My wife and I decided we wanted to do some camping over the 4th of July weekend. We thought we were prepared. We had shelter, food, water, survival kits, and extensive first-aid kits. Most combat Veterans carry a pretty comprehensive first-aid kit, and I am no different. I’m confident as long as the initial injury doesn’t kill you outright, I will be able to get you to help alive. When preparation, training, mindset come together, the results can be dramatic.
I say we thought we were prepared because in all my planning I had excluded the newest member of our family, Loki. You may have met Loki during the hunting dog series, if not, check him out here. The camping trip was going well, we had settled down for the night, and were getting dinner ready. All of a sudden, Loki let out a loud yelp and shot out of some bushes. He was inconsolable, and was acting like he had been hit with some buckshot. Initially I thought that he may have been bitten by a snake, so I went over to the bushes to investigate. There were no less than a hundred bees streaming out of a ground hive.
I had no idea how many stings he took. After I finally got ahold of him, I tried to find out where he had been hit. He wouldn’t let me open his mouth, or look in his ears without yelping, so I assumed he had taken more than one sting on the face. Here I was, able to literally save someone shot in the chest with a gun, but completely unprepared to deal with a common canine injury.
A neighbor from a nearby campsite had heard Loki yelping and came over to investigate. She immediately offered us some children’s Benadryl, while explaining that she’d had a similar experience with her pet. As a precaution she always carried Benadryl when she was camping with her pets. I drove until my cell phone was able to connect and gave my dad a call (he has been a veterinarian longer than I have been alive). He gave me the appropriate dosages that I needed, and I treated Loki. Loki ended up being fine and it was thanks to the preparation, and planning of a complete stranger.
I didn’t want to be in the position of relying on luck, or the kindness of a stranger, so when we got home I spoke with my dad about a canine first-aid kit. Below is the information compiled by my father, and edited by myself. As always, speak with your veterinarian prior to making a specialized kit for your pet. You and your doctor will be better informed as to the health concerns and needs of your pet.
Speaking to my father: I need to know the common injuries I should be prepared for. Also, what kind of first-aid kit should I put together for Loki?
My father the vet: Pet first aid is not a new subject, there are many good references, but what you need are some of my tricks that might be different than what you find elsewhere. So, here are some things you need to know. The common emergencies that would happen out in the field are: bee sting, torn nail, cut foot pad, eye injury, sharp stick impalement (remember when you were running around in the woods and impaled your cheek with a stick), ticks, eating something bad, leg injury, and heat stroke. There are many more, but those are common.
Some injuries can be nothing, like tearing the pad on a dog’s foot. Trim it off and it will regrow. However, cut the foot just above the main foot pad and you will find a major artery. I had some neighbors come to my house the other day when I was in the shower. Thinking it was a minor injury I told them to wait until I finished. Your Mom came back to say they couldn’t wait. I went out dripping wet to find a large dog in a wheel barrow, bleeding out! They had no idea how to stop bleeding.
So, here is what to have on hand.
Phone number of your veterinarian. The phone number of the nearest 24hour emergency clinic, not just a veterinarian who takes emergencies, but a 24hour emergency clinic you can call for help/advice. This is important so you can determine if the problem warrants cancelling your trip. There is a great app called “Pet Poison Helpline” that can be loaded on your phone. It can help with everything from snake bites to eating mushrooms. It can instantly dial a helpline that has board certified veterinarians. The call is $49 but that is a small fee to help you get the right advice. Additionally, they will consult with any veterinarian that you end up using to help with your situation. They can also be called directly at 855 764 7661. Finally, a first aid manual for your kit. There are too many to name so go looking.
- A 10 ml syringe, without a needle (10 ml is 2 teaspoons [5ml/teaspoon]). Use this to give a medication, such as Benadryl. Trying to give a teaspoon of medicine to a dog that’s jumping around is not easy. You can also use it to flush out a wound or eye.
- Sharp tip splinter tweezers. Use this to remove ticks down close to the skin without handling or squeezing the body of the tick, or to remove foreign objects such as splinters or thorns.
- Hemostat forceps that lock. I like to use the large ones that can be clamped onto a stick inside a wound. These can also help clamp down an exposed artery.
- Most kits need a flashlight and a first-aid kit is no different. I use a headlamp because you have the light right where you are working and keep your hands free to work.
- Thermometer. Glass thermometers work but can be easily broken. Small electronic ones work well and fast, but the battery can go out at a critical time. FYI, as a rule of thumb, dogs run a normal temp from 100 to 103. Above 103 to 105 is a fever. Anything greater than 105 is very hot and needs to be treated immediately.
