Emergency Field First-Aid for Sporting Dogs


Being prepared for field emergencies is equally important to having a properly conditioned sporting 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.

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.

“Traumatic injuries are common problems in the field,” says Jeff Schuett, DVM, DABVP, a veterinary specialist from Pewaukee Veterinary Service in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. “They likely range from nicks and scratches to cuts and bruises, however, some injuries can be medical emergencies, depending on the type and severity of the wound.”

“In an emergency situation, it’s important to keep calm and assess your dog’s immediate injuries,” Dr. Schuett advises. “Contact your veterinarian, or an emergency veterinary clinic in the area in which you’re hunting, to inform them of the situation. Do not waste any time. Treat your dog’s area of concern, then get him or her to the veterinarian as soon as possible.”

Other common field injuries include lacerations, eye irritations, insect stings and snakebites.

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.

“Thoroughly check your dog’s eyes for any foreign objects or debris that could be trapped under the third eyelid,” says Dr. Schuett. “Try to gently rinse your dog’s eye with saline solution. Do not allow him or her to rub the eye, and seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.”

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.

Ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments (CCL), fractures and broken legs are uncommon but serious field injuries.

A dog’s CCL helps to stabilize the femur (thighbone) on the tibia (shinbone) and allows a dog to bear weight on his or her leg. When the ligament tears, the two bones are destabilized and the dog becomes lame. Surgery is the only alternative when this occurs.

Fractures can occur when a dog accidentally steps in a hole while running, hits a rock or stump, or falls off a cliff or sharp incline. A dog may also break a leg if he or she becomes tangled in tie-out stakes. Broken legs should be treated by a veterinarian, though owners can help stabilize the leg by wrapping it with a bandage, and if appropriate, applying a temporary splint.

When a dog comes in from the field limping, it could be signs of lameness or soft-tissue damage, though it could also be due to a torn nail or cut, burr or sliver in the paw pad. Remove any foreign object and use a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) recommended by your veterinarian to help reduce the pain, according to Dr. Schuett.

Being prepared to provide aid for an injured 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.

Preparing Your Emergency Kit

A good first-aid kit is a necessity in order to properly care for wounds in the field. Jeff Schuett, DVM, DABVP, a veterinary specialist from Pewaukee Veterinary Service in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, says, “After being involved in an emergency situation or accident and you’ve given your dog initial first-aid treatment, it’s important to still take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible, even if he or she appears to be OK.”

Dr. Schuett recommends a simple first-aid kit complete with these essentials:

  • Penlight or flashlight to easily see what you’re doing
  • Digital thermometer for monitoring your dog’s temperature and avoiding hypothermia or hyperthermia
  • Petroleum jelly to help lubricate the thermometer
  • Surgical soap to wash and disinfect hands before performing first aid
  • Styptic powder and gauze sponges to help stop bleeding
  • 2-inch and 3-inch vet wrap for wrapping injured legs
  • Athletic tape for securing bandages
  • Disposable razor in case a wound requires coat removal to be properly cleaned/dressed
  • Sterile saline wound wash (aerosol can) to clean wounds
  • Triple antibiotic ointment for superficial injuries
  • Cotton swabs for cleaning and applying ointments
  • Staple gun for temporarily closing up wounds
  • Tissue glue 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
  • Tweezers or hemostats for removing ticks or items lodged in paw pads
  • Nail clippers to help with cut or broken nails
  • Gallon-size plastic bags to make ice packs
  • Soft cotton padding roll for packing or wrapping large wounds
  • Saline solution for washing irritated eyes
  • Triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment to help reduce or prevent eye infections
  • Hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting if your dog eats something toxic
  • Any medications prescribed or recommended by your veterinarian for allergies, 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

To locate an emergency veterinary clinic in the United States, please visit veccs.org/certified-facility-directory