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Outdoor First Aid Tips for Dog Owners

  • 8/24/2016 11:04:00 AM
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Talk to your vet first and be prepared when taking your dog in the outdoors with these first aid tips | Iowa DNRAccording to a leading national survey, more than 54 percent of American households have a dog, and nearly 78 million dogs are pets across the nation. These animals can provide comfort, protection and affection for their owners to a degree nearly unrivaled in the animal kingdom, and in return we protect our pooches as best we can. But despite our best efforts, accidents occasionally happen in the great outdoors that endanger our fuzzy friends’ well-being. While first aid is never a substitute for veterinary care, knowing the tips below can help get Fido feeling better as soon as possible. As these tips do not replace the advice of a veterinarian, be sure to discuss with your vet how to prepare for and handle emergencies with your pets.

Supply before Demand
In case your dog should ever become injured while recreating, assemble a dog-specific first-aid kit to bring on any outing. You can modify a human first-aid kit or assemble the components independently, but carry it consistently. First, include your pet’s medical records and photo in a waterproof bag in case they should become lost or need to visit an emergency facility. Next, assemble information you might need like local veterinary phone numbers and locations, as well as the Animal Poison Control Center hotline number (888-426-4435). Help will be available at this number any time, any day of the year, but there is a consultation fee. Then toss in basic supplies like an extra leash, a cloth sports wrap or bandage, absorbent gauze pads, a gauze roll, adhesive tape, self-cling bandage, cotton balls, hydrogen peroxide, mild soap, tweezers, disposable gloves, ice packs, antibiotic ointment, a thermometer and blanket. You may also want extras like nail clippers, ear-cleaning solution, a flashlight or needle-nose pliers.

Safety First

An injury can spook or confuse your pet into behaving more aggressively than usual, and a muzzle can help prevent owners from being injured while trying to help. Consider carrying a muzzle in your first-aid kit, but know how to put on the muzzle beforehand. Ask your vet to show you the best way to put a muzzle on your dog, and practice at home so your dog becomes accustomed to the process.

Poor Paw Pads!

Since dogs are always on their feet, this is a prime spot for injuries and irritation. While paw pads are fairly sturdy, they can get torn up or burned in summer by walking on dangerous surfaces like hot pavement. Abrasions will heal with rest, but cuts or burns likely require your help.

Consider muzzling your dog before any painful treatment. Then, for shallow cuts, wash the wound thoroughly with water and pick out any debris before applying a small amount of antibiotic salve and a bandage. Wrap the bandage with a cloth sports wrap extending up the leg, leaving room to slip two fingers between the leg and bandage. Keep the bandage clean, and change it every few days.  If the paw pad is badly cut and bleeding, it will heal best if the wound is sewn up by a professional. Apply pressure for persistent bleeding en route to a vet.

For basic burns, rinse your dog’s feet in cool water for 5-10 minutes to stop tissue damage and apply a bandage as described above. However, if your dog has walked through fresh tar or asphalt, you must also remove the tar from their feet, or it will keep burning them. After rinsing your dog’s feet, slather them in peanut butter to remove the oil-based tar. Be careful not to let your dog eat the peanut butter—ingesting that tar isn’t good either!

If you haven’t been walking on pavement but your dog is still limping, check their feet for pokey things like grass seeds, stems, sticks, thorns or burrs—these are especially common if you’ve been romping around prairies or hunting.


Over the hot and humid Iowa summer, it’s easy for your dog to become dehydrated and overheat. To prevent this from happening, give your dog plenty of water and shade if they’re going to be outside for a while (like on a camping trip), and encourage them to take breaks from playing for a drink. Some dogs like to lick ice, but make sure you give them big solid blocks or really small pieces to avoid the choking hazard of full cubes. Putting multiple water bowls out can also encourage your dog to drink more. Still, it’s important to note the signs of dehydration, including excessive panting, fatigue and a dark colored tongue, dry mouth or nose. If you’re not sure whether if your dog is dehydrated, pinch the dog’s skin behind the shoulder blades between two fingers and let go—if the skin pops right back into place your pooch is hydrated. If not, encourage them to drink small amounts of water consistently over the next few hours. Guzzling a whole bowl after dehydration or exertion can lead to vomiting and losing even more fluids.

