Be Prepared for Outdoor Adventures

Jackets can help protect dogs against the cold winds.
Jackets can help protect dogs against the cold winter winds.

Outdoor adventure with canine companions is a favorite area winter past time. We live in a winter wonderland to be sure, but it is not without peril. Since we most often recreate miles from medical care, learning some field first aid and carrying supplies is a good idea.
      Canine First Aid Kits – Ask your veterinarian for suggestions about your particular dog’s needs and medical supplies. Basics may include: an ace-type bandage, nonstick pads, athletic tape, skin glue, antibiotic ointment, Benedryl (or generic plain antihistamine), tweezers or needle-nose pliers, wire cutters to free a dog from a snare or fencing, small scissors or sharp knife, disinfectant and pet-friendly anti-inflammatory medication. Canine first aid kits are available at sporting-goods and pet supply stores. If you don’t have a kit, you can improvise with socks for leg bandages or secure a shirt on the wounded area to protect it until you have access to proper medical care. It’s also a good idea to get a canine first aid book to familiarize yourself with detailed medical responses.
      Climate and Conditions – We do get the occasional sunny and warm winter days and don’t think about dogs overheating, so pay attention to how much they’re panting and let them rest until their breath normalizes. Always carry water and a collapsible bowl and make sure your dog stays hydrated. During hunting season, your dogs should be wearing safety orange – why not get a backpack for them to carry their own first aid kit, water and bowl in a bright color? Light reflecting properties on any canine-wear and bells are also smart. In addition to keeping your dog from looking like prey, bells and brights will help you spot your pet more easily when they’re off leash. Never let your dog off leash during a storm or extreme conditions; they are far more likely to lose their scent and become lost.
For short-hair dogs, smaller dogs and those sensitive to the cold, or for extended cold-weather jaunts, fleece coats and dog booties are recommended. Dogs are at risk for hypothermia and frostbite if exposed to below freezing temperatures for more than short periods. Look for lethargy, muscle stiffness, lack of co-ordination, low heart and breathing rates, fixed and dilated pupils, and collapse – these increasingly serious symptoms are a warning that your dog needs to get to a warm place and may require Veterinary care if their body temperature does not return to normal quickly. Being wet will intensify cold’s impact. Always dry your pets’ paws thoroughly when coming inside to remove any salt, ice and moisture so they won’t lick the area and worsen conditions.
      Wounds – If your dog is limping or licking a particular area, stop and assess. Is it a bur, a cut, or possibly a strain or break? If the cut is large enough to notice, they usually need medical attention within 12 hours. Paw pad cuts often need stitches and dogs’ coats hold enough bacteria to exacerbate infection. The old adage, “Dogs’ mouths are cleaner than humans’,” is a myth – licking the wound won’t disinfect it.
Traps are a serious hazard to dogs off leash and off trail. Snares can be cut and springs may be released, but studying the techniques, having the tools, and a second person to calm the dog will make a big difference in minimizing injury severity. For a snapping trap, you must compress and secure the trap’s springs; the jaws cannot be pried open otherwise. You may use a leash, rope or belt to create a pulley system to release the springs. If you’ve reviewed your canine first aid book before you head out, you’ll be more comfortable doing triage and using supplies – but in most cases, a visit to your Veterinarian as soon as feasible is an important follow-up step.
      Toxic Ingestion – Is your dog vomiting, having diarrhea or lethargic? Do they often eat sketchy stuff? Carry hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting if you suspect they have eaten something toxic or poisonous- call a vet first as inducing vomiting is not recommended for certain substances. Usually hydration is helpful to replace fluids, but in some cases can make it worse. Either call or take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible since different toxins require different responses and many seemingly innocuous things – sugar-free gum, anti-freeze, raisins, Tylenol, wood glue – can quickly become fatal even if the animal’s symptoms are mild. It may be nothing, but if it is dangerous then it is likely time sensitive too; so don’t delay.
The great outdoors are waiting for you and your best friend to romp in and you’ll enjoy yourself more knowing you’re ready to face potential hazards.