April 29, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Hunters have a special appreciation for the peace and solitude of remote, wild places, but there are risks associated with being far afield and away from medical attention. A single errant step can turn a relaxing day into an emergency, so you must be prepared to deal with a crisis in the field.
When you hunt with a dog, you must consider your canine companion’s safety as well. This requires being prepared to render first aid to your dog if necessary, and that means you’ll need to have the right tools required to treat their injuries in the field. The best way to ensure that you have what you need is to pack a dog first aid kit for every hunt.
This emergency kit won’t contain the same tools and supplies for every hunter because terrain (and potential risk to your dogs) varies, but the basics will remain the same. By constructing your own canine first aid kit you’re giving your dog a fighting chance for survival should things go terribly wrong in the field.
One of the risks of being far afield is a lack of effective communications. If your dog is acting strangely, is injured, or ingests a toxic substance you want to have all the relevant emergency contacts immediately available. These include your veterinarian (and a nearby local vet if you’re away from home), the nearest emergency vet clinic, and animal poison control. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends using the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)’s animal poison control number, which is (888) 426-4435, although it’s important to be aware there may be costs associated with a consultation.
You’ll also need your dog’s medical records. Generally, this is as simple as having your veterinarian send a copy to your mobile phone, but these aren’t documents you want to try to obtain once an emergency has occurred. By understanding your dog’s medical history, medications and dosages, and vaccination record, an emergency vet will be able to properly treat your canine companion.
Also consider how you will communicate in the field. Cell phones are the simplest method of communication, but what if you are hunting in an area with limited or no cell reception? In these remote areas a satellite communication systems like Garmin’s new inReach Mini 2, which weighs just 3.5 ounces, are a valuable addition to your emergency kit. A satellite communication device is also valuable if you are injured in the field and require immediate medical attention.
Dog First Aid Kit Essentials
Carrying a large eye dropper or syringe (without needle) will allow you to flush out any wounds or clean eyes as needed. Also, tweezers, forceps, and hemostats are valuable tools for everything from removing ticks and plucking briars from your dog’s feet to pulling quills if your dog happens to run into a porcupine on the way to the duck blind.
The AVMA recommends having gauze, adhesive tape, and non-stick bandages in your emergency kit as well. If your dog suffers an open injury, you must cover the wound to stop bleeding and reduce exposure to bacteria and potential infections, and having these tools will allow you to do so. If you don’t have non-stick bandages available you can substitute clean towels or strips of cloth, all of which will allow you to cover and protect wounds and to stop bleeding. It’s worth noting that the AVMA says not to use human bandages like Band-Aids.
Include some alcohol wipes or a bottle of isopropyl alcohol to clean wounds. Once bleeding is under control then applying alcohol can disinfect a wound, but be aware that alcohol can burn and that can illicit a response from the dog.
It’s always a good idea to have a thermometer so that you can monitor your dog’s temperature, but the AVMA says to purchase a fever thermometer because standard human thermometers don’t reach high enough temperatures to accurately identify whether or not your dog has a fever. Also, the temperature must be taken rectally. Quality pet thermometers are available for about $15 and should be included in your emergency kit. If you suspect that your dog is ill, monitor its condition closely. Most working breeds will try their best to perform in the field, and this can worsen the condition of an already sick dog.
The AVMA also recommends carrying milk of magnesia to absorb poison with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. However, the AVMA also states that it’s important to contact your veterinarian or poison control before inducing vomiting or treating for poisoning. Still, if you have these items on-hand you can consult with a veterinarian or poison control expert and may be able to save your dog’s life and they’re a worthwhile addition to your canine emergency kit.
You’ll should also consider keeping a muzzle in your kit or material that can be used to form a muzzle if required. Most hunters believe their dog would never bite them, but a badly injured and frightened dog is unpredictable and poses a potential threat to their owner. If your dog has been badly injured by jumping onto a hidden underwater structure or by being shot, you’ll likely have very limited time to seek medical attention and you need to be certain that your dog won’t injure you or veterinary professionals during rescue and treatment.
You can fashion a muzzle from rope or a leash if need be, and for that reason I carry a length of nylon boat rope in my emergency kit. Nylon rope is soft but strong and doubles as a spare leash (another item that should be in your kit). There are several videos that demonstrate how to fashion a muzzle (like this one from the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital).
In short, you can tie the rope or leash in a circle, slip it over the dog’s muzzle, cross the loose ends under the jaw, and tie a quick-release knot (the same bow you use to tie shoelaces will work) behind the dog’s head. In addition to having a leash and muzzle you’ll also need a stretcher. Soft carry stretchers are available from veterinary supply companies and cost roughly $50 but you can also use a tarp, backpack, or coat in emergencies.
You can’t protect your dog from every calamity that might occur in the field, but with this basic dog first aid kit, at least you’ll have a fighting chance to save your canine companion. By having the right equipment in your field kit and the ability to contact emergency services, you’ll increase the odds that your dog will survive an injury in the field.