If you’ve never had to treat your dog’s injuries in the woods or fields, consider yourself lucky. Even minor injuries that happen in the middle of nowhere can turn into major issues if not dealt with properly at the time.
Hazards are everywhere. They can include old dumps, old wells, rusty barbed wire, porcupines, skunks, ticks, bees, animals that may bite or fight, legal traps set for other animals, fixed objects such as sharp sticks that can impale and stumps that can cause dislocations, and weather situations that can cause overheating or hypothermia.
The dogs are on the move and things can happen fast.
I have been lucky enough to not have any life-threatening or truly serious injuries occur to my dogs while hunting, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to deal with some issues in the field.
My Brittany dog Bullet has been injured a couple of times while hunting. One time he and I were in an area of old farm property and he apparently ran through a long forgotten trash dump. Old farm dumps tend to contain broken glass, rusty and jagged metal, wood with rusty nails and other delights.
Bullet slashed his foot pad nearly to the bone, but kept on hunting. I didn’t realize he was injured until we were back in the truck and he was bleeding all over the seat. Even though cut pads can bleed a lot, I wasn’t panicky, and he didn’t seem to be upset. I simply wrapped his foot with a towel, and drove directly to his veterinarian.
I had vet wrap with me — it’s sort of like Ace bandage that sticks to itself — but thought the towel would be more effective with the amount of bleeding I was seeing.
There isn’t a lot even the vet can do for a slashed pad, but she basically flushed out the gash, applied antibiotics to the inside of the cut, glued it with a liquid bandage type of substance, wrapped it in a gauze bandage, then wrapped it tightly in vet wrap. That stopped the bleeding, although it wasn’t bleeding badly by the time we reached the vet.
Bullet had all of the bandaging off his foot within 48 hours, but he wore it long enough to give the antibiotics time to take effect. That was all the vet had wanted.
I didn’t hunt with him any more that year because it was late in the season and his pad needed to heal. I also didn’t want him to get any debris lodged in the cut that might cause infection, especially since the cut was so deep.
Bullet also is the dog that early one day found a young porcupine in some tall grass and got a mouthful of quills. I was hunting with friends whose first aid kit included pliers. Bullet patiently, and with so much trust, allowed me to pull every single one of the quills from his face, chest and mouth in the field.
He seemed to be OK afterward, so we continued hunting, me keeping an eye on him for any issues.
We hunted for three more hours and Bullet retrieved two birds we shot during that time. If we had not had the pliers to remove the quills right away, his hunting day would have ended early at the vet’s. I did take him to the vet a couple days later, just to make sure I had gotten all of the quills out.
I’ve also had to deal with injuries post field time. That was true this year for my youngest Brittany, Quincy. He was hunting in thick cover where there were lots of raspberry and other bushes with small branches and pieces that break off. He managed to drive some fine debris through the cornea of his eye.
After a couple of days of over-the-counter eye drops, it was obvious there was more of a problem than simple irritation. His vet, after persistently looking into the eye from many different angles, finally was able to see the fine debris lodged in his eye. That required surgery, but within a week, he was healed and doing fine.
Being prepared for field injuries means having a first aid kit. The core elements of canine first aid kits are similar to those in human first aid kits: Antiseptic wipes or liquid, gauze bandage, liquid bandage, tourniquet, triple antibiotic ointment, thermometer, hydrocortisone cream, gloves, hand sanitizer, cold compress, good scissors and tweezers.
But the ideal canine field first aid kit also should include a muzzle (injured animals can be reactive even when they have benign personalities the rest of the time), a skin staple gun and skin staple remover, eye wash, saline and iodine solutions, stainless steel forceps (which is a more serious version of tweezers and can reach into wounds to remove debris), rehydration tablets or a liquid containing electrolytes, a towel, tick remover, skunk odor remover (you have to ride home with the critter, after all), strong pliers for porcupine quill removal and antihistamine for allergic reactions to plants, bug bites and bee stings.
You may want to throw in a space blanket, slip lead, first aid book and a SAM splint — a roll of material made of soft aluminum and polyethylene foam that can be molded to use as a splint where needed. There may be other items you want to have, but these should handle most emergency medical situations your dog may encounter — at least until you can reach a vet.
Pre-assembled sporting dog first aid kits of various complexity can be purchased at large retail outdoors outfitters, or stores that carry sporting dog supplies, such as Gun Dog Supply or Lion Country. Or you build your own.
If you can find a canine first aid course near you, it wouldn’t hurt to take it, but even a human first aid course will help with the basics. I have taken the human course, and we’ve had a vet speak at Brittany breed club functions about field first aid for the dogs.
It’s been enough to get me by so far.
Julie Murchison Harris is community editor at Bangor Daily News. She is widowed and shares her life with three Brittanys — Sassy, age 12; Bullet, 10, and Quincy, 4 — in an old farmhouse in Hermon.