I never carried a first aid kit for a hike for a long long time. I just took off and never bothered about accidents or injuries on the hike. Thankfully none happened. It was one of those few trips when an elderly uncle decided to join me. Fortunately for me, he was not new to hiking and had been hiking for over 40 years. Sometimes with his dogs , sometimes alone and always with his wife nearby. He had climbed mountains (Mount Kenya was a frequent hiking destination for the couple) covered some of the savannahs and was a frequent visitor to the Masai mara. With his experience, I was bound to learn a few things.
Our trip was eventful, but that is for another day. We hiked 9 hours that day and it was a gruelling task. But it would have been worse without Fateh (that’s my uncle) and Mina (my aunt) around. At the age of 60 they did what I found hard at 30. What was very interesting was the first aid kit they carried. While they did carry a decent amount of food, a Walking pole and a list of things for their dog, including a rope (which he says he had never used till date), The First aid kit was the most interesting.
It was not a first aid kit for just humans, but also had specific items which were for the dogs. The Bandaids were different and there were saline solutions, which I have never used and never thought was important on a first aid kit.
This is when I realized that its important for a dog owner to have a first aid kit for their dogs. It was going to be helpful for the dog and god know, may be me too!
What do you really need in a first aid kit for your dog? The usual Bandaids, antiseptics, a scissor and a tweezer. That’s what most people think at first. And it’s true. Most of the time, these are the only things you will need. But with a dog, things get a bit more difficult and different. Unlike humans, who dont stick their nose around everything in the wild, dogs have a tendency to be more explorative. This causes some harm . A bee sting, a porcupine sting, an allergy to fire ants or chewing on something in the wild could all create problems which could be inconvenient for the dogs if not fatal.
So what should a first aid kit contain when you are out hiking with your dog? Is it the same as those needed for humans? What else do you require and where can you get them?
To Being With, Let’s take a look at some of the situations which would require a first aid kit.
- Insect Stings : Insect stings are inevitable when it comes to a backcountry hiking trip. You never know what’s going to sting you. With a wide range of insects in the woods, chances are you will have an encounter or two during a trip. The same applies to your dog too. As a matter of fact, dogs tend to be a bit too nosy and end up with far more bites and stings than humans.
While Most of these strings are not very dangerous, there are some which can really hurt and leave a bruise. A honey bee stings is nasty but they are not the only insects that sting. Think of a scorpion, albeit a small one or a spider. There are 100’s of insects which can sting and leave a bruise.
While these stings are sometimes inevitable, there are a lot of ways to treat one, and sometimes even prevent some. For instance, A citronella candle can keep bees and mosquitoes away.
- Sprains and strains : Chances are, Your dogs are excited to be outdoors. They may run around wild even without any obvious reason. And then there may be a reason to some too. It may be a squirrel or a rabbit which the dog may be after and takes a sprint at it. Accidents happen without a reason and sprains, strains and broken bones are common in dog when you take them out on a trip. It’s more or less like an 8 year old on a one day trip to the woods. They wander, run behind butterflies or small animals and eventually, they get hurt. There is no point trying to restrict them when they are out, but then its important to get the required treatment at the earliest.
Most often the signs are obvious, Limping, Whining, a foot completely off the ground and sometimes, in serious cases, refusing to move. Check for the injured area and see if there is a swollen spot. While most wounds are usually small, there may be times when a dog comes across another animal and gets injured badly. If the wound is open, its important that you disinfect the wound and stop bleeding at the earliest. If the wound is not open, check for swollen areas, forien objects like a twig or thorn, clean the area and call the vet for advice. If it’s a broken bone or a simple sprain, your vet would be able to guide you through the right process based on the injury. And yes… Return home. You can do that extra mile another day
- Foot Pad injuries : This is the most common type of injury in dogs on a hike. Thankfully, its also one of the least problematic to address but then its painful and requires attention immediately. Foot pad injuries , nicks and torn paws are common in dogs who hike in rough terrain. A mountain or the woods could have sharp rocks, twigs with sharp edges and even metal scraps or glass shards on the way. While most humans wear a shoe to prevent direct contact with the rough terrain, dog owners usually don’t use hiking shoes for dogs. Hiking shoes can prevent nicks and scrapes from the rough terrain and they are available for your dogs. While these can prevent the injury, most dogs do not find it comfortable to wear one on a hike.
If the dog is injured, its important to clean the paw, remove all foreign objects,grass and small stones or sand and bandage him. Apply a bit of petroleum jelly and moisturizer to keep the paw moist and soft. Pain relieving antibiotic creams can be used. If you think that the dog is in pain, give a call to your vet before you proceed with any further treatment. Always ensure that the paw is clean and free from foreign objects before you bandage your dog’s paw. Most dogs can walk comfortably with the bandage on and the bandage will provide a padding which makes the hike comfortable.
- Snake Bites: Snakes are a problem and most dogs not trained to handle snakes will get all excited and try to catch them. Snake bites should be prevented and a bit of attention to a dog and its behaviour will tell you that something is wrong ahead. Never let a dog handle the snakes. You may think that your large hunting dog may be able to handle himself well, but it takes only one spray of venom from the snake to stop even a large dog on its track.
