First aid for your faithful friend

Learn how you can transfer 'adult' first aid principles to the care of your pet dog


Paul McFarlane

3/26/20233 min read

During the week I watched a video showing a military medic providing first aid to his working dog who was injured in the course of his duties. It made me think about the degree to which ‘human’ first aid skills and medical equipment can be adapted for working dogs and family pets?

It is not surprising that military, police, and rescue canines receive high quality medical care when they are in the field as they are an essential part of our safety and security infrastructure. These dogs undergo rigorous training to work in extreme environments such as war zones, crime scenes, and natural disasters. They are at risk of injury, trauma, and infection, and so their handlers need to be able to provide immediate medical support to keep the dogs alive and in good working condition.

The medical support for these dogs includes first aid, veterinary care, and preventive medicine. For example, the military has adopted advanced medical technologies to monitor and treat their dogs on the battlefield. They have equipped their handlers with a kit known as the "K9 First Aid Kit," which contains essential medical supplies including specialised K9 tourniquets, bandages, gauze, splints, and medicinal products like antibiotics and wound sealant. Military veterinarians have specialised training to handle injuries such as burns, lacerations, or puncture wounds that are common in military dogs.

Police dogs undergo similar medical support with their handlers having access to first aid kits designed for K9s. Police departments usually have veterinary care arrangements with staff that are well versed in the treatment of police dogs. Dog handlers are also trained in basic first aid skills for their dogs such as stabilising fractures and treating heatstroke.

Rescue dogs are often put in situations where they are risking their lives to save others. In most cases, they will be working in harsh environments that make them susceptible to injury or trauma. They are trained to work in the debris of collapsed buildings or when an explosion has occurred putting their lives at risk. They too have specialised equipment such as boots that protect their feet from glass injuries, and canine oxygen masks available to them in case of the need for immediate medical care.

Practical Tips for Pet Owners As a pet owner, the basic first aid skills you have learned in ‘adult’ first aid classes are able to help your dogs in case of an emergency. Here are some tips on how to support your pet dog so that you are prepared if life-threatening injuries occur:

  1. Create a Canine First-Aid Kit: You should create a first aid kit for your dog using the sorts of items found in a regular first aid kit. The kit should include bandages, scissors, antiseptic wipes, hydrogen peroxide, and add a muzzle to keep them from biting you if they are in pain or distressed, and most importantly, the 24/7 contact information for your dog's vet.

  2. Know your Dog's Vital Signs: You should know the vital signs of your dog, such as heart rate and temperature, to be able to determine when there is an urgency to act. The normal temperature range for dogs is between 38–39°C (100.5-102.5°F), and the normal heart rate is between 60 and 140 beats per minute for dogs.

  3. Be Familiar with Poisonous Foods and Plants: It is vital that you keep your pets away from toxic plants, toxic foods, and toxic human medications.

  4. Know Basic First-Aid Techniques: Remember, just like with 'humans', you can use pressure to stop bleeding, apply antiseptic to clean and dress wounds, and use tweezers and cotton tipped applicators to remove superficial foreign objects from a dog's eye, ears, or paw.

  5. Immediately React to Symptoms: Remember, if your dog shows signs of distress, such as difficulty in breathing, excessive panting, or vomiting, seek veterinary care immediately. Some symptoms can indicate critical medical emergencies that require urgent attention.

Having the capacity to provide first aid is an essential part of pet care, especially for active dogs. Military, police, and rescue canines receive specialised medical support to ensure they remain healthy in their line of work. As pet owners, we should learn basic first aid skills to be able to provide emergency care to our dogs. By applying these tips, you will be better equipped to handle crises that may arise and help your pet live a long and healthy life.