Do you love to spend the day hiking with your dog, or go out with him for a weekend of camping or hunting? Are you prepared to treat minor injuries to your canine companion or stabilize him for a trip to the veterinarian’s should a major accident occur while in the backcountry? Do you know when you can treat your dog’s emergency in the field and keep on going and when you should drop everything and head to the vet’s?

Your actions in the field can influence the outcome of your dog’s injury.

Treat in the field:

  • ear margin lacerations
  • pad lacerations
  • tail tip lacerations
  • porcupine quills in the nose.

Treat in the field and see vet upon return:

  • a torn claw
  • foxtails under the third eyelid or between the toes
  • superficial wounds—as with barbed wire cuts
  • ingestion of non-caustic poisons (such as rat bait or antifreeze).

Stabilize and seek professional veterinary care:

  • broken bones
  • snake bites
  • porcupine quills in the mouth
  • foxtails in the nose or ear
  • laryngeal paralysis.

Seek professional veterinary care immediately:

  • gastric torsion
  • continued bleeding
  • ingestion of lethal poison.

To help prevent torn claws and foxtail impactions, before heading out, trim your dog’s toenails and the hair between his toes and on his ear flaps.

Contents of Your Canine First Aid Kit

Many first aid kits are available on the market. Carrying a stocked first aid kit for your dog means that you’ll also be equipped to deal with an injury to yourself or to others with you.

Some first aid kits are very basic, others more advanced. You can even make your own. Items you’ll need are listed below.

First aid kit essentials:

  • vet’s phone number
  • blanket
  • gauze bandage
  • bandaging tape
  • gauze sponges
  • non-stick pads
  • saline solution
  • tweezers/forceps
  • scissors.

Add if you’re traveling:

  • health record and vaccination records
  • food and water
  • bowl(s)
  • spare collar and leash.

When in the field also include:

  • styptic powder (to stop bleeding, as with torn toenails)
  • wound disinfectant ointment or cream
  • elastic bandaging tape
  • waterproof bandaging tape
  • antibiotic ointment
  • iodine prep-pads or flush to clean wounds
  • apomorphine or syrup of ipecac
  • skin staple gun or suture materials to close minor wounds
  • a men’s cotton tube sock to pin an ear with a laceration to the head
  • wire cutters
  • a topical anesthetic to use if wounds require suturing.

Use caution when providing field treatment. Even if your dog has only a minor injury, it may still be painful. For your and your dog’s safety, consider the use of a muzzle when examining the injury or moving an injured dog. Biting from pain is a reflex action.

Common Ways Dogs Get Injured

Most of the common ways dogs become injured are preventable. You don’t have to restrain your dog’s curiosity to safeguard her well-being.

  • traffic accidents: Dogs can run out into the street unexpectedly, but if you keep your dog on a leash, you’ll minimize the chances that this will occur. Dogs hit by cars often have broken bones and lacerations. Be aware that a dog in pain may attempt to bite. Handle an injured dog in a manner that protects you and prevents further injury and pain to the dog.
  • ingesting poison: Several potentially poisonous substances are lurking around your house: cleaners, plants, antifreeze and bug sprays, to name a few. Take care to read the label of everything you buy, and find an alternative if it’s harmful to your pooch. If you’re a plant lover, educate yourself on those that are dangerous to dogs. Consider hanging them from the ceiling if possible.
  • dog fights: If your dog escapes a fight with just a scratch or a minor cut, his condition isn’t considered a medical emergency. Anything worse, and you should call your veterinarian. If you keep your canine on a leash when outside, you drastically reduce the chances that a fight will be part of the outing.
  • heatstroke: Never leave your dog in the car when it’s hot outside, even if it’s only for a short period of time and you leave the windows cracked. Dogs can’t perspire like humans, and thus are very susceptible to overheating in a hot, confined area like a car. Many dogs suffer heatstroke and death from being left in parked cars while owners shop or eat. And take care when exercising your dog if it’s warm outside: this is another way dogs frequently get heatstroke.