When sporting folks head afield with hunting dogs, a lot of positive things can happen. Perhaps it’s a limit of roosters bagged on a perfect fall day, or a brace of raccoons treed on a calm, crisp, moonlit night, or maybe it’s a drake pintail that’s retrieved by a happy Labrador after an accurate shot.
All those outcomes are the result of hard, but pleasant work by trainer and dog. However, there are instances that can transform pleasing outings into panic-inducing affairs when prized canine hunting companions are injured.
My most heart-wrenching experience with dog trauma happened a couple of years ago when my young, energy-infused little Lab, Cash, skewered himself on a deadfall branch, creating a ghastly, gaping wound that left me and my better half, Katie, shocked and panicked.
Fortunately, after a quick inspection that revealed moderate blood loss, I hoped the wound wasn’t quite deep enough to have pierced any organs. No matter though. The wide laceration needed instant attention, so we scooped up our boy and took him to the Emergency Veterinarian Clinic in Eden Prairie. This clinic specializes in disastrous animal injuries and ailments, and after a brief glance at Cash’s oversized cut, one of the most egregious they had ever seen, they whisked him away for surgery.
A few hours later, we picked up Cash, his wound stapled, stitched, and well padded with gauze. His new attire included a mesh T-shirt to keep the dressings in place. He also had a “cone of shame” secured about his head so he could not bother the freshly stitched injury.
Ever since that event, Cash has worn a protective vest – a so-called “skid plate” – while hunting to protect his scar tissue. The skid-plate is perfect for warmer days, because most of the material is situated on the chest/belly region.
Full-on vests are ideal for waterfowl and upland dogs that hunt in chilly weather and in heavy cover. Duck hunters should opt for models that add a level of flotation. When choosing a vest, look to one that gives ample chest and tummy protection, and one you believe will deflect puncture- or laceration-causing items.
In the past few days, two of my friends have seen their dogs’ bellies sliced by barbed wire, with one dog bleeding so profusely that she was minutes from passing when they arrived at the vet. Fortunately, quick field action and a nearby vet saved her.
A week after Cash’s injury, I stopped by my local pet hospital to have his bandages and wound checked. Everything looked good, so I took the opportunity to ask the vet about what a hunter should carry to quickly treat in-the-field dog injuries. Her recommended kit is surprisingly compact and is easily carried in a hunter’s vest.
The canine first aid kit should include stretch gauze; thick, absorbent gauze pads; a vet wrap such as Coflux, which is tacky and sticks to itself for wrapping off treated wounds; a small set of bandage scissors; and an integrated antibiotic lotion such as Neosporin.
With these tools, a hunter can react to field wounds, including common barbed wire lacerations, promptly patching cuts, and restricting blood loss from more serious cuts in short order. Needless to say, any injury that rises above superficial should be treated as soon as possible by a vet.
Another vital piece of first aid gear is a length of small-diameter, high-test rope about 3 feet in length. The rope is essential in the rare case your dog is caught in a Conibear trap. These traps feature strong spring arms that when snapped closed are darn-near impossible to spread without help. The rope is used to compress the springs to activate a safety device and let the dog free from its deadly grasp. To correctly use this method, I suggest watching an online trap-release video and then practicing what you learned with a Conibear trap.
I’ve been hunting with field dogs for five decades and have never come upon a Conibear. Regardless, for peace of mind I always tote rope or XL reinforced zip ties in my game vest.
Some grizzled dog owners are skilled at stitching up their own dogs. These are usually hounds folk who hunt in vast, remote areas and pursue wild cats that sport long, sharp claws. Unless you have the appropriate training, I don’t advise doing any stitching on your own.
The only time I witnessed this was in the middle of an endless northern
Minnesota forest while chasing a tremendous tom bobcat, along with four
veteran cat hounds.
The angry feline, a monstrous 42-pound tom, bayed up on the ground and raked our lead dog,
Chelsea, with a slash across the top of her head. The gash spurted
crimson over the pristine snow, and after the cat was down, my houndsmen
pals went to work cleaning, prepping, and expertly stitching her head.
In minutes, she was up, tail wagging wildly.
Years ago, my young male Lab, Mercury, tangled with a raccoon. He wanted to
play, the raccoon didn’t, and it clawed and lashed out with its teeth
until it had inflicted major trauma in only scant seconds.
I had no aspirations of canine stitching, so the wound was covered and
compressed with clean rags, and Mercury was taken to a vet where he
received several long lines of close stitches. He remained a handsome
dog but sported a mosaic of scars across his face. Because dogs don’t
enter a state of mental shock after an injury the way humans do, Mercury
wagged his tail right through his field treatment and professional
No matter how careful a hunter might be, at some point his canine companion will
get a field injury. Being prepared and taking precautions will keep
everyone involved, both human and canine, calm until professional aid is