Extreme dehydration or exertion can lead to overheating, identified by fast and noisy breathing, disorientation, collapsing, bright red or blue gums, vomiting and/or diarrhea.  Even at this point, the American Kennel Club says field dogs are unlikely to stop trying to do their jobs, so it’s particularly important to be aware of dehydration and overheating in these animals. If your dog does become overheated, spray it down in cool water or apply cool compresses and get to a vet immediately. This can easily be a life-threatening situation.

NEVER leave your dog alone in a car in summer, even if you’re only planning on a pit stop. Vehicles can heat up very quickly and be deadly.

Tummy Ache

Unfortunately, dogs tend to eat a lot of things that aren’t good for them. If you’re going to take your dog to parks or on extended trips away from home, it can be important to know which local plants are poisonous for dogs so you can identify and avoid them. In Iowa, that list includes seemingly innocuous plants like lily-of-the-valley, daylilies, buckeyes and oak trees, as well as multiple varieties of mushrooms. Check the ASPCA Poison Control Center and Humane Society websites for more complete lists of toxic plants.

Poisoning can be identified by symptoms like loss of consciousness, labored breathing, loss of coordination, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and/or loss of appetite. If your dog is displaying worrisome behavior and you suspect they’ve ingested a poisonous plant, document the symptoms, try to identify the plant ingested and call a veterinarian immediately before starting any treatment.

Choking can be another frightening consequence of dogs eating what they shouldn’t. On your next vet visit, ask your doctor how to properly dislodge a foreign object from your dog’s mouth and how to safely and effectively perform the Heimlich maneuver on your pet so you can be prepared. If you believe your dog is choking, first assess whether or not they can breathe. A conscious, coughing animal can usually dislodge the object itself, but if not, carefully look in the mouth for a foreign object. If you can’t see an object and your dog is still obviously distressed, try to get them to eat a treat—if your dog can swallow, it’s not choking. If your dog is still choking or unconscious at this point, follow the directions you discussed with your vet.

Physical Injury

In the unfortunate event that your dog suffers a trauma injury, it can be difficult to handle the crisis, especially if you’re outside and away from home. Whether your dog has fallen, jumped out of the car while moving or been struck by some other object, the first thing you need to do is stay calm and assess the damage. Without touching your dog, look for cuts, compound fractures or evidence of broken bones. Try to keep your dog calm, if possible. For small, superficial cuts, wash with mild soap and lukewarm water to disinfect the wound and cover it with a gauze bandage. Large cuts or obvious broken bones should be treated by an emergency vet as soon as possible. Apply pressure to heavily bleeding wounds, or wounds that keep bleeding for more than five minutes. For broken bones, call an emergency vet immediately and do not try to reset broken bones yourself—your dog may lash out in pain if you do and a badly set bone can cripple your pet. If you aren’t in an accessible area and must move your dog to get help, call the vet you’re planning to go to first, and consider muzzling your pet to reduce your risk of being bitten. If you do muzzle your dog, make sure they are not vomiting, can still breathe and be as comfortable as possible. Next, try to stabilize any broken bones and transport your pet with as little jostling as possible—you can use a blanket or sleeping bag as a sling or a board as a stretcher.

If you can’t see any obvious injuries, gently inspect your pet’s body and limbs to see if there’s a less obvious break or fracture. If you find one, get your pet to a vet as soon and comfortably as possible, as described above. If you don’t find any obvious injuries, take your pet home, let them rest, observe them closely for a few days and document everything you remember about the incident. If limping or other signs of physical distress persist, take your dog to a vet and bring your detailed description of the accident along.


While these tips cannot cover every crisis and do not replace the advice of a veterinarian, hopefully they prepare you and your dog to enjoy the outdoors safely and with confidence.