In the years I’ve spent in the outdoors, on almost every trip, my best companion has been my dog. I’ve had several dogs over the decades, and loved every one of them. They are great companions and can even save your life.

My dog, Skippy, saved me from snakebite in the desert near Barstow, California when he killed a sidewinder with a lightning-fast bite and a single shake of his head. I was amazed when that snake was dead in an instant and the dog didn’t get bit.

Lots of folks who spend time outdoors take the time and trouble to learn first aid so that they can be prepared to help themselves or others if an emergency should occur. The incident in the desert got me thinking how handy it might be to know a little about first aid for dogs. Many outdoor enthusiasts love to take their dogs along on their outdoor excursions, just as I do, but I sometimes wonder how many folks are prepared with even the most rudimentary training so that they could help their dog if necessary. I’m not qualified to teach a course in canine first aid, and don’t have enough space in this column to do so even if I could, but nonetheless, here are a few tips I’ve gleaned from local vets, a dog breeder, assorted dog books, and some ancient houndsmen.

First and most importantly, remember what first aid is. First aid for dogs, just like for people, is meant as emergency treatment at the scene. First aid is not a substitute for seeing a professional. What you’re trying to accomplish with first aid is to stabilize the injury and keep the patient alive long enough to get professional help. Just stabilize your dog and get him to the vet as quickly as possible.

The next important thing to remember is to be careful, and be gentle. Your dog has just been hurt and is probably scared as well. If you must pick the animal up, a piece of tape or strip of cloth torn from your shirt can be wrapped loosely around the dog’s snout as an emergency muzzle so you don’t get bitten. Try to avoid touching the injured area. You might get bitten, but sometimes that’s the price you’re going to have to pay to get your dog into the car so you can get him to the vet. Try to keep your voice calm and keep the animal from getting excited.

A serious problem for dogs that I’ve never read about anywhere else is porcupines. Nothing is quite as pitiful as a dog with a snout full of porcupine quills. Untreated porcupine quill attacks can cause pain, infection, and possibly even death. There’s no easy way to remove the quills, but your best bet is to use a pair of hemostats to grab each quill securely and pull them out one at a time. Hemostats are plier-like tools that surgeons use to clamp off blood vessels during surgery. I have never had a dog attack a porcupine a second time!

Probably the most serious threat to your dog’s life, other than being hit by a car, is snakebite. The good news is that there is now a vaccine for dogs that seems to make them immune to snakebite. It is a series of two injections given six weeks apart, followed by annual booster shoots. The vaccination serum is only available through your local vet. If you regularly take your dog into snake country, you might give serious consideration to the snakebite vaccine. I checked with the inventor of the breakthrough vaccine, Red Rock Pharmaceutical in Woodland, California, and there is not yet such a product for humans. Darn!

Most first aid for dogs is similar to human first aid, and if you’ve taken a first aid course, use your common sense to apply the lesson to the dog’s problem. Just be sure to allow for the difference in size between dogs and humans. I also heartily recommend that you get a good all-around dog book such as Your Dog by Louis Vine, published by Winchester Press. Your dog can be a great companion for you in your outdoor excursions, and you’ll certainly feel more comfortable knowing you can help your dog should he need first aid.

Image courtesy Don Moyer

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