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WARNING: This article is meant to be a brief overview, and not a detailed guide, on medical treatment for injured dogs. Seek accredited veterinary treatment before performing any of these methods.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 36.5 percent of U.S. households have dogs — that’s a little over 43 million. With the recent natural disasters in Houston, Puerto Rico, and California, it’s crucial to keep your pets in mind when making your bug-out/in plans. Our furry friends do have a few special needs, and may also require a specific type of care in emergency situations. Movies and video games often show large well-trained purebreds as the ideal survival companion in post-apocalyptic settings, but even a small mutt can be a real asset for its alertness and companionship. Either way, our pets are our family, and we need to be ready to support them.
We spoke with Dr. Emily Garrett, DVM, a veterinarian who specializes in large animal medicine, surgery, and orthopedics. Garrett reinforced the importance of preparing to care for your four-legged friend in emergency scenarios.
“Dogs have been known to step up to the plate in all kinds of situations: warning their owners of intruders, sensing danger before it happens, and a variety of different jobs that dogs have been trained for. These can include sensing blood sugar in diabetics, alerting owners of seizure activity before it happens, and finding lost people. Their acute senses and unwavering loyalty make them far better companions than some humans, and we should be ready to care for them.”
Man and dog have been working together for millennia. Evidence shows that early wolves were domesticated by man to aid in hunting efforts. It’s also theorized that early humans were aided in Europe, eliminating competing Neanderthals with the help of their four-legged companions. Many guard dog breeds in history developed from farm and working dogs, and their loyalty to their owners made them prime choices for royalty.
Dobermans, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds all have roots to working dogs of the past. As time has gone on, we still see how dogs can be an important part of our lives and often our careers. From family hunting dogs and military working dogs to the “lap dog” breeds that alert us every time a car drives by, our dogs have a place by our side and deserve the same level of loyalty that they give us.
Above: Calculate how much food your dog consumes per month and use that to determine an ample supply of backup food that can be used in an emergency.
Your dog is part of your life and therefore should be a part of your survival plans. Knowing your canine and its needs is the first step to this preparation. Be sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations and sees the veterinarian regularly for checkups. Garrett says to establish a relationship with your vet — they are there to make sure your animal is healthy and safe.
Similar to your long-term food storage for your human family, have a supply on hand for the dog. An easy way to plan your dog’s food is to monitor exactly how much it eats. Every time a bag of food is exhausted, make note of the date. Do this over the course of several months to account for seasonal changes. From this information, you can stockpile several months of dog food easily. Water needs are similar to a human, with ½ to 1 ounce per pound of body weight per day.
Whether you’re a road warrior roaming the wasteland with your throat-ripping Shih-Tzu or holed up in your house with a Corgi, dogs are susceptible to injuries. Knowing the signs and treatment procedures can mean life or death for your furry pal. Here are a few instances to be aware of:
Shock: Much like humans, dogs will experience shock during traumatic events. Diagnosing and treating shock in canines is paramount to the animal’s survival. Garret gives the following advice for dog lovers, “Establish a baseline with your pet, and know their demeanor. Know what is normal for your pet, color of the gums, temperature, heart rate, as well as respiration rate.” For some context, a healthy Labrador will have a temperature from 99 to 102 degrees, a heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute, and a respiratory rate of 12 to 20 breaths per minute. Check with your vet on what the expected healthy vital signs are for your specific dog.
Signs of shock include:
Treat shock by laying the dog on its side and elevating its hind legs with a pillow or pack. Stop any bleeding through a tourniquet or pressure dressing. Prevent body heat loss by wrapping the dog with a space blanket. If the dog isn’t breathing, perform cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) by massaging the dog’s heart for 10 to 15 seconds, then give 10 to 15 seconds of mouth to nose breathing. Garrett says to sing “Staying Alive” to keep a good rhythm. Continue this method until the dog resumes breathing. Once the dog is stabilized, seek a veterinarian as soon as possible. Organizations such as the Red Cross offer training on proper canine and feline CPR. See sidebar for details.
Heatstroke: Dogs can be more prone to heat-related injuries, especially breeds that are dark in color and with thick hair. Dogs do not sweat like humans and cool themselves via respiration in the form of panting. During strenuous activity or austere conditions, dogs will already be stressed. With the onset of heatstroke, your companion may not last long.
In the event your dog is experiencing heatstroke, it may display bright red gums/tongue, increased salivation, a nervous or scared expression, or a rectal temperature in excess of 105 degrees (admittedly, this method is a little less convenient to check, but may be necessary). If these signs are present, the dog will need to be rapidly cooled. Use the following methods, if they are available:
Shade, rest, and water are the keys to preventing heatstroke. Extra caution should be taken with short-nosed dogs, like Boston Terriers. If you’re hot and tired, so is your dog. Be sure to take adequate breaks during long movements or times of exertion. If heatstroke does happen, stabilize as best you can in the field, but seek veterinary treatment immediately. Secondary consequences of heatstroke may become fatal if left untreated.
