Paw Print Genetics recently attended the Washington State Search and Rescue Conference in Ellensburg, Wash. The conference provides educational classes for civilian search and rescue personnel, including canine teams.
While several canine-related classes were offered, including tracking, testing and meteorology, perhaps my favorite was the first-aid class offered by Dr. Michael Fuller, a 30-plus-year veterinarian at the local Ellensburg Animal Hospital. He covered a lot of material in the hour-and-a-half session, everything from must-have items in a first aid kit to broken bones. And while the class was devoted to SAR teams that are often far removed from help, the suggestions on what to pack make an excellent quick, easy-to-carry kit for travelers, hikers and hunters.
First, according to Fuller, nothing is more important than commonsense. The most well equipped first kit won’t do any good if you use it incorrectly. Second, many of the items found in a human first aid kit can be used in a canine first aid kit – including triple antibiotic ointment, eye wash, sterile bandages and wraps, pain relievers and anti-histamines.
First Aid Kits
Fuller recommended starting with a commercial first aid kit and then adding a few items to it. You should carry bulky bandages for wrapping injuries, Benedryl, Neosporin “P” (or another triple antibiotic, the “P” being an included pain reliever), elastikon (or other sticky, stretchy wrap) and super glue.
Know Your Dog: Assessments
In order to evaluate your dog’s condition in a stressed or injured state, you need to know what your dog is like under normal conditions. While your dog is relaxed and resting, collect the following information:
Temperature: While the body temperature of most dogs runs between 100 and 102.5 degrees, every dog is different and knowing if yours is on the high end of that range or the low end could save his life. A dog with a temperature over 104 degrees is in grave danger from hyperthermia (overheating).
Pulse: Count your dog’s resting heart rate by pressing a hand against the side of his chest. You’re trying to ascertain beats per minute while resting, and every dog is different. This resting pulse rate is the baseline for your dog. The pulse rate is one of the first things to change when suffering or recovering from a stressor – such as heat or dehydration.
Respiration: Become familiar with your dog’s panting; note the sound of your dog’s panting and how fast it is when stressed, hot and after exercise. Also become familiar with the color of your healthy dog’s gums and tongue under various lighting conditions – a pink tongue and gums tells you that he’s receiving adequate amounts of oxygen, while a moist mouth can help determine whether or not dehydration is a factor.
Capillary Refill: Press on your dog’s healthy gums and notice how long it takes for the tissue to return to a pink color. A nice fingernail-speed return indicates a healthy animal. Dark red gums with a rapid refill rate can indicate hyperthermia or something toxic taking place within your dog. Pale gums that are accompanied by a slow capillary refill rate can signal dehydration, shock, pain or hemorrhaging.
Skin Turgidity: Become familiar with how the skin on your healthy dog’s head or above their eyebrow responds when lifted and released. A slow return can signal dehydration, especially when combined with dry gums or eyes, and the need for the intake of an emergency electrolyte solution – one recipe is: 1 liter of water combined with ½ teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons sugar; don’t let your dog gulp it all down at once, but give some and wait 15 minutes and then give some more.
Surprising to most of the attendants at the conference, Fuller said not to use hydrogen peroxide, or even tap water, to clean a fresh wound. Of course, you do what you have to do when an emergency arises, but peroxide, in particular, is too harsh on freshly exposed and tender flesh and will kill the top layers, impeding the healing process.
Instead, Fuller recommended using saline solution to clean the area. In an emergency, you can make your own saline by mixing one level tablespoon of salt with one gallon of distilled water (or boiled/filtered). Irrigate the wound well – a syringe and 20-gauge needle work great for irrigation.
Also, Fuller said that 95 percent of wounds don’t need sutures, but if, however, you’re certain that stitches/staples will be required, be sure not to apply any type of triple antibiotic; just clean and cover it.
Pain Meds and Benedryl
Perhaps the best medication you can pack along on a hike, hunt or other road trip is Benedryl. It’s great for allergic reactions, stings, and even snakebites. Give 1mg/per pound.
While you can give aspirin for pain management (325 mg/per 65 pounds), Fuller also recommends speaking with your vet about obtaining a prescription for Tramadol.
Tramadol is a pain med that is cheap, effective, and has nearly no side effects except that the dog gets sleepy. You can give a few, monitor the dog and give a few more if necessary. When a dog is hurt, you’ll not only want to help with pain but with keeping the dog calm – the side effect of drowsiness will serve as a benefit.
While none of these recommendations should be used as a substitute for the advice of your veterinarian, and you should seek medical care as soon as possible for any of the situations described, in an emergency situation they could help keep your dog alive – giving you time to get to your veterinarian.