When a dog is bitten by snake bites, do not try to enlarge the wound or suck out the venom. Call the vet and ask what to do. Rush to the vet or emergency care at the earliest. Do not let the dog walk back as this would increase their heart rate. When possible, carry the dog and minimize physical exertion for the dog.
- Sunburns, Heat strokes and Exhaustions : Sunburns are the second most common case when hiking with your dog, specially in arid areas. While humans dont feel the heat of the terrain, dogs are much closer to the ground and the heat is more pronounced to them. From burnt paws to extreme heat, the dogs have to endure the weather far more than you can every imagine. The only way for you to know it is to be on your fours on a terrain like that. 5 minutes is all you would need to go kaput! A shoe to cover their paws is a good start but being considerate, ensuring that their energy levels are high and keeping them hydrated can increase the level of endurance in your dog. This does not mean that they can go on a long marathon like most humans do. Packing Sunscreen for you? Pack enough water for your dog too. There is no shortcut remedy for heat stroke. Avoiding it should be your primary concern. Check for signs of heat stroke. Excessive panting, Tiredness etc should be watched for. Move to a cooler area and help the dog drink more water. Wet the dog with water. Ensure that the water is not too cold. Ice cold water is not recommended for drinking or wetting. When possible, cut short the trip and return home.
- Poison Ivy or Poison Oak : If you ever hike in areas with Poison ivy and your dog happened to be around it or even snacked on some, call your vet immediately. Depending on how much the dog has ingested, the vet may recommend a course of action. Most vets recommend an antihistamine to reduce the irritation. Its important that you bathe the dog as soon as you can. Ensure that you are well protected and you dont come in contact with the infected area directly.
Dogs with plenty of fur dont have much of a problem, but those with shorter fur have the risk of contacting the plant directly, specially where the hair is less. The ear, under the belly etc are places where hair is short and chances of irritation is much higher when in contact with the plant. Medicate the dog only after contacting your VET
- Broken Bones! : Though rare, Do not try to fix this problem yourself. Call the vet and ask him for recommendations. Chances are, you will be asked to bandage the injured area as best as you can and reach the clinic at the earliest. An emergency care number should do you good at such circumstances. If you doubt that your dog has injured himself and it is a broken bone, Return back as soon as you can and get medical help. Your first aid kit should have all the required bandages to help the dog till you reach professional care.
There are 2 situations you could be facing while on a hike. At least these are the 2 which I am always scared of.
- Injury, due to other wild animals, accidents or even a car crash or a fall.
- Ingestion of toxic material, may be a medication he ingested or the mosquito repellent he decided to chew on.
First aid kits for dog injuries
Injuries can be small or big. A small cut on his feet may be much easier to clean up and bandage, but large cuts are a bit different. With excessive bleeding , you would want a completely different kind of bandage and medication. You should be prepared for both situations and hope that you would never have to use them.
Add your contacts to a list, an information card. This should include all emergency contacts for your dog. The veterinarian, Nearest emergency care numbers and YOUR Number apart from anything you think is necessary. The list is not bound to be too exhaustive. May be 3-4 other numbers but these numbers are better off on a piece of paper or card rather than your phone. There may be a remote possibility that the dog wanders off and is found by someone else. In these circumstances, it’s important that whoever finds the dog, be able to contact you, your vet or an emergency care for your dog. It’s also important to have your vet’s number first because you would want to consult him almost always before getting the first aid done for your dog.
Bandaids, Gauze and more
Injuries to dogs can happen anytime. Your priority should be to stop the bleeding, disinfect the wound and wrap it up to prevent exposure. For most people , this is easier said than done. I can’t stomach blood and i dont have the experience. While i can handle myself in a situation of crisis, it would be useless if i had no experience in doing whats needful. Getting a first aid course for your dog is the first thing you need to do. Most cities do have a free course for first aid. There are plenty of online courses too , for instance the Redcross First aid course for Pets cost only $25 and you could do it at the comfort of your home at any time. While this course is very basic, it should get you started with the immediate requirements.
Back to Bandages and gauzes, there are some things you can find right at home and there are a few which are easily available at stores. For instance, a sanitary pad, commonly used by women is an excellent choice to stop woulds. Ensure that it’s suitable for your dog and is compact. But there are others which are available in the human first aid kits, Like a gauze or cotton, and even to stick up gashes or big wounds.
- Gause (4 X 4 inch squares) : Gause is important for wrapping up injuries and wiping off wounds. A cotton swab is a good alternative but cotton tends to stick to the wound and is painful when you have to remove them. Gause is more suitable for covering the wound up , especially the ones which are skin deep. This is one of the most basic items you will need to clean up and cover wounds.
- Women’s Sanitary Pad (Just in case and its always easily available) : While this may look silly, A sanitary pad is not only safe but also very effective in stopping bleeding. Most wounds if not very deep can be stopped with a sanitary pad and tight bandage.