Above: Dogs may instinctually not exhibit any pain when they’ve been injured. Be sure to check your dog thoroughly for injuries following any disaster.
Puncture wounds encompass a variety of injuries, ranging from stepping on a sharp object to the dog being shot. Injuries should be treated quickly and with careful consideration to prevent infection. If the dog has suffered injuries to the extremities, applying a tourniquet to stop blood loss may be necessary. According to Garrett, a tourniquet should be used if the limb is severed or badly broken. For lesser injuries, a tourniquet may not be advisable due to prolonged pressure causing damage to healthy areas. Clean the area around the wound with water and antiseptic, then cover with a dressing. Try to prevent the dog from scratching or biting the bandages. Get the dog to a veterinarian immediately.
If the animal’s chest or abdomen has been punctured, assess the damage. The use of hemostatic gauze is appropriate to aid in clotting and slow bleeding, but this should only be done if you’re several hours away from professional help. Wrap the wound tightly. If the injury has caused internal organs to be exposed, try to wash any debris away and gently push them back into the body. Cover them with a damp cloth. Treat the dog for shock and seek veterinarian help immediately. Do not allow the dog to lick or chew on its wound.
If the dog has been stabbed or impaled by an object, don’t remove it. If possible, cut down protruding objects to a smaller size to prevent unnecessary movement. Wrap the object and secure the dressing to the dog’s body to further stabilize it and prevent more internal damage.
Most dogs are good swimmers, but some breeds may struggle to stay afloat. Recently the news was littered with sad stories of dogs surviving (or not surviving) during the intense flooding along the Gulf Coast. Make no mistake, dogs are survivors to the core, but even they can become tired after many hours of paddling. Look into purchasing a floatation vest for your dog, especially if you live near hurricane or flood-prone areas.
Retrieving a scared, tired, panicked dog from water can be very dangerous. Use a pole or rope to pull the dog to safety, if possible. Entering the water should be avoided, but if necessary bring an object the dog will be able to cling to. Once the dog is out of the water, if it’s conscious, dry the dog and keep it warm.
If the dog has lost consciousness begin by emptying the lungs of water. This can be done by holding the dog upside down and swinging it side to side and up and down. With larger dogs, squeeze the chest area while holding the dog upside down. Lay the dog on its side and begin CPR. If the heart is beating, but the canine isn’t breathing continue artificial breathing with the mouth-to-snout method. Continue to treat the dog for shock.
As much as we love them, dogs do dumb things like swallow toys, socks, bones, or other objects that are impassible to their airway. When Fido has a blocked airway, be careful when checking or helping with choking as the dog may be in a panic and bite.
Open the dog’s mouth by holding the top jaw and rolling the jowls over the teeth and open the bottom mandible with your other hand. Attempt to remove the object with your fingers or use a blunt object to pry the item out. If you’re unable to remove the object with your fingers, a modified abdominal thrust will be necessary.
For a large dog, similar to a human, thrust at the base of the rib cage. For a small dog, turn it upside down and shake the dog vigorously back and forth. For the small dog, if gravity didn’t help, put the animal on its side and squeeze behind the ribs while pushing upward toward the throat. Remove the blockage with your fingers. If the dog has lost consciousness during this escapade, begin CPR.
With the right gear, your dog can carry his or her own survival supplies. Below, we’ve listed a few items that you may consider for a well-rounded dog survival kit. Don’t forget to consider your shelter needs as “plus one” with your furry friend so they have plenty of room to sleep.
Treating and preventing injuries in dogs is similar to doing so for humans. You know your dog best, and it’s important to pay close attention to its behavior. During difficult times, you and your dog will be stressed. Much like humans, your dog is going to rise to its level of training and physical abilities. Small dogs may need to be carried while you’re on the move, so practice carrying your dog in ways that are comfortable for both of you. Elderly or disabled dogs may simply need to be pulled in a wagon or transported to safety in a vehicle.
As a responsible dog owner, you should practice relevant skills with your dog. Take them for walks with their packs, traverse difficult terrain, or bring them to a body of water to practice swimming. This will help both of you understand expectations as well as bring attention to areas of weakness. Although caring for a dog in a survival situation is an added responsibility, with adequate preparation your four-legged friend can be one of your greatest assets.
Alexander Crown served as an Infantryman with the Scout/Sniper Platoon of the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Ft. Richardson, Alaska, where he specialized in radio communications and reconnaissance. Since separating, Alexander spends his time as an avid outdoorsman and hunter with an appreciation for self-sufficiency in the form of gardening. He also enjoys woodworking, firearms, and reloading. You can follow him on Instagram @acrown509.