Being prepared for field emergencies is equally important to having a properly conditioned bird dog. Luckily, most injuries a dog incurs can be readily treated in the field, but knowing how to handle a more serious accident could make a difference in the prognosis for your dog. It’s important to know your dog well and be able to readily recognize the signs of something wrong.
“Traumatic injuries are the most common problems that occur in hunting dogs,” says Joe Spoo, DVM, DACVSMR, a hunting dog specialist from Best Care Pet Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “Your field outings likely won’t involve more than a few minor nicks and scratches. However, if you run dogs long enough, you’re bound to encounter a few major problems ranging from cuts and bruises to penetrating, life-threatening injuries. It is in these times that preparation and levelheadedness can determine whether your hunting partner will be able to hunt with you another day.”
Conducting a tailgate exam is a surefire way to help keep your dog healthy and safe in the field. Take time at the end of each run, and definitely at the end of every day afield, to go over your dog from nose to tail, looking for any abnormality, injury or area of concern.
“Address any issues right away because they won’t magically disappear when you put your dog in the crate,” Dr. Spoo advises. “A dog’s immediate injuries should be treated and then taken as quickly as possible to a veterinarian. Dealing with them in the moment can often mean the difference between days, weeks and months of recovery. The goal is to get your dog healthy again and then back into the field as soon as possible — this is what he or she lives for.”
A good first-aid kit is a necessity in order to properly care for wounds in the field. Dr. Spoo says, “The key to preventing further pain and complications is to stabilize the injury until a more definitive treatment can be performed by a veterinarian.”
Dr. Spoo recommends a simple first-aid kit complete with these essentials:
• Digital thermometer for monitoring your dog’s temperature and avoiding heat stroke
• Surgical soap to wash and disinfect hands before performing first aid
• 4-inch-x-4-inch gauze sponges to help stop bleeding
• 2-inch vet wrap for wrapping injured legs
• 1-inch tape for securing bandages
• Triple antibiotic ointment for superficial injuries
• Cotton swabs for cleaning and applying ointments
• Staple gun for temporarily closing up wounds
• Tissue glue & EMT gel to help reduce bleeding, diminish pain and itching, and protect the wound from further infection
• Needlenose pliers for removing splinters or items lodged in the mouth or throat
• Hemostats for removing ticks or items lodged in paw pads
• Clean white T-shirt for packing or wrapping large wounds
• Saline solution for washing irritated eyes
• Ophthalmic ointment to help reduce or prevent eye infections
• 50 percent dextrose or sugar solution for low blood sugar
• Hydrogen peroxide or apomorphine to induce vomiting if your dog eats something toxic
• Any medications prescribed or recommended by your veterinarian for inflammation, nausea or diarrhea
• Contact information for your veterinarian and/or a veterinarian who can treat sporting dogs near the area in which you are hunting, trialing or training
“Learn how to assess and address,” Dr. Spoo advises. “If you can wash, clean and staple the wound yourself, you can accelerate the healing process while seeking veterinary care.”
Care for lacerations depends on the severity of the injury, but generally, you should apply pressure and get your dog to the veterinarian so the injury can be cleaned up and stitched. Most cuts are inconsequential if cared for, but sometimes a dog may have tendon or nerve damage.
An eye abrasion has occurred if a dog has a red, inflamed eye, which requires immediate veterinary attention. Seeds trapped in the eye could be the underlying issue, or a dog could have an abrasion or more serious puncture or laceration to the cornea.
Some dogs can have an allergic reaction to insect bites or stings from a bee, wasp or horsefly. In the instance the reaction is severe, it’s a good idea to carry an antihistamine with you to treat the bite or sting if you cannot seek immediate veterinary care.
When a dog is outdoors, whether on land or in water, he or she potentially could be in danger of a snake encounter, depending on your geographic location and time of the year. Being aware of the types of snakes native to areas you are traveling to hunt of field trial is imperative. Many variables — including the amount of venom injected, location of the bite, size of the dog, and elapsed time between the dog being bitten and the arrival at a veterinary facility — impact the severity and outcome of a snakebite.
If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a snake, it is crucial to seek veterinary care. Do not apply ice or heat to the wound, nor should you attempt to cut into the wound and suck out the venom or apply a bandage to the wound. Restrain your dog as much as possible and keep him or her calm to help slow the spread of venom until you can get him or her to the veterinarian.
Being prepared to provide aid for an injured bird dog is the best course. Thinking ahead and being aware of how to handle potential problems will go a long way in making a difference in the outcome.