Health Archives

First Aid When You Can’t Dial 911

( published in Spaniels In The Field – winter 2003 )

With the trial season fast approaching, I suggest that you all take time to consider your degree of reparedness.

Should one of your dogs suffer a misadventure in transit or at the event, would you be equipped to deal with first aid? Certainly none of the truly devoted trial enthusiasts would even consider leaving home base without a well-stocked first aid kit.

Feedback I receive from the field tells me a veterinarian found at a trial is the exception rather than the rule. Furthermore, a veterinary clinic in proximity to the grounds is often unlikely. And I even hear that in the name of sport and comraderie you will venture into the outback where telephones have not yet made an appearance. Given a large number of dogs (and handlers) on adrenalin overdoses travelling at great speed through dense cover, it is almost a sure thing that some accidents will happen. The suggestions that follow are meant to help you in dealing with a crisis situation until you can reach veterinary assistance, not to imply that veterinary attention is not required.

Fortunately most problems you encounter will probably be fairly minor. Cut footpads, small lacerations or eyes scratched by brush may be most common. More serious problems include fractured legs, heat stroke, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), concussions, bleeding arteries or veins. Having the necessary items with you when needed and knowing how to use them may determine the ultimate outcome. In part one I’ll review what I feel should be included in your first aid kit. In part two in the Fall issue I’ll cover some more specific emergency situations.

It is not unreasonable to have a small basic kit that you take on short outings, training sessions or brief hunting trips. You may then have a more comprehensive kit to take to trials or extended trips where you will be removed from the possibility of speedy veterinary care. The extent of this kit will vary with your degree of experience and confidence as well as your relationship with your veterinarian. There are many items that I would be comfortable dispensing to a client with whom I have a good rapport and I feel has the know-ledge to use them in a conscientious fashion. They are not necessarily appropriate for the general dog- owning population. You will need to discuss this individually with your veterinarian to decide what you might be able to use and what they feel comfortable dispensing. Discretion is always the rule and it is wise not to press issues if you sense reluctance on their part. There are also certain items that are just plain taboo and cannot be dispensed for general use. Most notably, the federal government is particularly sensitive about narcotics and other controlled substances. We may find our-selves relieved of our license to practice if we dispense any of these items in a sloppy or questionable way. Although they may be useful in some instances we are not able to dispense them for this type of use.
As I list the kit contents, an asterisk will indicate items I would consider essential.

bandage materials
* Gauze sponges for padding
* Bandages for cleaning wounds
* Rolls of elastic gauze bandage several
* Roll of one-inch adhesive tape
* Several sterile Telpha pads – For application directly over wounds. They will not adhere to the wound.
* Plastic padded leg splint (metasplint) for temporary immobilization of a front leg from elbow to paw or a hind
leg below the hock. (Can be cut down with a skill knife)
* Abdominal padding. A large sterile dressing. May be applied as temporary dressing over a large wound (chest or abdominal or used as padding in a split.
* Bandage scissors. Always insert blunt tip under bandage to avoid traumatizing skin.
* Tongue depressors. Use to apply ointment to a wound, in a bandage as a small splint or to examine the mouth without injuring your finger.

ancellary wound products
* Nitrofurazone dressing or other antibacterial topical dressing for wounds, lacerations, burns, but not eyes.
* Peroxide. Useful in cleaning out contaminated wounds. Also can be used to empty stomach contents very effectively. Pour approximately one-quarter cup of peroxide down the conscious dog’s throat. Vomiting should occur within minutes. If not, repeat dose. Use immediately in cases of suspected poisoning where vomiting is indicated. This works better for me than syrup of ipecac.
* Antibacterial or surgical scrub. For cleaning wounds, washing hands prior to touching wounds or after handling sick animals.
* K-jelly. This item is indispensable and incredibly versatile. It is a sterile and water soluble lubricant. It can be used on wounds to prevent further contamination with hair or dirt before treatment by a veterinarian. It keeps tissue moist and clean but will wash away easily with water (unlike queasy ointments) so the doctor can examine and treat the wound. It can even be used on the eye in an emergency.
eye medicines
* Bland ophthalmic ointment. A sterile lubricant and protecting agent for the eye. It is not medicated. Can be used before a bath to keep soap out of eyes or in case of injury, can be applied directly on the cornea.
* Antibiotic eye ointment. To use in obviously infected eyes until veterinary care can be obtained.
* Bottle of sterile saline solution. To flush eyes (irritating substances, foreign bodies, etc.) or flush wounds.

ancillary items
* Thermometer. Shame on you if you’ve owned dogs for any length of time and still don’t own a rectal thermometer! Normal temperature is 100- 102.
* Skin adhesive. Excellent for repair of cut footpads or small skin tears. This item is negotiable with your veterinarian.
* Disposable gloves. Can be used to protect your hands when handling a contaminated wound. Also make an excellent water-proof cover for a paw bandage while transporting to the vet. (Flip inside out with fingers on the inside.)
* Small mosquito hemostat for grasping small foreign bodies.
* Penlight. A portable light source with multiple uses including checking the response of a dog’s pupils.
* Icepack/heat pack. Chemical packs that activate by squeezing compartment.
* Three foot length of nylon rope. Can be used to make a muzzle when moving an injured dog, utilized as a tourniquet inconjunction with a stick or pencil or wound around a rolled towel or magazine to make a leg splint.
* Large heavy duty trash bag. Can be used in conjunction with a blanket to conserve body heat, to provide a dry, clean area on which to work or filled with ice for an ice blanket.
* Kazo syrup. To use far hypoglycemia.
* Stethoscope. A fairly inexpensive item that can be helpful in many situations and fun to practice with.

Other items you will need to discuss with your veterinarian are a small supply of broad-spectrum antibiotic tablets, antihistamine tablets and possibly a dose of injectable to use for allergic reactions.

In the next issue I’ll further explore emergency situations. Evaluation of the dog’s physical status, immediate measures to be taken, how and when to transport will be covered. I hope you’ll all have a good year and won’t be forced to delve into your freshly stocked first aid kit too often.


Robin T. Stronk D.V.M. attended Cornell University. She is a member of the American Canine Sports Medicine Association. She and her husband, John, own two small animal practices in Brattleboro, VT and Hinsdale, NH. They enjoy hunting and the outdoors and own two English Springer Spaniels. “Chip” has proved to be an able assistant in the clinic.