A Practical Approach to Field Emergencies

A Practical Approach to Field Emergencies | Shooting Sportsman Magazine
If a dog that does not typically run with an altered gait returns to the truck with a limp, but sure to check it out. The problem could be a soft-tissue injury, a broken bone or an injured paw. Photograph by Mark Atwater/upclosephoto.com

A chilling northwest wind blew through the valley and rustled a pile of leaves that shriveled into late-season brittleness. We cut Rowdy loose in the covert Spilled Milk, an old dairy farm that always held a few grouse. There usually was a bird around the old, rusted tractor, a few in the tag alders beyond the abandoned discer, and one or two near the old barn that had collapsed into its foundation. Rowdy knew how to navigate the old farm, but on one cast I saw her face, neck and chest covered in blood.

Take one look in the average dogman’s first aid kit, and you likely will see enough surgical equipment to stock a veterinary clinic. In trained hands, each item is invaluable for treating injuries. But for those of us who haven’t been to vet school, a more practical approach might work better.

Sarah Shull, DVM, ACVSMR (Canine Resident), is an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University, a field-trialer, a hunter and a Eukanuba pro-staffer. She grew up in Alaska’s remote wilderness—an area that required her to be resourceful in an emergency. While Shull can pack much of her clinic into her truck, when hunting she instead follows a process that requires minimal gear and training. “Many injuries to hunting dogs are not life-threatening,” she said, “and that means they can be treated in the field. Serious injuries will require a veterinarian’s visit, so know the location of the closest office. Print directions to the clinic in advance; remote areas don’t always have good cell signals. If you need a vet, you’ll want to get there fast.”

Shull’s practical, dog-first approach takes a handler’s experience into account.

Know your conditions. “Before you go hunting, thoroughly study the terrain and environment,” Shull said. “Are there poisonous snakes in the area? Are there old farms with barbed wire and rusted farm equipment? Is there loose shale and impure standing water? Hunters always study weather patterns, but know your temps and humidity levels. Watch for hyperthermia on hot, humid days or hypothermia on cold, damp days. Know as much about the conditions as possible, and you can avoid—or handle—what comes your way.”

Know your dog. Proper diagnosis is important. “A dog that may have had a past tendon or ligament injury may run with an altered gait,” Shull said. “At the end of the run, he may present signs of an altered gait, which is normal. A dog that does not run with an altered gait and returns with a limp should be examined.”

Know what you’re looking for. A hunting dog’s injury typically falls into one of four classifications of injuries:

• Limping, which can be a soft-tissue injury, like a sprain or a strain, a broken bone or an injured paw.
• Wounds, which can be lacerations, punctures or scrapes.
• Gastrointestinal disturbances, which can present with signs of vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite or rejection of food.
• Eye injuries, which affect the eyeball and vision.

Shull’s Field First Aid Kit

Limps: A muzzle, tweezers/hemostat/Leatherman, sterile saline solution and nail trimmers.

“The muzzle is the important first step” Shull said, “even with calm, biddable dogs. Injured dogs can be frightened and in pain, and the muzzle protects the handler during an inspection. The tools are simple enough to use for removing tines or burrs, and broken nails can be easily trimmed. If the dog has a sprain or a strain, then stop by the ice machine on your way back to your motel. Place the ice in a Ziploc bag and a hand towel, and place it on the injured leg. If you can’t find ice, then buy a few bags of frozen peas at a grocery store. They easily wrap around the leg and are perfect for reducing swelling and inflammation. You can refreeze them for future use too. Cut pads that require stitches are best treated by a vet. Before transporting the dog, rinse the cut with saline solution, which has a nozzle that provides good pressure. If the cut is bleeding, then wrap the paw with a clean sock or T-shirt.”

Wounds: Sterile saline solution, antiseptic handwash, gauze pads, a battery-operated personal hair trimmer and a collapsible Elizabethan collar.

“Since many hunting dog lacerations and scrapes are topical,” Shull said, “a simple cleaning is all that is necessary. First, shave the hair around the wound, to see its size and depth. Then irrigate the wound with saline solution, to clear out dirt, debris and blood. For additional disinfection, use an antiseptic handwash. It will prevent infection and can be rinsed with the saline solution. When your patient is treated, use the collapsible Elizabethan collar to keep him from licking his wound.”

Having a simple-to-execute treatment plan can save the day.

Gastrointestinal disturbances: A rectal thermometer, a supermarket and a Chinese restaurant.

“The rectal thermometer will tell me the dog’s core body temperature,” Shull said. “A healthy dog’s normal body temperature ranges between 101 and 102.5 degrees. If your dog’s resting temperature is outside of that range, then he may have a fever. Rest him and give him plenty of fluids. If his temperature does not change in a day, then visit a vet.”

“Mild upset stomachs coming from stress or travel often can be cured with a supermarket visit. A bland diet is key, so pick up some sliced turkey or chicken from the deli counter. Just about every small town has a Chinese restaurant, so swing by and get some plain boiled rice. Mix the meat slices and rice, add some water, and feed your pup several smaller portions over time. Another idea is to carry a can of wet dog food. Buy one with a pop-off lid for easy use. If your dog won’t eat and it’s been around 24 hours or if the vomiting and diarrhea persist, then head to the vet.

“Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, presents as a wobbly disposition, a lack of energy or a lack of focus. Raising your dog’s blood-sugar level is easily done with a visit to a Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s. The KFC Honey Packets have easily digestible sugar, as does a package of McDonald’s maple syrup. Those restaurants are commonly found in rural hunting areas, and the packages are easy to carry in a vest and to dispense.”

Eye injuries: Saline solution, an Elizabethan collar.

“Eye injuries typically present as swollen and red,” Shull said. “Behavior can include a dog pawing his face while trying to itch his eye. While that behavior is normal, the rubbing can make a simple injury worse.

“Begin with a survey of the situation followed by a rinse of the dog’s eye with a sterile saline solution. Seeds or dirt that are causing the irritation are easily rinsed out. The saline rinse also cleans and sooths abrasions from grasses while providing the dog with quick relief. A collapsible Elizabethan collar keeps the dog from additional rubbing and allows time for the eye to recover. If a dog’s eye is shut for an extended period of time or the dog has been poked by a stick, then veterinarian intervention is needed.”

Tangles with Quill Pigs

Removing porcupine quills from a dog is seldom easy. Every “quill pig” has around 30,000 quills in its body, so it’s rare if a dog returns with only one or two. Dogs with a mouthful of quills usually aren’t the best patients. Every quill has between 700 and 800 backward-facing barbs around the tip, and removing them with pliers tears a lot of flesh and is painful. Dogs pawing at the quills frequently weaken them, and many times the tips break off in the skin and can cause infection. Extracting quills from the tongue, inside the mouth or around the eyes is best done when a dog is sedated. Dr. Shull’s advice? “Get to a vet as quickly as possible.” —T.K.

Dog accidents always are a cause for alarm, and having a simple-to-execute treatment plan can save the day. And back to Rowdy. After I got my stomach out of my throat, I found that she had a nick in her ear. Ears and tongues bleed a lot, and when they flap around, they create quite a mess. I had a bottle of saline solution to cleanse the wound and applied a little pressure on a gauze pad to stop the bleeding. With a simple approach like Dr. Shull’s, it’s all in a day’s work.


Tom Keer is a freelance writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He loves all sporting dogs and is a setter man.


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