- A simple 2 oz squeeze bottle with a pointed tip can be used for many things. To mix some medicine, to flush an eye, to suck out something. It is a simple, light and effective tool. If room permits it would be nice to have an 8 oz plastic bottle as well.
- Nail trimmers. Do not buy the expensive ones with big fancy handles. They say you can change the blades, but they never work well after getting dull. It takes me a year to dull one in the clinic and that is with heavy daily use. Be sure to have some clotting powder or stick ready to stop bleeding should it occur.
- Get a pair of medical curved scissors. Small curved metzenbaum scissors work very well. Don’t overlook the small scissors on your pocket knife, these can also work.
- A pair of pliers that have a very tough wire cutter included are super handy for cutting off the barbed tip of a fish hook, allowing you to back it out. Make sure and test them on a tough hook since many will not be strong enough.
- Finally, I would have a stethoscope, but if you are not familiar with listening to lungs or heart, it won’t be much help to you.
By far the most important item to have in your kit is Vet Wrap. This is a self-clinging bandage that only sticks to itself, and not dog hair. It is stretchy, and can develop enough force that I have often used it to create a tourniquet. It comes in many colors and sizes, but only get the 2 inch wide and have 2-3 rolls. Use it to cover wounds, to muzzle your dog while transporting (when in pain), but do not leave it on the muzzle longer than the few minutes it takes to move the dog into the car for transport.
If your dog has a cut foot, together with a few gauze squares you can create enough pressure to stop bleeding, but remember, everything below your pressure point will lose circulation. So, if bandaging a foot, create padded pressure from the toes up. For quick help, you can apply several wraps around the arm halfway between the elbow and the wrist until blood flow stops. This will give you temporary help to get a look at the wound without spurting blood. However, loosen it as soon as you can. Non-stick pads, gauze pads, rolls, medical tape, and a few cotton swabs will fill the rest of the kit.
There are over the counter medicines or more specific medicines that your veterinarian can set up for you. Over the counter medication should include Benadryl. This is Diphenhydramine HCL in generic form and is available as 25mg tablets, or liquid (commonly 12.5mg/teaspoon or 5ml). Tablets work well for larger dogs, say 25 lbs or more. For small dogs or dogs that find it difficult to swallow the pill, use the liquid. For dosage, most dogs will just take 25mg, while small dogs (say below 20 lbs), would take 12.5mg for an allergic reaction (bee sting).
Antiseptic soap in a small 2 oz bottle with a screw tight lid. My favorite soap by far is Betadine Soap. This is the best disinfectant soap that can go right into an open wound without stinging or damaging the tissue.
About 4 oz of hydrogen peroxide is very useful to stimulate your dog to vomit in the event he ate something he shouldn’t have, like wild mushrooms. Put it into that 10ml syringe, and squirt it down the throat with the head tipped up. Wait 2 minutes and if no result, repeat. Do not use this to clean wounds as it is useless for killing bacteria.
No one wants to carry a liter of saline solution, even though you can use it to painlessly flush out a wound or an eye. Get some Sinus rinse powder by NeilMed. The packets are super cheap and the size of a coffee sweetener. They will make 8 oz of saline in that 8 oz bottle we said would come in handy. Use it to fill the 2 oz squeeze bottle and flush debris out of an injured eye. You can easily carry 5 packets in your kit and that is a lot of saline when mixed with water for almost no weight. Super helpful!
Pepto-Bismol capsules, the kind made to swallow whole, are very useful to treat diarrhea. 2-4 tablets every 4-6 hours helps when your dog has gotten into something foul to the bowel. Know that this drug will turn the stool black making it look like blood in the stool for about one day. Be sure the stool is not already black and tarry before giving, so you can be aware of the blood. It will not cause a problem if there is already blood in the stool, but it will mask the problem.
Hydrocortisone cream is easy to carry and works for inflamed skin almost anywhere. Emla is an anesthetic cream available at pharmacies and can work well enough to help with a bee sting, or provide enough relief to help remove a fish hook.
Finally, get some Gatorade powder to mix with your dog’s water for electrolytes. Talk to your veterinarian and he/she can set you up with anything additional to address your specific needs.
My father mentions a lot of stuff here. You may think your canine first-aid kit would need to be huge. Yet, most things mentioned here are either small, or can double for human consumption. Remember, if you take your dog into the wilderness it is your responsibility to take care of him. Be prepared, or be prepared to fail.