The 10 Most Common Dog Ailments, and How to Treat Them in the Field

Taking Fido along for a hike in the woods can be rewarding and fun, but you need to be prepared in the event of an unexpected emergency

Berne Broudy

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There are already a lot of things to keep in mind if you want to stay healthy and happy when off in the woods, from proper hydration, to managing blisters or other foot issues, to responding to unexpected emergencies that arise, major or minor.

And while those of us who own dogs love to take them along—an exuberant canine adds an element of joy to any hike, ski or other outdoor adventure—an energetic companion also means there is another being you need to care for on the trail.

Dogs love to run and romp and play, and they’re not known for their ability to foresee consequences. If your dog spots another animal—squirrel, skunk porcupine or even a moose—unless you have him on a leash or under superb voice control, he will likely try to engage.

Take your dog into the woods enough, and eventually he is going to get injured. Dogs can’t care for themselves beyond a quick lick of a wound, so you need to be prepared to manage injuries and emergencies in the field.

“Prevention and preparedness should be your driving principles,” says Vermont-based veterinarian Rachel Brodlie. “Before you go, make sure that your dog is up for the adventure. If he’s older, arthritic or just out of shape, start with smaller adventures. And know what’s ‘normal’ for your dog,”—his lumps, bumps and quirks. Brodlie says to always be sure that you dog has proper identification—a sturdy collar with tags and/or a microchip. An up-to-date rabies vaccine is essential for your dog’s safety, your safety, and the safety of your vet (rabies is fatal), as well as routine flea, tick and heartworm preventatives.

“If you think something is wrong with your dog, but you’re not sure what it is, do a quick snout to tail examination; you can diagnose most problems if you take the time to look carefully,” says Randy Acker, author of Field Guide to Dog First Aid: Emergency Care for the Hunting, Working, and Outdoor Dog. “And whatever you do, do not panic. It won’t help you or your dog.”

Here, we’ve rounded up 10 of the most common dog injuries, and explain how to treat them in the field. (Note: If your dog is in serious pain, or what you need to do to treat him is going to hurt, bring out the muzzle. Even the most loving companions can bite when injured.)

Grasp the quill as close to your dog’s skin as you can with a pair of pliers and pull. Do not wiggle or rock a quill or any other foreign body you are attempting to remove from your dog. Place your fingers around the base of the quill and hold the skin taught for leverage. Look for quills on the roof of your dog’s mouth, as well as under the tongue and around the teeth. Brace your dog’s mouth in such a way that he can’t bite. If your dog does not have quills in its mouth, muzzle him with a piece of webbing or a lead. Dogs in pain will often bite, even someone they know well, and even when you are trying to help. Clean the spots where you’ve removed quills with alcohol or iodine. If the dog is in excessive discomfort, administer a pain medication prescribed by or previously discussed with your vet.

Remove a thorn, piece of glass or other foreign object in the foot swiftly and firmly. Clean the wound with antiseptic and apply antibiotic salve, then bandage and bootie the foot. Because dogs don’t have thumbs, it can be hard to get a bandage to stay on. Push up on the bottom of the foot and wrap with a gauzy bandage from the joint above the ankle down to the pad and then back up the leg. If you wrap too tight, you’ll cut off circulation and your dog’s foot will swell. Apply a white tape wrap over the bandages for extra durability.

Apply a styptic pencil on the wound to stop bleeding. Use a Leatherman or other pliers to pull off a nail that is hanging. Grasp the end of the nail, being careful not to grasp the soft quick that is the inside of a dog nail, and pull straight, swiftly and firmly.

Though they drink out of puddles all the time, if one contains the same nasties that make humans sick, like giardia and cryptosporidium, it can cause diarrhea and or vomiting in dogs. Keep your pet as hydrated as possible. Add an electrolyte solution without natural or synthetic sugars, like Elete or Pedialyte, to your dog’s water, and add white rice to your dog’s food if you have it with you. Collect a fecal sample, and bring it to a vet with your dog as soon as possible. Blue-green algae, which often looks like foam; scum; or mats of red, green, or brown algae that smells musty or foul can cause skin rash. Wash your dog if it swims in this, and if he or she shows signs of sickness, seek veterinary care immediately. Algae can be toxic to dogs’ kidneys, liver, intestines, and nervous system.

If your dog is blinking excessively, or rubbing its eyes or ears with its paws, it may have something lodged that it needs help removing. If the object is superficial—on the surface of the eye but not inside the cornea, or in the outer ear where you can see it—remove the intruder with forceps or tweezers being careful not to cause any additional damage. Flush the eye with saline solution. If you do not see anything in your dog’s ear, don’t burrow around. It may have an infection and need antibiotics. Do not remove foreign objects buried deep in your pet’s eye—get your dog to a vet.

Attempt to control bleeding with pressure, clean the wound with antiseptic and antibiotic ointment, and wrap the wound with an ace bandage or by gluing or stapling it shut. If your dog is in danger of excessive blood loss, tie a tourniquet an inch above the wound with a ripped off section of a t-shirt, an ace bandage or whatever else you have on hand. Insert a small stick, pen or other straight, narrow object in the fabric loop and twist tight. Wrap the stick to the leg with tape or an ace bandage. Loosen the tourniquet every 15 minutes for one to two minutes to allow blood circulation to the limb, and get your dog to a vet as soon as possible.

Do remove an object you are certain is close to the surface by pulling it out the way it went it. But don’t ever pull out a stick that’s protruding from deep inside your dog’s chest, abdomen or anywhere else—removal can cause more damage than entry. If a stick is buried in your dog, hold the stick firmly, saw it off so that it doesn’t cause more damage, keep your dog as quiet and caln as possible and get to a vet.

Bind sprains with an ace bandage in the figure-eight pattern described above with an ace bandage, but not so tight that your dog’s paw gets cold or swollen. Stabilize obvious fractures with a splint or stick, and get your dog to a vet while keeping it as quiet and caln as possible. Broken limbs swell. Sprains don’t, and they’re generally not tender to the touch.

Treat as you would an overexerted human, with rest, fluids, shade, and energy foods like a dog treat or molasses, which is safe for canines and often used for hunting dogs.

Administer Benadryl orally, around 2mg per pound every eight hours for allergic swelling. For localized reactions like rashes, wash affected area and apply calamine lotion or steroid cream.

The July 15, 2012, issue of the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association provided new guidelines for dog CPR. If your dog is no longer breathing, and you cannot detect a pulse, perform mouth-to-snout ventilation, maintaining a ratio of 30 compressions to two breaths every two minutes. Be advised, CPR on pets doesn’t work as well as CPR on people. In a hospital scenario, about 20 percent of human patients respond to CPR, and about six percent of pets respond.

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