How to put together a bird dog first aid kit to carry in the field
By Seth Bynum, DVM
There are a few hunting experiences more unsettling than a field injury with your dog. Fortunately, a well-stocked first aid kit in your vest can mitigate most common injuries while providing a hefty dose of peace of mind.
The good news is that most commercial human first aid kits make a great foundation for a hunting dog field setup, so there’s no need to start from scratch. There are, however, a number of dog-specific additions you’ll want to throw in. Choose a base kit that includes a tourniquet and some basic PPE and build out from there, focusing your field kit canine customization on the following supplies.
Even the most mild-mannered dog can revert to its ancestral canid in a painful scenario. Always include items to protect yourself when dealing with an injury to your hunting dog. Quite often in practice I have seen injuries to well-intentioned owners inflicted by the nails and teeth of their dog that were more severe than those we were treating in the canine patient.
A basic slip lead, rope or leash doubles as a device for securing your dog for a road or hazard crossing and can serve as a muzzle while you address their injury. Lasso the snout with the loop of the lead and wrap around the muzzle repeatedly with your best calf roping impression to keep the jaw closed while you work on your dog.
A bent, torn or broken nail can ruin a hunt in a hurry. A dedicated pair of nail clippers can trim or cut the broken piece and alleviate much of the nagging hangnail discomfort in this scenario. Follow up the pedicure with some corn starch or styptic powder to stop any bleeding from the underlying quick. A light wrap or dog boot may help recover the rest of the hunt since the exposed quick is sensitive.
Every healthy healing wound starts with a good cleaning. A solid field kit includes a squeeze bottle of sterile saline for irrigating eyes, ears and small cuts. The saline doesn’t sting, and the small opening of the squeeze bottle provides enough jet propulsion to safely clear the eye of seeds and dirt.
For wounds on the pads or skin (not around the eyes), follow up the saline flush with an antiseptic rinse to ward off harmful bacteria. This is a critical step in preventing infection, especially if you intend to bandage or staple the injury.
In the right hands and in appropriate scenarios, skin staplers make light work of small, shallow cuts. The caveat to their use revolves around ensuring that the wound is reasonably clear of hair and debris and cleaned with an antiseptic rinse beforehand. Certain types of anaerobic bacteria that live in the environment and on the skin thrive and wreak havoc in the warm, dark vacuum of a sealed, dirty wound.
Skin staplers are best used sparingly. There’s little need to subject your dog to the additional discomfort of completely zippering a modest barbed wire cut with a sleeve of skin staples. Apply only enough staples to get the ends of the cleaned wound safely together.
Also, make sure you only staple fresh wounds. After cleaning, that serum and blood are already at work bringing in the necessary materials to heal the injury. A wound that is old and started to dry at the margins will not close well no matter how many staples you use.
Small or superficial cuts under an inch or so can more often be handled by quick cleaning followed by a small application of skin glue, the fancy, sterile and pricier cousin to common super glue. Just remember to utilize the nitrile gloves in your kit when you apply it or you’ll become more attached to your dog than you already are.
In this scenario, carry only what you know and feel qualified and comfortable using. There are numerous products that work well alone and in combination with other types of tape, gauze and wraps. Most veterinary clinics use a non-stick pad over the wound followed by a layer of fluffy cotton cast padding and overlaid with vet wrap (the stretchy, often colored self-adhesive roll).
I tend to apply bandages after we’ve left the field, but a properly and promptly applied bandage can help keep a wound clean until you can implement some tailgate treatment after the hunt. Any bandage should be snug enough to stay in place but not so tight that it impacts circulation. Daily changes of the bandage help the wound air out and allow you to check for healing or infection. This regimen also gives those blood vessels a break if you’ve wrapped the bandage too tightly.
Hemostats or pliers
No porcupine lover’s vest would be complete without a way to quickly and safely remove quills in the field. I lean on the hemostats because they’re lighter to carry and smooth on all surfaces for added safety around the dog’s eyes and mouth. They’re also longer than pliers for keeping my fingers farther away from a dog’s teeth in a porcupine encounter. They don’t need to be medical grade German imports; a cheap pair of fishing hemostats will do the trick. If you don’t own a pair, a Leatherman or multi-tool does a great job at quill grabbing as well. Despite its heft when compared to the hemostats, the multi-tool offers a marked bump in utility with its built-in gadgets, a trait you may find especially useful for fixing other gear or if your post-hunt beverage is not a twist-off.
Although we’ve been lucky enough to have never encountered a trap, I try to stay prepared with a quick solution in my field first aid kit. A long, stout pair (or pairs) of zip ties can act as a spare set of hands to spring your hunting dog from trouble.
My field first aid kit is lean on medications with the exception of those I feel are critical in allergic reactions. I keep a stash of human Benadryl tablets on hand for almost any condition where there is rapid pain and swelling, even if I’m unsure what insult stimulated the dog’s immune system. Snake bites, insect stings, porcupine quills and many plant species can trigger a rapid immune response, and diphenhydramine offers a cheap and reasonable first line of treatment. The drug is usually administered at 1 mg per pound body weight, but it’s a fairly safe drug in an accidental overdose. Your average 50-pound hunting dog would take two human tablets at 25 mg each, up to every 4-6 hours.
I keep all other canine medications, including antibiotics and anti-inflammatories back at the truck in a larger, more comprehensive first aid kit . Most of these meds are slow acting and less critical for field administration, and the tailgate check allows me to better assess the full picture of the injury and dial in the best drug protocol for the situation. If your dog’s annual checkup is up-to-date, most veterinarians will preventatively prescribe several varieties to stock your first aid kit while you’re on the road.
That’s a svelt list, but these items should cover the vast majority of common injuries hunters and their dogs will encounter. There’s a misconception that bigger is better when it comes to a field first aid kit. Remember that space and weight are the currencies of field gear, so the decision as to what to carry should be weighed against the likelihood of a particular item being used. It’s important to distill down a potential mountain of medical gear to the essentials most likely to be of help in common field emergencies.
Proudly brought to you in collaboration with Purina Pro Plan, Ask A Vet is a twelve-part series featuring Dr. RuthAnn Lobos and Dr. Seth Bynum, answering YOUR questions about your four-legged friend. Come back next month for Episode #3, and check out Episode #2 here!