Gun Dog First Aid in the Field
It never fails. At least once each fall, my dogs get into something while hunting that requires medical attention. Last year, it was while tromping out to a late-season duck hole through thick, tinder-dry cattails. The weather and winds from earlier in the month stripped most of the fuzz away, leaving a sea of needle sharp reeds.
Halfway to the water, Blitz started sneezing uncontrollably. Blood was seeping out of his nostril, and close inspection revealed the tiniest bit of cattail sticking out. We about-faced, got to the truck, and my hunting buddy used all his 200 pounds to restrain my 45-pound dog while I delicately removed nearly five inches of cattail.
It’s instances like these that make dog handlers take extra precautions before heading afield. And why there’s no such thing as being too prepared.
Get a Hemostat
My wife is a nurse, so I have a healthy supply of hemostats, which resemble thin needle-nose pliers with a locking mechanism. When Blitz got that hunk of cattail up his nose, I knew whatever gripped it during the removal process had to be strong. The hemostat was small enough to get in the nostril and secure a healthy hunk of reed, while also locking tight to assure a steadfast grip. Multi-tools or pliers are fine in a pinch, but a hemostat is thin, light, and easy to store. From porcupine quills and pesky cattails, to all manner of medical needs, they’re worth having in your blind bag.
While most veterinarians will tell you to bring along bandages or vet wrap to secure a wound (and I do have a roll in my Retriever First-Aid kit), often someone in your hunting party has a roll of that trusty gray do-it-all tape, too. The key to wrapping any wound, especially with a product like duct tape, which has little to no give, is to not bind tightly. If you don’t have gauze, some tissue or toilet paper pressed against a freshly rinsed wound, wrappingwith duct tape can be enough to stop bleeding and start the healing process until professional help can be found.
Our dogs work way harder than we realize. Just shivering in a blind from cold and anticipation for a few hours can burn a ton of calories. Add the rest of the day’s work, and our retrievers can zap energy reserves in a hurry. And if you have a dog prone to seizures due to exercise, like I do, keeping on top of this is the difference between ending a hunt on a positive note and hauling your dog out over your shoulders. When it looks like your dogs are hitting their limits—stumbling, lethargy, wanting to sit or lay down—give them one of the many commercial energy treats available to get them heading in the right direction again.
Know Where the Real Help Is
In this technological age, there aren’t many places we go where a cellular signal isn’t present—except when you're hunting of course. Be sure and Google the nearest veterinary clinic to where you’re hunting before getting to the blind in case the worst-case scenario plays out and you need to get the dog to a vet quickly.