Pet First Aid

logo for Montana K9 Safety training organization, with paw print and first aid iconI recently took a pet first aid class. It’s a good idea for anyone with pets, especially if you hike or camp or live farther than a half-hour or so from an emergency vet.

The course I took, offered all over Montana by Montana K9 Safety, was an in-person, four-and-a-half hour class. I expected it to be more hands-on than it turned out to be, but it did provide a thorough introduction to first aid. We learned techniques for immobilizing potential fractures, stopping bleeding, and carrying pets out of a wilderness. We briefly covered trap release, too — an unfortunate necessity in Montana.

The organization also offers a full-day course for wilderness emergency care.

In addition to this first aid course, I’ve taken the trap-release workshop offered by Footloose Montana, an anti-trapping organization twice and highly recommend it to anyone in Montana who hikes with a dog. (Caution: You may never want to hike again …)

Unfortunately, my first aid class did not spend much time on CPR and choking, which, along with trap release, are the only parts that I felt needed to be in-person and hands-on. I hope I never need either, but I was hoping to get a better sense of how to help a dog who is choking or in heart failure.

Online pet first aid courses are offered by the Red Cross and possibly by local or state organizations near you. You can take an online pet CPR class, but I am not sure how helpful it would be. Having someone correct my hand position and help me get the pressure and pace correct was enormously helpful, even if I only got one brief practice opportunity.

We spent some time talking about what to include in a first aid kit that would work for pets as well as people, and which items to take along on a day hike and which to have available in your larger kit in the car or back at camp. That was helpful too, since the list of items is extensive, and obviously it’s not practical to carry it all with you as you hike.

The carry-with-you kit should include vet wrap, gauze pads and rolls, a triangle bandage, Quik Clot, a muzzle if you have one, an extra leash (not leather), and, in Montana, aviation-grade wire cutters, in case you encounter snare traps.

The larger kit should have more of all of those things as well as sterile saline to clean wounds, some basic meds like Benadryl, hydrogen peroxide, bandage scissors, a thermometer, and more.

Useful tips included getting a set of inexpensive mushing booties to cover paw wounds and keep them clean, using a triangle bandage or bandana to create a makeshift muzzle, (or two tied together for a larger dog), having Quik Clot and an instant cold compress in your kit, as well as a SAM splint, in case you need to stabilize a limb.

Again, I hope not to need any of this advice and equipment, but I feel a (little) better armed with basic knowledge and tools. Here’s to a long spring and summer of safe hiking!