in an eye without being absolutely sure there is NO “cut” in the corneal tissues. Steroid administration will decrease healing of the eye tissues and often makes matters worse if not properly used. Your veterinarian could demonstrate how to use a fluoroscein dye strip to evaluate the corneal surface of a dog’s eye prior to the use of steroid ointment. Steroid drops and ointments are used to decrease inflammation, irritation, and reddening of the eyes but can only be used with an intact cornea.
Puncture wounds are very common. The sources of these wounds are endless but include: broken branches or sticks; stubby or low cut brush; splintered lumber; carpentry nails; thorns; or items submerged in ponds or lakes. Punctures should never be sutured closed. Punctures must be encouraged to remain open and draining for 5 -7 days minimum. Punctures can be safely flushed with hydrogen peroxide, saline flush, or chlorhexadine solution. Antibiotic ointment (Animax, Panalog, Neosporin, Mycitracin) can be infused into the wound to prevent local infection. If a puncture wound is deep, oral systemic antibiotics are advisable in addition to localized treatment.
Lacerations are cutting wounds that open the skin to expose the deeper layers of tissue and muscle. Some deep lacerations can extend through muscle to expose the more sensitive layers, bones, and organs to infection. It is advisable to use a latex gloved finger to probe a deep laceration prior to treating it. If the wound extends only under the skin with or without some muscle tearing, then it is usually safe to flush with saline or chlorhexadine. Deep wounds extending into the chest cavity or abdomen should not be flushed in the field but rather “dressed” with layers of absorbent wraps and treated by a trained veterinarian. I prefer not to use hydrogen peroxide in deep subcutaneous wounds as the oxygen released from this solution as the liquid contacts the tissue can be caught in a gaseous form under the skin, creating a “crackling” sensation to the skin when handled. This can cause some discomfort to the animal. If you are comfortable with suturing a laceration, the wound should be cleansed thoroughly with a disinfectant prior to receiving “stitches”. Animals with lacerations should always be placed on oral antibiotics. Some extensive lacerations or wounds that are infected require the placement of a plastic or gauze drain prior to closing the wound with sutures. If any uncertainty exists, it is always safer to place a drain to provide an “escape” route for bacterial debris than to close the wound completely.
Broken Toe Nails
Broken toe nails occur frequently. Often it is because the nails are not routinely trimmed at home. Sometimes it is because of an odd angle at which the dog contacts the ground or a rock with his toenail. If the outer shell of the nail is hanging, it is best to clip it off at the level of the break even if this causes bleeding. If the nail is not trimmed at this level, the broken nail fragment will act as a lever and cause persistent pain and bleeding. The bleeding can be stopped with commercial styptic powder; applying corn starch to the nail bed; or by rubbing the raw nail in a soap bar and applying slight pressure to the wound. If the dog continues to run on the broken toenail, bleeding will persist. Animals can continue to run and hunt if the paw is bandaged and dressed with a nylon or leather dog boot. Generally the boot will need to be taped to the hair of the dog’s leg with porous tape or excessive movement will cause the boot to fall off. Always use a porous or “breathable” tape (medical tape) when taping a bandage or boot to a limb. The underlying skin needs to breathe to prevent trauma and possible infection to the skin.
If two or more dogs are hunting or training together, fights can occur and subsequent injuries can be quite extensive. Bite wounds can be a combination of deep and superficial punctures and lacerations. Each wound needs to be evaluated separately and treated individually with respect to the amount of trauma to the skin and deeper tissues. Dogs’ mouths contain many different types of bacteria and oral antibiotics are a must!
Unconditioned dogs or fit animals that are run in hot and/or humid conditions can overheat. It is essential to carry water bottles in the field. Even on cool October mornings in New England, dogs require frequent small amounts of water to remain cool and well hydrated. A dog, unlike man and horses, do not loose electrolytes when they sweat therefore electrolyte supplementation is not necessary. When a dog becomes overheated, its body temperature rises, panting occurs, the mucus membranes become bright cherry red, and the dog slows down. The dog may appear unsteady, wobbly, seeking shade and often collapses on its side. If water is available, many dogs will lay down in it to drink, exposing their ventral chest and abdomen to the cool water.
It is best NOT to submerge an overheating dog into cold water. Cold water applied to regions of the vital organs in the chest and abdomen can cause vasoconstriction (contraction and narrowing of the blood vessels), decreased circulation, and shock. It is best to get the animal into a shaded area and apply cool cloths or alcohol to the ears, head, and foot pads. The dog may be allowed to drink small amounts of water frequently. Taking the animal’s rectal temperature allows for good monitoring of the animal’s condition.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a metabolic disorder that occurs with unconditioned dogs or animals that are run beyond their level of training. Many hunting dogs with strong prey desire will continue to work even though their bodies become fatigued. Hypoglycemia can be recognized by muscle tremors, a wobbly gait, staggering, incoordination, collapse, and possible seizures. If severe, death could occur. Therefore it is very important not to run or hunt a dog for a longer duration of time than which it is conditioned. It is a good idea to carry a high calorie snack (NutriCal, honey, Karo syrup, energy bars) in the field for your to replenish its blood glucose levels during hard workouts.
