Emergency kits for backcountry k9’s

Mike and Buffy taking in the views from the alpine

I have been adventuring in the backcountry with my dogs for many years. From the moment I had Cody we were hitting the trails in the parks near Ottawa. Although we spent a lot of time on those trails, it was never a remote enough for me to bring around emergency supplies and I just thought if something happened, I would figure it out.

Fast forward a couple years and we found ourselves in the backcountry in Cape Scott Park at the northern tip of Vancouver Island. My sister and I both had our dogs with us (Buffy around yet so I just had Cody) and I had suggested what looked like a short cut to get around the beach as the tide was coming in. The trail we were on was rugged and overgrown with fallen trees and a rope to safely descend because of the steepness. I remember thinking “I’m not equipped to handle this if Cody get hurts”. Luckily, that didn’t happen and his agility impressed me once again. But the thought stuck with me.

Now, living in the mountains and adventuring with backcountry hikes, scrambles, backcountry skiing and days at the crag, I’ve learned which supplies to bring with me to keep my dogs safe and to be ready to respond if I need to. It’s been almost 6 years of refining my kit and figuring out what is necessary to always have on me when I go out with them.

First aid supplies for K9s

These items are not in any way exhaustive of what an emergency kit should be, or me offering you any advice on how to deal with k9 emergencies, every situation is unique and common sense should always be used.  If you aren’t comfortable providing first aid for your pooch, there are lots of courses available to help change that, including online Pet First Aid.

Here is what I typically have on me:

  • Standard First Aid Supplies – These are the supplies I can use for k9’s or humans. My kit includes triangular bandages, gauze, scissors, tweezers, alcohol swabs, cotton swaps, q-tips, nitrile gloves, and gauze pads of various sizes.
  • Qwikstop – This is a no brainer. It can be used on both k9’s and humans but you’re more likely to need it for your pooch.
  • Lineman’s Pliers – If you don’t have this on a  multi-tool with you, then pack a separate one, especially for overnight trips. Porcupines are an unfortunate part of the backcountry and these can help you with a lot of situations but especially porcupine quills. If you are more than a day from civilization or depending on the location, you might have to remove these yourself. To do that you’re likely to need help from someone holding and calming your pooch. As a minimum, you can use these pliers to cut the quills so at least your dog won’t be hurting every two seconds by rubbing them against something. Always a good idea to see the vet after a porcupine encounter.
  • Benadryl – I always have some of this in my kit. Benadryl is safe to take for dogs and it will help you if your furry pal gets into something they shouldn’t or, if you have a dog like Buffy, and your dog gets a record amount of mosquito bites. Make sure to speak to your veterinarian before you use Benadryl to make sure it’s appropriate for your dog and you know the proper dose.
  • Pepto Bismol – This isn’t something I always carry, but it’s worth considering if you’re heading into the backcountry on a multi-day trek. Pepto can help with nausea and diarrhea for your pooch. But be careful of which product you buy, not all the Pepto Bismol products are safe for dogs. Make sure to speak to your veterinarian before you use Pepto Bismol to make sure it’s appropriate for your dog and you know the proper dose.
  • Self-adhesive Bandage Wrap – Worth its weight in gold, this is my most often used item in my kit along with some gauze. It’s worth carrying a full roll of this stuff. If your dog gets some paw pad injuries, wrapping it with some gauze and this bandage can buy your dog a little comfort on the way out. I’ve used this on multiple occasions with my dogs.
  • Sam Splint – This is something I carry for both my dogs and my human friends. Sam Splints are light and handy to have around. Although if your dog does break a bone in their leg, you might have a pretty hard time splinting it (mainly depending on their ability to tolerate you adding to their pain momentarily), but it’s good to have handy if you need it.
  • Pain Killers – If you’re headed onto a big trek, it’s worth a vet visit to pick up some k9 pain killers in case something goes down. Just like us, it’s nice to have something to numb the pain a bit on the way out of the backcountry after the shit hits the fan. You must speak to your veterinarian and use pain killers prescribed for your dog, over the counter pain killers are not appropriate for your dog.
  • Pedialyte 50/50 – This is a hydration solution that can be used for dogs and people. Your dog may encounter something in the backcountry which causes vomiting, the pedialyte can help you maintain your dog’s hydration until you get them to the vet. Dogs can go days without food if they need to, but like us they are susceptible to dehydration.
  • A lightweight tarp – This way seem odd to bring but this is one of the most useful tools for backcountry treks. Not only is to good to set up if you need to get out of the sun or rain, but you can use this to carry your injured dog out if it comes to that. There are some dog-sling products out there where it is a specifically designed piece of equipment to carry out your dog and it certainly is easier to manage than using a tarp for this, however if you’re doing a long trek, you might be more inclined to carry something that you can use daily as well.
  • Field Guide to Dog First Aid by Rancy Acker, DVM – This small book comes along on my bigger backcountry treks. It’s a handy guide that covers all kinds of situations you may find yourself in and includes information on how to stabilize your dog for specific injuries and when you need to get out as fast as possible and to the vet. For me, it’s worth the extra grams in weight to have this information handy if I need it.

The items mentioned above might not help your dog in a very serious situation, but they will come in handy for a lot of more minor injuries they may sustain (and are also more likely to sustain). I’m not a veterinarian so I can’t provide you with advice on what to do if your dog is very seriously injured, the best advice I can offer is keeping your dogs on leash when you’re unsure of the terrain and what could be around so that you don’t get into that situation in the first place. A lot of backcountry injuries happen to dogs that are off-leash. Dogs will chase prey off of cliffs, I’ve seen it. So don’t risk it if you are in unfamiliar terrain and never ever break the leash laws in parks. You risk ruining it for the rest of us.

If there are items you never hit the trail without, let me know! I’m always looking to improve my kit!

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