You take every precaution to prevent injuries when you go wingshooting, waterfowl hunting, hiking, or when you embark on a training session with your dog. Though he’s steady to shot without fail, and you’ve outfitted him with a safety vest and locator bell, there’s always a risk of accidents in the field. Your dog can have a run-in with a porcupine and walk away with a snout full of quills, or encounter a venomous snake. Branches can lash him in the eye, or briars can lacerate his legs or paws. Because of these common dangers, it’s important you carry a well-stocked first aid kit for your dog each time you head out, especially when hunting or hiking rough terrain.
Prevention Is Paramount
It’s critical to be prepared for accidents, injuries, and health problems, but you can minimize the risk by taking the following precautions:
- Make sure your dog is up to date on all of his vaccinations before spending time in the field hunting, hiking, or training.
- Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick control treatments for your dog.
- Know the signs of heatstroke—including excessive panting or drooling, difficulty breathing, disorientation, vomiting, collapse, bright red tongue, and increased heart rate.
- Carry enough water to keep you and your dog well hydrated.
- Take breaks in the shade with your dog to prevent heatstroke.
- Know the areas of a dog’s body most susceptible to injury: the face, including ears, eyes, and teeth; legs, knees, and joints; and paw pads.
- Ensure activities are appropriate for your dog: Some breeds are prone to spinal and head injuries, brachycephalic breeds may struggle to breathe in hot weather or during strenuous activities, and swimming can be a hazard for short-legged or barrel-chested breeds.
- If you are walking far from your car, carry first aid essentials for you and your dog in a backpack or your hunting vest.
- Know your dog’s limits and work up to more strenuous activities; limit intense activity in puppies and young dogs, as they are susceptible to growth plate injuries.
- Reduce the risk of injury in an older dog by knowing his limits, warming up before a hike, and helping him maintain an ideal body weight through regular exercise and a vet-recommended diet.
- Familiarize yourself with the terrain and wildlife you may encounter before hunting, hiking, or exploring.
- Your cell phone should be charged and carried with you at all times—off or set to mute, of course.
Always Check Your Dog After a Hunt
Your dog may appear hale and hearty at first glance after a hunt, but he still needs a thorough inspection before you head home. Check for ticks as you would after any excursion in the woods, but also check his entire body for cuts, thorns, or an embedded foreign body. Don’t forget to examine between his toe pads, on his legs, along his undercarriage, and inside his mouth. Check his eyes for signs of scratches. Watch for limping, avoidance of activity, whimpering, or unusual aggression, which could all be signs of a broken bone or a sprain.
Small cuts and scratches should be cleaned and dressed to avoid infection. Any injuries more serious than minor scratches require a follow-up with your veterinarian as soon as you can.
Contents of a Home Dog First Aid Kit
Whether you buy a pre-stocked kit or create your own, restock the kit if you’ve used items in it, and check it every six months to make sure none of the contents have expired. Important home first aid kits include:
- Self-adherent bandages (“Vet Wrap” or equine wrap)
- Sterile rolled gauze
- Sterile gauze bandages
- Medical adhesive tape
- Stretch tape
- Scissors with a blunt tip
- Nail clippers
- Styptic powder
- Magnifying glass
- Thermometer and disposable covers
- Hemostat clamp
- Tick key
- Fine-tooth comb or flea comb
- Sterile eyewash
- Ear wash
- Cotton swabs
- Cotton balls
- Antiseptic wipes or antibacterial wound spray
- Oral syringe
- Pet-safe pain medication (check with the vet for dosage)
- Cold packs
- Sterile gloves
- Elizabethan collar (also called E-collar or cone)
- Hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting (not for wounds, and only as recommended by the vet)
- Extra leash and collar or slip lead
- Pet first aid manual
Carry a Customized Dog First Aid Kit
Pack a canine first aid kit for every trek, no matter how short. If you’re wandering to the lake on a quick trip, it’s unlikely you’ll need to bring your entire emergency kit—but accidents can happen anywhere. Create a custom canine first aid kit to meet your needs, or use a preassembled canine first aid kit and tailor it to specific activities.
First Aid Supplies for Sporting Dogs and Hunting, Fishing, or Hiking Trips
The everyday first aid kit won’t do when it comes to days in the field, by the water, or on the trail. Pack extra safety gear for the destination. You don’t have to carry it all—train your dog to carry a pack and he can be responsible for some of his own first aid essentials. Expand your basic dog first aid kit for travel or adventure by including:
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Dog boots
- Paw wax for cold-weather trips
- Emergency Mylar blanket
- Battery-operated clippers
- High-calorie nutritional gel
- Dish soap to remove toxins, grease, or oil from paws or fur (not suitable for regular bathing)
- Hand sanitizer
- Bandanas or towels to wet for cooling down your dog
The longer your trip, the harder your dog’s body must work to recover at the end of the day. For weekend or longer trips, or day trips that require intense activity, pack pure honey in case your dog shows signs of hypoglycemia, and check with the vet about whether a pet-safe electrolyte solution is appropriate to help him recover and rehydrate. Pack an extra supply of medications your dog must take regularly, as well as vet-approved painkillers, and allergy medications.
Think about emergency situations before you hit the trail: If your dog can’t walk out of the woods, how will you get him back to the car? Can you create a litter or sling if necessary? Who can you call if you need help? Preparing before your trip can help you stay calm in case of emergency.
Stock Home Emergency Kits for Days of Use
An emergency preparedness kit should include all of the first aid essentials, plus a one-week supply of canned and dry food, water, any extra prescription medications, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, and extra blankets or towels. Keep a collapsible travel crate near your emergency kit for easy access.