- Pet Wrap Adhesive bandages : While you could use any bandage, the pet wrap bandage is elastic and has adhesive on one side. Its easier to wrap these around the pet and it helps to get a tight grip on the injured area, stopping bleeding just by the pressure in most cases. Be sure to put the adhesive part to the top and not on the skin of the dog. Putting the adhesive part on the skin area will stick the dog’s fur to the bandage and make it harder for you to remove and painful for the dog. These are small things which are taught in the first aid courses.
- Sterile Non Stick Pads : the sterile non stick pads are used right above the wound and below the pet wrap bandages. These can be medicated with antiseptic cream or used directly.
- Butterfly Bandages : While rarely used, the butterfly bandages are excellent for closing up gashes which are big. A few bandages can close most gashes in seconds, preventing bleeding. The butterfly bandages are great for areas where the pet wrap bandages dont work. For instance, the back area of the dog or the thigh, where the pet wrap may slide through or its hard for you to put the pet wrap bandage on.
- Waterproof Surgical Tapes : Surgical tapes are also great for patching up wounds with the gauze or a non stick pad. Surface wounds can be easily covered with these.
- Duct Tapes : In extreme cases where you can’t cover the wound with normal surgical tapes and every other resource, the duct tape is an alternative. It’s rarely used but it’s surely an emergency utility which you will thank yourself for having.
- Scissors : You need a scissor to cut the bandages, especially the Pet wrap. Tools like the scissors are always useful and you would never know when you need one of these.
- Tweezers: Tweezers are particularly effective in removing foreign objects from a wound. A small piece of stick, a bee stinger or fleas. Fleas are to be removed as soon as possible because they could cause more serious problems like Lyme disease in your dog.
- Slip Lead : Slip Leads are useful in case of emergencies. If you don’t have a leash or if your dog has wandered and the person who finds it needs a leash, the Slip Lead could come very handy. The slip lead is also excellent to be used as a muzzle when you need to protect yourself from dog bites while you are attending to the dogs wound. Use the Slip lead to act as a muzzle when attending to wounds.
- Disposable Gloves : Gloves are great to protect yourself and the dog from any form of transmission . You may have germs in your hand because of all the hiking. You wouldn’t remember what you touched last and touching the dog with the same hand could create bigger problems than the wound itself. The glove is also a great protection for you to protect from any diseases being transmitted through the wound to you..
- Razor :Razors are handy when you have to clean up the area of the wound to bandage it. Its a handy tool which may come to be useful but in most cases, it’s rarely used.
- Irrigation Syringe : Irrigation syringes are great for flushing out a dog’s eye from any foreign particles. You can use saline solutions to flush out your dog’s eye from small stones or insects. The irrigation syringe can also be used to flush out dirt from wounds.
- Hydrogen Peroxide : One of the rarely used chemicals in the first aid kit but a lifesaver when you need one. Rarely used to clean wounds because this could be harsh on the skin of the dogs, but often used to help the dog vomit when it has ingested something toxic. Hydrogen peroxide is not to be used without medical advice. Which means, call the vet before you use hydrogen peroxide. The vet would advise you on using it or not. Some cases , the vet would advise you to leave it be and help remove the ingested item through the stool. So, better contact the vet. Using hydrogen peroxide is harmful for the dog if not done correctly. Its safer to get professional help.
- Saline Solution : Saline solutions are much more easier on the wounds than hydrogen peroxide. Get one without disinfectants. The one with disinfectants are great for cleaning contact lenses but not so good for cleaning wounds. Saline solutions are also great for cleaning the dog’s eyes. This is a multipurpose solution and a must have in your first aid kit.
- Chlorhexidine Solution : The Chlorhexidine solution is an antiseptic solution which help sanitize the wound and prevent it from infections. Its important to keep the wound cleaned and covered and this solution does the first part, by keeping it clean. It disinfects the wound and prevents it from getting septic.
- Benadryl : Bendadyl , or for that matter, any medication is to be administered to dog only after medical consultation. So ask your vet before administering benadryl for your dogs. Benadryl is great if your dog is allergic to certain items, sticks his nose in a hole with fire ants or even a bee sting which he is allergic too. The dosage is usually 1 mg per pound weight of the dog. Warning : Never administer any medication without consultation with a Vet.
- Styptic powder : Styptic powder is used to clot blood specially from the nail area of the dog. During treks and hikes dogs often injure their feet , specially the nail area and if you have any experience with dogs injuring their nails, specially when they have the quick area of the nail injured, it could bleed crazy. This is the time the Styptic powder can be very useful in Stopping the bleeding almost in minutes. While the dog will have to endure the pain, the bleeding will surely be in control .
- Triple Antibiotic Ointment : When you have cleaned the wound, you will need a cream to apply on the wound which will prevent it from being infected and also heal faster. The triple antibiotic cream is a mixture of 3 antibiotics which helps prevent any form of infection on the wound. The Triple Antibiotic ointments are especially effective in contaminated wounds and can be avoided if the wound is clean. Chances are, on a hike, the wound would be contaminated and its safer to use one of these.