After a long day of hunting or hard training, dogs can experience muscle fatigue and related soreness just as humans do after exercise. As long as health issues do not prevent their use, hon-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, Rimadyl, Etogesic, or Metacam can be administered to help relieve the muscle and joint aches and pains. Dogs with known osteoarthritis benefit best by administering the NSAIDs prior to exercise. This pre-med reduces the amount of inflammatory cells accumulating in the soft tissues and joints – thereby reducing the amount of discomfort experienced by the animal. If a specific group of muscles appear to be in a spasm or “knot”, local application of a liniment will increase circulation to the area and reduce the lactic acid accumulation to the site of pain. Methocarbamol (Robaxin) is also a good skeletal muscle relaxant to be used if moderate to severe “tying up” of the muscles is noticed. Dogs that are trembling all over, should receive a warm meal, NSAIDs, and warm bedding for the evening. Light work may be resumed in the morning if the dog appears normal.
After a very stressful workout, a dog may break with diarrhea. If the dog must be worked again in the morning, a bland diet of boiled chicken meat; boiled white rice; and cottage cheese should be fed. This diet should be the mainstay until the stool consistency returns to normal. If the dog can rest for at least 24 hours, a 12 hour fast is beneficial before starting the bland diet. If the diarrhea does not resolve quickly, Pepto-bismol liquid and/or Imodium AD can be administered. In general, Pepto-bismol is dosed at 15 cc (one teaspoon) per 20 lbs. body weight given every 4 hours; and Imodium AD (2mg. capsules) is dosed at one capsule 3 – 4 times daily until the stools appear normal.
While running in an open field, along a wood line, or through an opening in a stone wall, a hunting dog may become caught in a trapper’s steel leg hold trap or snare line. If possible the dog should be restrained by one person while another attempts to pry open the jaws of the trap to free the dog’s paw. If the handler is unable to release the dog from the trap; it is best to remove the entire trap or snare by pulling its anchor line from the ground with the dog’s paw still in the trap. Once the trap is freed from the ground, take the dog – trap n’ all – to the closest veterinarian for proper treatment. This procedure often requires general anesthesia to relax the dog and to allow the vet to be able to remove the trap safely with as little damage as possible to the paw. It is advisable to take a radiograph (x-ray) of the limb to check for possible bone fractures while the dog is still anesthetized.
Long Bone Fractures
Long bone fractures can occur if a dog falls or stumbles into a hole or over a stone wall while working in a field. If a broken bone is palpated, the joint above and below the fracture needs to immobilized until the limb is examined by a veterinarian. Broken toes can easily be stabilized in a “spoon” splint made of half diameter PVC pipe or similar item. Fractures of long bones of the limb will need to be splinted with wood or metal bars incorporated into bandaging to support the leg. A broken bone should be wrapped with heavy cotton or gauze padding. Then support bar should be placed on each side of the fracture line extending to the joint above and below the break in the bone. A final outer layer of wrap (Vetwrap; PetFlex) is needed to hold the support bars and padding in firm alignment. When wrapping or taping a paw or limb, always use a porous medical tape (NOT duct tape) to allow the tissues to breathe. Duct tape causes the skin to “sweat” and can lead to sloughing of skin tissues. The dog should be kept quiet in a crate until the broken bone can be evaluated by a vet.
If your dog contacts a porcupine while hunting, the quills should be removed as quickly as possible. The longer the quills remain in the dog, there is more chance of them breaking off and/or migrating to deeper tissues or organs within the dog’s body. Quills have been known to penetrate the heart, lungs, and abdominal organs. The dog should be muzzled with a soft cotton rope, cord, or gauze bandage material. DO NOT cut the ends of the quills! It is an old wife’s tale that the “air” needs to be let out of them before removal. Quills have tiny barbs on the end. They need to be pulled directly out of the tissue, pulling as perpendicular to the skin as possible. If the quills are broken or have migrated under the skin, a scalpel blade should be used to make a “stab” incision over the quill so it can be removed. It is good practice to put a dog on oral antibiotics after being “quilled” by a porcupine.
Snake bites can be quite serious especially if a dog is bitten by a venomous snake. Treatment varies with the type of snake bite, clinical signs, location of the bite, and the length of time since the bite. If practical, a good description of the snake’s size, coloration, and shape of the head should be recorded to assist the veterinarian with the proper treatment protocol. If the snake has been cornered and can be safely killed, retaining the reptile’s body for identification is best. DO NOT try to pick up a live snake and never handle a dead snake without gloves. The application of a tourniquet above the wound is controversial. The best treatment initially is to wrap the wound and immobilize the limb. If the wound is to the body, wrap it and crate the dog to keep the animal quiet. Universities and some large veterinary hospitals have snake anti-venom on-hand. Broad spectrum antibiotics are generally indicated. These wounds may result in a large amount of necrotic (dead) tissue at the site of the bite. If this occurs, a veterinarian will need to clean and debride (trim dead tissue) the wound(s) regularly.
