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    Hiking First Aid for Dogs (and Humans!)

    • 4 min read

    One of the best parts of having a canine adventure buddy is all the exploring you get to do together. Hiking mountains, rivers, forests, canyons, and fields is so much better with a dog.  Tireless and joyful, your dog will go with you wherever you roam, including some very remote places.


    But how do you handle it when one of you gets hurt on the trail?  It’s an unfortunate circumstance that many of us don’t like to think about, but if you or your dog gets hurt while hiking, you need to know exactly what to do to make sure both of you get back safely.  The chances for injury are varied, but we’ll cover the most important things to have in your first aid kit (for both you and your dog) and what to do in some common injury scenarios.  


    First Aid Kit


    Don’t take off on any adventure without a first aid kit!  Although it may seem like a cumbersome thing to take with you at first, you’ll be really glad you have it when you need it.  Talk with your veterinarian if you’re heading out on a multi-day backcountry adventure, because there may be more items they suggest having on hand.  For most adventures, though, your first aid kit should include:



    -Plastic gloves

    -Betadine solution or other antiseptic

    -Sterile saline


    -Self-adhesive bandage wrap (vet wrap or similar)

    -Space blanket




    The item on this list that may surprise you the most is the muzzle.  You and your dog are best friends, why would you need a muzzle?  If your dog is in severe pain or is unsure of what is happening to him, he could react in unpredictable ways.  Muzzling your dog keeps you safe from injury and him safe so that you can perform whatever first aid is necessary.


    Bleeding/Cut or Injury


    The two most important things to remember with an injury that is bleeding heavily are to stop the bleeding and maintain pressure.  Put on your plastic gloves and then take a gauze pad and cover the bleeding area, maintaining steady pressure.  If the blood soaks through, keep pressure on the first gauze pad and add a second on top of the first.  Continue until the bleeding stops.  Once the bleeding stops, maintain pressure on the gauze pads and wrap the area with self-adhesive bandage wrap to keep the gauze in place.  Be careful not to wrap too tightly!  You want the wrap to maintain enough pressure on the wound to keep the gauze in place, but not so tight that it cuts off circulation to the area.


    With cuts or injuries that are not bleeding heavily, use your sterile saline solution to rinse out any dirt or debris and determine the depth of the injury. Then use an antiseptic solution to clean the wound.  If necessary, apply a gauze pad and wrap with self-adhesive bandage wrap to keep the wound clean. 


    Temperature Exposure


    Heatstroke and hypothermia can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.  Signs of heatstroke in your dog are excessive panting, bright red gums, lethargy, and even bloody diarrhea.  If you notice your dog getting too hot, move them to a cool or shady area.  Use tepid water and spray/pour it on your dog’s body. Do not use cold water, as this can constrict the blood vessels and slow the cooling process.  You may give your dog a little tepid water to drink as well. Repeat this process until your dog’s temperature comes back to normal, around 104 F.  Once you have gotten your dog’s temperature back to a normal 104 F, make an appointment with your veterinarian.  The consequences of heatstroke may not show up for several days after the event. 


    Signs of hypothermia in your dog include shivering, blue-ish gums, and weak pulse. If your dog is hypothermic, do whatever you can to get them warm.  If it is possible to get them to a heated indoor space, do so immediately. Otherwise, wrap them in an emergency space blanket, get them as close to your body heat as possible and get them to a warm space.  Once your dog’s body temperature returns to normal make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. 


    All of these actions for heatstroke and hypothermia apply to humans too!


    Insect Bite / Sting


    If your dog runs into an insect it shouldn’t, inspect the area thoroughly.  If there is still a stinger in your dog’s skin, pull it out with a pair of tweezers.  Don’t use your fingers, or you may release more venom into the area.  You might also get the venom in your skin!  If you have a cold compress, apply that to the area to reduce the swelling.  Monitor your dog very carefully for signs of a more severe allergic reaction.  This may include hives, facial swelling, or difficulty breathing.  If your dog develops any of these symptoms, seek help immediately.  


    Although it may seem a little scary to think about, being prepared for either you or your dog getting injured on the trail means you both can enjoy the great outdoors with peace of mind.  So pack your first aid kit, get out there, and enjoy the unknown!