Thom G: 7 essentials for canine first aid

Dogs make lousy patients. Not only can’t they tell you where it hurts, but they’ll troop on forever with an injury just because the sights and smells in the outdoors are so delicious.

But with a height that’s right about grass level, and a penchant for keeping their noses to the ground, dogs can run into all sorts of things that can cause injury. The first are grasses that cut the snout and poke the eyes.

The worse is foxtail, a sharp seed that, left untreated, can burrow into the skin and cause infections. Make sure you watch for signs of grass seeds, like vigorous head shaking, pawing at the snout or constant sneezing. Remove any seeds you find with your fingers or tweezers.

Scrapes, cuts and punctures happen. If not serious, wash the cut with water and apply a Betadine solution. Do not close a puncture wound, as this could cause more serious infection. It’s better to keep a puncture wound open, covered with a gauze square, until you can get to your vet.

Pad injuries can be common if you haven’t taken your dog out much. The pads can get abraded, cut or blistered. It’s best to clean them up with a Betadine solution and then apply an antibiotic cream. I carry a tube of Super Glue, which can be applied to the pads to form a shield.

Even the most water-loving dog can get in trouble and — without proper supervision — can drown. Creeks can be swift and waterfall pools deep, and most high-mountain lakes are ringed with rocks, making it difficult for a struggling animal to escape.

If your dog has taken in a lot of water but is struggling to breathe, pick it up by the hind legs so it hangs upside down, then have someone close the dog’s mouth and blow into the nose several times to dispel the water — and get air to the lungs.

If the dog isn’t breathing, begin CPR immediately. Lay the dog on its right side and check the pulse by placing your fingertips on the left side of the chest behind the elbow. If there’s no pulse, clear the dog’s airway, close its mouth and blow into the nose until the lungs expand. Then push on the chest four times, depressing one to two inches. Repeat these steps about 15 times per minute, until the dog regains consciousness, or for five minutes.

Sore muscles can hit your dog as easy as they hit you. If, after a hard day of hiking, your dog is limping or lethargic — and you can’t find an injury — it might be sore muscles. Your vet can prescribe a small amount of anti-inflammatory medication, but simple buffered aspirin works really well. Stay away from uncoated aspirin, since it tends to dissolve in the stomach and cause ailments. Buffered aspirin is designed to dissolve in the intestine, which won’t cause stomach issues.

With most anything, it pays to be observant. Watch how your dog is reacting, and check it often for injury. Look inside the ears, inside the mouth and between the toes for foreign objects or cuts.

Remember that even the friendliest, most loving pooch can snap when it is scared or in pain, so always apply a muzzle before treating a wound or injury.

What goes in a dog first-aid kit?

Having a dog first-aid kit is crucial, even if it has just the bare-bones essentials. Something is better than nothing. But for a complete, comprehensive canine first-aid kit, this works.

1. Instruments
Scissors/bandage scissors
Toenail clippers
Rectal thermometer (healthy dog has temperature of 101)

2. Cleansers and disinfectants
3 percent hydrogen peroxide
Canine eyewash (available at any large pet supply store)

3. Topical antibiotics and ointments (nonprescription)
Calamine lotion
Triple antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin, Neomycin or Polymyxin)
Baking soda (for bee stings)
Stop-bleeding powder

4. Medications
Enteric-coated aspirin or Bufferin

5. Dressings and bandages
Gauze pads (4 inches square)
Gauze roll
Nonstick pads
Adhesive tape (1- and 2-inch rolls)

6. Prescription medications
Pack the regular ones, and for extended trips, consult your vet about others that might be needed in an emergency, including:
Oral antibiotics
Eye medications
Ear medications
Emetics (to induce vomiting)
Pain medications and anti-inflammatories

7. Miscellaneous
Dog boots
Super Glue

Editor’s note: This a best-of column that was originally published August 10, 2008.

Former north state resident Thom Gabrukiewicz now lives at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, but he still remembers a thing or two about the outdoors in Northern California. He’s the original author of “Best Hikes With Dogs, Bay Area and Beyond” (Mountaineers Books) and “Troublemaker,” a collection of 30 flash fiction pieces. His digital self resides at

Thom Gabrukiewicz

Former north state resident Thom Gabrukiewicz now lives at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, but he still remembers a thing or two about the outdoors in Northern California. He's the original author of "Best Hikes With Dogs, Bay Area and Beyond" (Mountaineers Books) and “Troublemaker,” a collection of 30 flash fiction pieces (Amazon His digital self resides at