Keep Safety Items in the Car for Road Trips
Most of the items from your home first aid kit are useful in a travel first aid kit. Add:
- Recent photos of your pet for identification in case he gets lost
- Copies of your dog’s vaccination records
- Dog license information
- Microchip registration details and company contact number
- Hand sanitizer
If you’re not already using a dog safety restraint system for every ride, keep a collapsible travel crate in the car in case he needs to be contained during a drive to the emergency vet.
Other Dog Health Essentials
- In addition to a first aid kit, carry a muzzle if you spend a lot of time outside hunting with your dog or field training. No matter how calm and gentle he is under normal circumstances, he may bite out of pain or fear when you are tending to an injury. Gauze wrap can stand in as a muzzle if necessary, but the real deal is often easier to clip one-handed and doesn’t require as much practice to put on.
- Pack clean towels, washcloths, and blankets for use cleaning wounds, drying your dog, and keeping him warm.
- Keep a list of household hazards and dangerous foods, as well as a photo identification guide of plants toxic to dogs. Know common problem plants in your area—both in the yard and on the trail. A smartphone app may help identify plants, but a hard copy could be imperative if you’re hiking and don’t have service.
- Add the number of your veterinarian and animal hospital to your cell phone contacts. If you’re traveling, put the number of a nearby veterinarian and animal hospital in your contacts as well. A pet poison hotline number is also recommended.
Take a Dog First Aid Training Class
Knowing first aid basics before there’s an emergency can help keep you calm and collected when you’re tending to wounds or injuries. Gauze, bandages, and antiseptic wipes aren’t going to do much good if you don’t know how to use them properly. Read over the instructions for medications, eye and ear washes, and safety gear before you leave home.
First Aid for Common Injuries
Take a canine CPR and first aid class so you know how to clean and dress a wound and treat common injuries. While reading these basic first aid procedures can be helpful if an emergency arises, a veterinarian’s advice and care are paramount.
Stop bleeding from a broken nail by applying pressure for five minutes. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped, a styptic pencil or cauterizing powder can stop the flow. If you can safely trim the damaged nail with clippers, do so—but a trip to the veterinarian may be in order. You can avoid a broken nail by keeping your dog’s nails trimmed and keeping an eye on the terrain as you hike.
Provide first aid for a bleeding or cut paw pad by applying pressure to stop the bleeding, then examine his paw to ensure there’s nothing stuck in the wound. A vet may need to sedate your dog to remove debris trapped deep within the wound. Paw care for superficial abrasions—scrapes—may require only flushing and bandaging the wound, while punctures, deep lacerations, or tears require a visit to the vet.
If your dog has a bloody nose, determine the cause before proceeding:
- If the blood is related to a scratch or bite, apply pressure to stop the bleeding—noses can bleed a lot, especially from puncture wounds. Apply antibiotic ointment after the bleeding has stopped. Noses are difficult to bandage, so leave it unwrapped. Contact your vet for further advice, especially for bite wounds, as punctures carry a higher risk of infection.
- If your dog has a nosebleed, apply an icepack on the top of the muzzle to try to slow the bleeding and contact the veterinarian to rule out medical concerns.
A splint can immobilize possible fractures or broken bones until you can get to the vet. Learn how to use common household materials like rolled-up newspaper or a cardboard cereal box to make a simple splint and practice on a child’s stuffed toy, a chair leg, or even a person so you understand the principle before it’s necessary.
Heatstroke first aid aims to lower your dog’s body temperature gradually. At the first sign of heatstroke, get him into the shade or indoors, and use a fan or cool (not cold) water to lower his body temperature. Soaking a towel in cool water to cover him is a good option, but don’t cool him so much that he’s shivering. Provide cool water for him to drink. Contact the vet right away for evaluation.
If your dog is stung by a bee, watch for signs of an allergic reaction. If your dog is not allergic to bees, look for a stinger and remove it by scraping a credit card over the surface of the skin, and then treat the affected area as recommended by the veterinarian—treatment may include antihistamines or painkillers. If your dog is allergic to bees or shows any signs of a reaction, contact the emergency veterinarian right away.
If your dog has diarrhea, ensure he’s getting plenty of fresh water, withhold food for 12 to 24 hours, examine the stool for signs of blood or mucus (and get a stool sample), and contact the vet for advice. Introduce a bland diet of chicken and rice after 12 hours or as recommended, but don’t give your dog medication without first consulting with the vet.
Tell your veterinarian that you hunt with your dog and discuss what first steps you should take if your dog is seriously injured in the field. It’s important to know how to stop heavy bleeding or tend a broken bone until you are able to get your dog the emergency care he needs.
Snakebite First Aid for Dogs
If you hunt in a region where venomous snake bites are a risk, it’s important to know how to react in case your dog is bitten. Carry a muzzle and Benadryl to treat a snake bite—check with the vet for the appropriate dosage, and be aware that antihistamines will make your dog drowsy, potentially making it difficult to get your larger dog to safety.
If your dog is bitten by a snake,DO:
- Keep him calm to prevent an elevated heart rate
- Call the vet immediately
- Provide medication as recommended by the vet
- Attempt to keep the wound below heart-level
- Carry your pet rather than letting him walk
- Go to the nearest emergency veterinarian’s office immediately
In case of a snake bite, DO NOT:
- Cut or expand the wound
- Apply a tourniquet
- Try to pump or suck the venom out
- Apply ice
- Submerge in water
- Apply topical medications or treatments
Finally, you no doubt keep a supplies checklist for hunting, camping, fishing, or hiking. Be sure to add your dog first aid kit to this list of critical gear and rest assured you’ll be able to take good care of your furry partner if the unexpected occurs.