One of the five pillars of the skills we preach here at ISG is medical. Much to my chagrin it’s likely the least sexy subject in terms of what preparedness-minded folks like to click on. I’ve grown used to campaigning for simple items over a long career that I believe are under-represented, but recently I’ve stumbled into a world that is ignored in not only the civilian world, but the professional world as well.
Over 63 million American households own dogs , and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that less than 1 million of them have any sort of first aid items for their pets. Medicine cabinets are always stocked with items for your human family members, so it should stand to logic that it would be no different for your canine ones.
I recently had a phone conversation with Matt Casey of Triad Medical Training about the development and mission of his K9 IFAKs. After bringing his military medical background to the world of law enforcement, he was astonished to find just how little was available in trauma and medical first aid for their working dogs, even among their handlers. Seeing a need to be filled, he started developing IFAKs for dogs.
In my own experience with field dogs, the culture is no different for retrievers and pointers accompanying tens of thousands of bird hunters annually. Even if your dog isn’t steeped in a gun rich environment, events such as attacks from other dogs or being struck by motor vehicles do happen. The goal here is to get you thinking about the needs for your dogs as any other member of your family may deserve. The massive blind spot of aid for your pets needs to be illuminated.
WHY START WITH THE IFAK?
One wouldn’t start any course of training without the proper course materials. If we’re going to go over lifesaving measures for your puppers, I wouldn’t want to instruct without you having everything you need to have. This article will be more focused on explaining the gear you need than their application for that reason.
The IFAK featured in this article has been provided to me by Triad Medical Training. I will provide links to their materials for a few reasons. First, there simply aren’t many other quality choices. I’ve used the materials and brands that Matt is trusting in his kits in my own career and can corroborate their effectiveness. Second, no other kit out there comes with the K9 reference guide developed by @specialforcesmedic, an SF Medic receiving some of the most forefront training and information on K9 Trauma. Third, Matt’s mission aligns with mine and with ISG as a whole. In my bio line it states that my “goal is to break through the barrier-of-entry of important medical knowledge for non-professionals.” His company supports this exact same mentality.
Is this an advertisement? No. Is this an endorsement? Absolutely. You may use this article as a guide for how to construct your own, but I would be encouraging of anyone who is new to trauma medicine as a whole, human or K9, that they can trust the input and experience that went into developing the Triad Medical Training kits. This feels odd to write as my entrance into the world of tactical and preparedness writing was firmly solidified by absolutely shitting on bad IFAKs. Oh, how the world turns.
A muzzle is a must for K9 first aid kits. The reasoning is for the safety of the person providing aid. When a dog gets injured it is very possible for them to rely on instinct and instinct only, regardless of how much training they've received or the bond they have with you or their handler.
One of the only ways a dog has to interact with the world is their mouth. This is the source of early development things like puppy biting and chewing for world exploration. This is seated deeply into any dog. If they are in great pain or discomfort, the way they can choose to communicate this to the world is to bite.
Many of the life-saving measures we need to employ will require doing something that the dog will find painful, and thus the reaction to bite is common and to be expected. You do not want to create an extra patient by allowing the dog to sink their teeth into you or anyone else who is around and trying to help.
This may call for you to do some muzzle training with the pup so they can learn to tolerate the muzzle beforehand. If a dog's first experience with a muzzle is after they've been pelted with birdshot in a hunting accident, you can expect the anxiety to shoot through the roof.
The most common emergency scenario for dogs overall is Hyperthermia . This means the dog has an elevated body temperature to the point that it has become life-threatening. The only way to tell if a dog is hyperthermic, and subsequently if your interventions are helping them to cool down, is if you have a thermometer to check periodically to ensure their core body temperature is falling.
Remember, this will need to be inserted rectally. If your dog is really having a bad time, don't get squeamish. It's the information you'll need to ensure you're providing the care they may desperately need.
You'll need a tourniquet for dogs for all the same reasons you'd need one for a person.
Special note should be made about what is or is not a good tourniquet for a dog. Many people cite the RATS, but I certainly would recommend against it, even for dogs. Understand that it's mostly marketed as a good product, but not approved for real use.
Solutions like the Tac Med K9 Tourniquet pictures can be great, but often for dogs the best solution is much simpler. A SWAT-T is a perfect pre-made solution for dogs, but a simple ACE Bandage could also suffice. Dogs require much less pressure to stop limb bleeds than humans, and their limbs are also smaller. CATs, SOF-T's, and other windlass tourniquets will not apply here.
This will get the same basic use as one would on a human.
When shot in the chest where one suspects the lung may have been damaged, you will want an air-tight seal. The HyFin brand chest seals are phenomenal, and I would also recommend the H&H WoundStat. Both are easy to use and can stick well over fur.
Some publications mention shaving the hair around the injury. In speaking with handlers, I've been advised to skip this step, as the blood and wound usually make that a messy and fruitless affair. Stick it well over the wound and get as much skin on the adhesive as you possibly can.
Pressure Dressing and Gauze
Pressure stops bleeding in dogs just like any other animal out there.
Due to the size of most canines, it is advisable to use a 4" pressure bandage in lieu of the more common 6" bandages, such as the Israeli Bandage that are found commonly in IFAKs for people.
Likewise, get any gauze that fits. I prefer rolled gauze, but the confines of my pouch make this compressed gauze a more convenient choice. Just remember not to stick compressed gauze into the wound straight from the package, it needs to be unraveled and stuffed into a wound bit-by-bit.
The kit that is pictured in this article is the Triad Medical Training Civilian/Hunter K9 IFAK. As a result, it includes some other items that you could also include in yours.
Shown here is a CAT Tourniquet. This is for use on yourself, not the dog. IFAKs can be packed concentrically with both you and your pet in mind. If you're a handler for a military or police dog, you can save some space by combining elements and gear that would be useful for both you and the dog.
Hemostats are included, which are a multi-use tool. I wouldn't recommend trying to occlude bleeds with them. We've all seen the movies where the surgeon is able to clamp off some singularly severed artery with a pair, but in reality most hemostats will tear artery tissue. Instead this can be used to remove ticks, hold small wounds open for irrigation, and many other tasks.
Lastly, but not least, tape. Tape is the most forgotten and often critical item in IFAKs. That goes for human IFAKs as well. When a patient is transported they can be dragged, lifted, and re-positioned a number of times over any distance. Tourniquets and bandages slip under these conditions, and must always be secured to ensure they will continue to work.
Not shown here could also be an NCD Needle. K9 pneumothorax will be covered later in this series.
MORE TO COME
Now that we have the tools for success, we can begin to learn how to be successful with them.
Your assignment between now and the next article is to familiarize yourself with TECC/TCCC and the MARCH algorithm for emergency care. Much of what is covered from here on out will assume that you know the basics of stopping a bleed and in which order you should address emergency issues that can happen in hostile environments or field scenarios. If you want the readymade solution, please check out Traid Medical Training
Your dog is a member of your team as well. You should treat them as such.
Obviously I would like to thank Matt of Triad for his input and support, both in mission and with the provided IFAK. Next, @denmother_k9 and @specialforcesmedic for their advice via dm traffic. These are a couple of the largest working dog accounts on instagram and they do an incredible job spreading the word. I would be remiss not to mention the Animal Emergency Clinic in O’Fallon for their rapid fire expertise between patients. Lastly, Karen of Working Dog Magazine for allowing me to ride the coattails of her networking efforts to find folks smarter than myself. The publication also includes a Vet Check recurring series that expands into much greater detail than this series could ever do.