Spider bites can cause minor soreness and tissue swelling or progress to large lesions if the dog is bitten by a brown recluse spider or a black widow. These two spiders release very potent dermonecrotic toxins into the skin and deep tissues. Fortunately they are much less common than other spiders. It should be noted that some symptoms from spiders may not appear until 3-4 days after the bite(s). The delayed symptoms may include paleness, blood in the urine, fever, vomiting, and/or shock.
First aid treatment includes trying to identify the type of bite (spider, ant, and wasp) and wrap some ice in a cloth and place it on the wound. Changing the bandage every 10 minutes with a 5 minute delay in between re-applications help to decrease tissue damage. Veterinary care should be sought as soon as possible.
Most ants are harmless in small numbers, but a colony can pose a real risk. Red ants cause a severe burning sensation when they bite an animal. Applying cool water or ice to the affected area(s) helps reduce inflammation. Often a lidocaine or xylacaine cream can help ease the burning.
Hive reactions can occur when a dog contacts something to which it is sensitive or allergic. Sensitivities can occur to: cedar shavings; fiberglass insulation; paint fumes; certain drugs or medications; toxic plants; insect bites; or recent vaccinations. Cool water baths soothe the skin and decrease inflammation. Administering Benedryl by mouth will decrease hive formation and resolve any existing focal swellings.
A dog’s coat will not protect it from extreme cold. Frostbite occurs when the extreme cold restricts blood flow to an appendage and thereby causes the tissue to die. The damage may be permanent. Frostbite may involve any limb, but in dogs most often it affects the tips of the ears. Exposure that causes frostbite can also cause death by freezing. When frostbite attacks, the ears or toes may appear reddened or blistered. The symptoms may not be evident immediately after exposure to the cold but will appear in a short period of time. Frostbitten tissue will eventually turn dark brown or black and slough off or scar.
If frostbite is suspected, immediately warm the ears or extremities in tepid water. DO NOT use hot water. If damage has already occurred, gently rinse the affected area(s) in saline (salt solution). Contact Lens solution can be used to rinse the tissues. Once rinsed, antibiotic ointment or cream should be applied to the areas. If the dog is hypothermic (low body temperature or “chilled”), fill a 2 liter plastic soda bottle with warm water ( NOT hot water) and place the bottle against the dog’s abdomen. Keep the dog warm by covering it with a blanket. Monitor the dog’s rectal temperature until it becomes normal (100 – 102 degrees F). Frostbitten tissue can slough and cause open wounds. The dog should be examined by a vet if any sores develop or a normal body temperature can not be maintained.
Bloat is the term used to describe a gas distended stomach. If the stomach actually twists on itself and cuts off the blood supply to its tissues (called gastric volvulus), the result is extreme abdominal pain. If a dog in this state doesn’t receive veterinary care immediately, the condition is usually fatal. Bloat and a twisted stomach are conditions of unknown origin but deep-chested dogs (Great Danes; Boxers; St. Bernards; Weimaraners; German Shepherds, etc) are more predisposed to the disease than other breeds.
Symptoms of bloat include: burping, increased gas noises from the stomach, retching, distended belly; “drum-like” tympani of the stomach; restlessness; pacing; moaning; anxiety; depression; increased salivation “drooling”; vomiting; and/or collapse. If bloat is suspected, a veterinarian should be called immediately. The dog should be evaluated as soon as possible. If a vet is unavailable or miles away, I recommend passing a ½” clear plastic tube into the stomach which allows gas(es) and excess liquids to escape. A mouth gag is needed. Once can place a roll of medical tape or a sturdy stick “cross-wise” within the mouth will allow passage of the tube from the mouth to the stomach. To estimate the amount of tubing needed, measure the length from the furthest edge of the dog’s mouth to the last rib in a fairly straight line.
Holding a mouth gag in the mouth just behind the canine or “fang” teeth, make the dog bite onto the gag to keep it from moving in the mouth as the tube is passed. The plastic tubing is passed through the center of the tape roll or behind the wooden dowel and down the LEFT side of the throat. The esophagus is located on the left side of the neck. The first obstruction to the tube is glottis as the dog swallows; then if the tube doesn’t pass easily into the stomach, gently pull the tube slightly back and forth only 2-3 inches in distance and re-introduce the tube into the stomach. If after several attempts, the tube doesn’t pass, the stomach could be torsed or twisted on itself not allowing entry into the body of the stomach. The twisting of the stomach closes off the entry of the esophagus to the stomach. This is an emergency situation and the dog should be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Often the dog will need an abdominal exploratory surgery to evaluate the health and viability of the stomach, spleen, and intestines. Death can occur suddenly if not properly treated.