How to treat your field pal for cuts, bites & more

It happened on a glorious morning last October. The air was crisp and the wind was light—perfect for an upland bird hunt with Belle, my large Munsterlander. Belle was tearing through some shorn alfalfa and pea patches with her usual intensity when she jumped into a thick stand of aspen. I waited on the other side for her to hunt it out and soon she was crashing toward me. My heart stopped when I saw a streak of bright red blood coating part of her neck.

I forced myself to walk calmly to her, but the horrible possibilities were racing through my mind. Was it an artery? I quickly realized that the injury was a simple tear on her ear, so I grabbed a sterile pad from my first-aid kit, applied pressure to stop the bleeding and took her to the veterinarian. The vet thoroughly flushed the cut and applied an antibiotic ointment. We were on our way—potential crisis averted. Here's what to do if your dog gets bloody.

Remember to handle with care

As in any stressful situation, it's important to remain calm (at least on the outside). Dogs are very sensitive to our moods; the more agitated you are, the more upset your dog will become, making it harder to administer effective first aid.

Even the gentlest dog may become violent when in pain, so before you treat any injury put a muzzle on the dog to prevent bites. You can easily make a field muzzle by tying a loop in the centre of a long strand of gauze and sliding the loop over the dog's snout, behind the canine teeth. Tighten the muzzle until it's snug, making sure that the dog can still pant easily. Then cross the ends back under the snout and secure them behind the ears.

Cuts & animal bites

How you treat a cut or animal bite depends on where the injury is and the amount of bleeding.

If the blood is flowing out of control, place a non-adhesive pad or cloth over the wound and apply firm pressure until the blood clots. You may want to use a styptic pencil or other blood stopper to encourage clotting, but be aware that these treatments sting and may agitate the dog.

A tourniquet is not recommended unless all other options have been exhausted; if it's applied too tightly or left on too long, a tourniquet can permanently damage the limb.

When you've stopped the bleeding, flush out the wound with an antiseptic wash and apply an antiseptic ointment. Trim the hair around the cut with scissors and secure a non-adhesive pad over the wound with gauze. Wrap a self-adhesive bandage over the area to anchor the dressing until you get to the veterinarian.

Puncture wounds

As for puncture wounds, again staunch the bleeding and take the dog immediately to the veterinary hospital for treatment. If you can't find the cause of the wound, it may mean something has broken off inside the body cavity, which could lead to serious infection. Large objects, such as sticks or arrows, should be left in place if they are still stuck in the dog, as major bleeding could result if they're removed.

Dressing wounds

Step 1: After cleaning the wound and trimming the hair around it, secure a non-adhesive pad using gauze as a bandage. Begin at the toes and work up to above the joint.

Step 2: Cover the gauze with a self-adhesive wrap to protect the wound and hold the dressing in place. It works well because it doesn't stick to hair and allows skin to breathe.

Step 3: The bandage should be tight enough to stop the bleeding, but flexible enough that, when combined with adequate padding, it will not hinder circulation.

Fractures

While all broken bones demand attention, fractures in the pelvis or spine are especially serious because they can paralyze or kill your dog. If you suspect such a fracture, secure the dog to a makeshift stretcher with bandages and get it to a veterinarian immediately. To build a stretcher, you can use a blanket or coat pulled tight and tied between two strong sticks. Make sure the stretcher is large enough to let the dog rest on its side.

If your dog has broken a paw or limb, kennel or crate it before bringing it to a vet. If you don't have a way to confine the dog, splint the broken limb by padding it with cotton or several layers of gauze and placing two straight, flat sticks on each side of the leg. Finally, secure the splint with tape.

As for compound fractures (where the bone has broken through the skin), gently wrap the affected area with a thick bandage to keep the wound from getting infected.

Eye injuries

Hunting dogs often run through bushes or tall grasses that can easily injure their eyes. If you find foreign matter on the surface of the dog's eye, thoroughly flush the eye with a saline solution until it's clear. If you can see an object imbedded in the eyelid, carefully try to remove it with tweezers or a hemostat.

If the object is imbedded in the eye itself, however, leave it and go directly to your veterinarian. In such a case, keep the dog calm and comfortable, and crate it if possible. If no kennel is available, find a place for the dog to comfortably lie down; restraints will only cause more stress and exacerbate the situation.

Foreign bodies

Hunting dogs are always using their noses and, consequently, they often inhale unwanted objects into their nasal cavities. Dogs that run in the outdoors are also likely to get thorns in their feet and the likes of foxtail spikes in their ears—not to mention the occasional bee sting—just about anywhere on their bodies. And what kind of hunting dog doesn't have the odd run-in with a porcupine?

The good news is you can usually remove any of these small yet visible foreign bodies. Just use a hemostat and apply a cold compress to reduce any swelling; also use an antihistamine for insect stings. And again—it can't be stressed enough—take your dog to the vet (and point out any objects you couldn't remove yourself).