First Aid Afield

This hunting season, let's be prepared.

During a "tailgate check" the author looks for cuts and scratches along the legs and chest and for grass awns in or around the eyes, ears and mouth, between the toes, etc. A quick but thorough inspection after training or hunting sessions can uncover cuts before they become serious issues that in the least can be uncomfortable for your dog or take it out of action for a period of time if left unattended. Even worse, an imbedded grass awn left unattended can cause life-threatening complications.

Whether hunting and training, it is not uncommon for field dogs to be injured during work. Let's talk about some precautions and ideas to help us avoid problems and know how to deal with what comes our way.


As fall planning begins, it is time for a visit to your veterinarian. Ask for a basic overall health check for you dog, including dental hygiene, catching up on any necessary shots, checking for parasites and any medical problems that might interfere with your dog's training or field performance.

Our responsibility to our dog is ongoing, and this includes preseason conditioning in preparation for long days afield. We should also be informed and able to administer first aid to an injured dog whenever necessary and be able to identify more serious injuries requiring a veterinarian's attention, as well as knowing what to do to prepare the dog for transporting.


Unfortunately the more common problems associated with heat stress during early fall hunting are caused by human error or lack of attention'¦ all too often poorly conditioned or overweight dogs are worked too long and too hard.


Remember six to eight weeks of exercise and conditioning are needed prior to the hunting season to help build up muscle and cardiovascular systems, and to generally toughen our dogs, so please take advantage of whatever time is left to do what you can in preparation for hunting. And go easy at first -- your dog will continue to build endurance throughout the season.

No matter what your dog's level of readiness for field work is, when you do go afield pay close attention to signs of stress. As a dog begins to tire, you'll notice less animation.

Dogs have facial expressions too, not unlike people, that show concern or apprehension as stress or overheating becomes a factor. Experienced handlers can recognize these signs fairly easily. They watch for a slowed gait, less tail action and other indicators of stress.

Dogs may slow their pace even though they are trying to do their job. If they wobble or pant excessively or excitedly, they may be approaching real problems and should be stopped from hunting or work. They should be cooled down in a shady, well ventilated area. Flush the dog's mouth and clear the tongue to allow for more efficient cooling.

Remember it's also important to keep dogs hydrated. Even slight dehydration results in poor performance and problems with thermoregulation. Give your dogs a little bit of water often during work, but don't let your dog gulp or drink too much.

If a dog shows signs of overheating, immerse it in cool water or spray it with a hose. If water is not available, try to apply ice packs to its head, neck and belly but do not immerse the dog in ice water. Move the dog to a cool place. Use squirt bottles of cool water to flush its mouth. Monitor rectal temperature, if possible, and get the dog to a veterinarian quickly.

When field dogs are hunting, they are very focused and driven by a natural desire to find game. They often don't give any indication of injury. It's important for a handler to find any cuts or tears and treat them. Otherwise you may not find an injury until days later after it's become infected.

Along with cuts and bruises we have to check for ticks and even dangerous grass awns.

In the past grass awn problems were limited primarily to the western states, but with increased prairie restoration efforts Canada rye and other dangerous seeds are becoming more common throughout other parts of the country.

Certain grass awns can penetrate the skin and cause significant injury as they migrate internally. A cough, draining wound, or an elevated temperature in any field dog, at any time of the year, requires prompt veterinary attention.

Notice the shaved area and incision not completely hearled on Lulu's side, the result of a recent operation to remove a Canada rye grass awn. The good news is she is expected to fully recover and be back to guiding hunts at Big Springs this fall, but don't let this happen to your dag. "Years ago Dr. Tom Holcomb suggested the 'tailgate check' and I can't thank him enough," says the author. "It has proven to be a real lifesaver."

It's a good idea to check your dog over at the end of the day or whenever changing fields.

A tailgate inspection--putting a dog on the truck tailgate and giving it a thorough once-over check--works well for field trial and hunting dogs. The brief physical examination should include:

  • Checking the eyes to make sure they are shiny and free of debris or awns and drainage.
  • Checking the inside of the mouth and nose for puncture wounds or grass awns.
  • Looking for cuts and tears on the body. These should be cleaned with soap and water. If a cut is deep or long, it may require veterinary attention.
  • Inspecting a dog's footpads.
  • Checking the chest, underbelly, and flank for cuts or punctures.
  • Running your hands through the coat; you might follow with a fine tooth comb as well.
  • Inspecting the ears, particularly if the dog has been in water.

A bruise or closed wound shouldn't be underestimated. Just because the skin and hair coat may be in intact, this type of wound can be deceiving. If your dog shows pain and swelling, along with a warm feel to the injured area, it warrants a veterinarian's examination. In the meantime, clean the area with cold water and apply ice packs.

Open wounds may be more serious. Substantial loss of blood may occur; muscles, tendons and nerves may be severed; internal organs may be damaged and infectious bacteria can enter the body through the open wound.

In the case of severe wounds involving considerable blood loss, your primary responsibility is to control the bleeding by applying a pressure bandage or gauze pads

directly on the wound, either handheld or kept in place with tape.

Use only enough pressure to stop bleeding. The goal is to control bleeding to stabilize the dog's condition while being transported for professional care.

And remember that protruding metal surfaces on trucks or transport crates can cause significant wounds as well. Regular equipment inspection should be a part of wound prevention.

The highest incidence of severe trauma results from dogs being hit by cars. In these cases, a dog may have broken bones as well as open wounds, internal bleeding and shock.

You will want to move the dog to safety. But you should never pick the dog up by the waist or chest, as you could force a broken rib through a lung or other organ.

The best way is to put a rug or blanket on the ground close behind the dog and drag him on it by the loose skin of his neck and back, so you and a friend can lift the dog to safety using the rug as a stretcher.

An injured dog or one having seizures may bite, and the dog may require a temporary muzzle to prevent injury to handlers during moving.

Once the dog is safe, check to see if the airway is clear by carefully pulling the tongue out and to the side, checking for blood or other material and clearing the mouth and throat.

If a dog breaks a bone, the broken bone should be immobilized, the dog calmed down and then quickly taken to a veterinarian. Since some fractures are less obvious at first evaluation, lameness without obvious cause should be treated as a possible fracture until veterinary examination can be obtained.

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