Things don’t always go as planned in the outdoors. It’s one thing to go it alone, but it’s another to have a fury companion by your side. You need to be prepared. Segment 3 of the Colorado Trail was a swift-kick-in-the-pants reminder that Mother Nature is always in charge. My experiences led me to develop a DIY dog first aid kit for hiking and camping.
How the DIY Dog First Aid Kit for Hiking Developed
The trail wasn’t out of the ordinary. Nothing that difficult or anything to really write home about. We did 8-10 miles that day up over a Rocky Mountain version of a hill and down into a valley to camp near a river. Although nothing is ever really that mild when it’s the middle of the day and you’ve got 25 lbs on your back, but the final stretch of 4 miles over crushed granite wasn’t that steep in the grand scheme of things.
We finally arrived at camp right near a road. It was disappointing. I had walked all day only to find myself sleeping near a bunch of dispersed car campers. So much for feeling like I was in the remote wilderness. Little did I know this would save our butts next morning. Squirrel and I had a non-eventful evening at camp although it was a little strange, Nina kept licking her front paws and continued to do so throughout the night.
The next morning was horrific. Nina had ripped her two front paws to pieces over the crushed granite rock and then proceeded to chew the entire pad off throughout the night. The rough terrain had left Nina unable to walk. When she stood up, she reminded me of a baby deer. The sight almost brought me to tears. Not to mention we still had 4 miles left until the car.
Without much of a choice, we had reluctantly decided to split up. I would stay with the dog while Squirrel hiked the 4 miles out to the truck. He roughly knew where the road was and we could get Nina out via the road. If that road wasn’t there it would have been a long and gruelling day shifting weight in packs to papoose Nina back to the car. I would never recommend splitting up like that, but knowing that there was a road and lots of people around it didn’t seem too unsafe.
Fortunately, a few hours later we coaxed Nina to the car and headed home. Once we got back we were able to patch her up and she was good as new in a couple of days.
Tips for hiking and backpacking with your best friend
Hiking, backpacking and camping with a dog is extremely rewarding. However, it’s important to be prepared when out with your pooch or you could end up like we did. After this misadventure, we developed a DIY dog first aid kit. Nina will literally walk until her feet fall off, happily, so we developed a routine with her to keep her in good shape. As a disclaimer I’m in no way shape or form a vet, this advice is speaking strictly from experience. This has worked for me, but if you’re not comfortable doing it, then don’t. When in doubt ask your vet. Always consult with a vet to ensure your pet is healthy enough to hike or backpack.
Dog Foot Care – Paw First Aid Kit
Right up there with providing your animal with water and packing food (in an odor-proof bag of course) foot care is absolutely essential while on the trail. After the incident, I spent countless hours on the internet researching what would be best to protect her feet from something so bad as the entire pad falling off. I settled on using paw wax, specifically Musher’s Secret (click for Amazon purchase options). We apply before heading out, and depending on terrain and grade we reapply every couple of hours. If we are going over rocky terrain or on long downhills we will wax up before we start and check her paws frequently for small tears. Musher’s Secret works great if you stay on top of it. It also has the added bonus of protecting their feet from ice and salt in the winter. Definitely a worth-while buy.
Small tears can quickly become big ones. I have read a lot about different ways to deal with small tears on the trail. Some people recommend doggy shoes but if you ever wanna waste your time, money, and energy Google around for dog shoe reviews. Dog shoes are terrible. Dogs sweat through their feet and they can overheat if they wear shoes. They can also tear dew claws off, blister if the shoe doesn’t fit, not to mention it throws off their balance. At a minimum of $80 a pair it is a complete rip off. Dog sled teams don’t use boots for the reasons mentioned above. Instead they use booties. These booties are meant to be breathable, but not meant to last. So I decided that at the very least, my dog first aid kit needed to include a breathable solution to protect her paws.
Our oh-shit emergency kit contains our budget version of the doggy bootie – toddler socks from Target, gauze, athletic tape, Neosporin, and duct tape. You can create all kinds of contraptions with these essentials and they don’t break the bank. We carry a small roll of gauze, 4 toddlers socks, athletic tape, and a few wraps of duct tape around a Nalgene.
What to Do if You Notice a Tear While on the Trail – Using Your Dog First Aid Kit
First try to get rid of any dirt/sticks/mud/rocks that might be caught in the wound and making it worse. If you can, clean the area throughly, if you can’t keep an eye on it and clean it as soon as you are able to. Use the scissors in your outdoor first aid kit to carefully cut away any flaps of skin if you are comfortable doing so. Nina let’s me work with her feet, so it isn’t too much trouble for me to do this.
Next, I’ll put some Neosporin on the affected area. Nina doesn’t seem interested in trying to eat the stuff, but it is ok for use on dogs.
Then I’ll wrap the entire paw, lightly, in gauze. You don’t want any of this too loose (it’ll unwrap) or too tight – dogs need to spread their paws out to walk, think about how you would treat yourself in this situation. I’ll secure the gauze with a little athletic tape or duct tape up above the dew claw so the dog can still lift and bend the paw, again, firm enough to stay on but not so tight that it hinders mobility or circulation.
If we have a ways to go I will put the sock over the gauze. The sock acts as a cushion but still allows the foot to breath. I’ll secure with some more duct tape. If I can see that the ground is particularly sharp I’ll make a “sole” to the bootie with some duct tape – it typically ends up shredded, but it buys you some time. It is especially important not to make the sole too tight. you also want to keep the “toe” of the bootie open so the foot can breathe.
Get Your Dog to Safety
It takes a minute for Nina to get used to it, but before long she’s back to bounding down the trail. If you have to do more than one paw pay close attention to excess panting and signs of heat exhaustion. Once you’ve reached your destination remove the bandage to allow the wound to breathe, but don’t let the dog agitate it. Keep a close eye on it. If you’re backpacking cover the wound in the evening so the dog doesn’t spend all night chewing and making it worse.
Upon getting home immediately wash out the wound. I have dunked Nina’s paws in Epsom salt (yes she hated it) to sanitize the wound. Put some Neosporin on there and wrap it like before. It will usually take a day or two for the paw to heal enough to not need to be wrapped. If there is excessive bleeding, infection, the wound is not healing, or anything else that seems off, call a vet immediately.
Other Items to Have in your DIY Dog First Aid Kit for Hiking and Camping
As always, be sure to check with your vet for appropriate doses and recommendations. These are things I always carry with me for my pet.
- Always carry Benadryl in your first aid kit for stings and snake bites. Check with your vet to see how much Benadryl is appropriate for your dog
- Carry a tick key for tick removal
- Excess bandages and antiseptic wipes for both you and your pet
- Get some doggy Advil from your vet
- If you have an older dog, travel with glucosamine. This will help with stiff and sore joints.
- Pepto Bismol for upset tummies
There you have it! A few simple steps to keeping your pup happy in the mountains. Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with a hurt foot, but if you do always be prepared with a simple doggy first aid kit and make sure you carry what was mentioned above. A little extra weight can make a huge difference in a pinch!