I do a lot of stuff with my dogs, but if for some reason (weird bet? evil genie? blackmail?) I was forced to only pick one activity to do with them for the rest of my life, there’s no question in my mind: we’d hike. I looooove hiking with my dogs. We’ve lived in a lot of different places in North America, and hiking has been a wonderful constant; because we move so much, there are always different places to go and different things to see, and it’s a fantastic way to get to know a new area. And it makes the dogs really happy: they are seasoned hikers and campers at this point, and they love being out in the world.
I tend to pack pretty light when I hike, a holdover from my occasional backpacking trips where I have to be careful about every single ounce. Because I’m usually carrying a fair bit of water (I live in the desert, after all!), the things that I take tend to be light, compact, adaptable to many different conditions, and above all else, practical. In practice, what this meant is I used to skimp on first aid gear: every hiking guide tells you that you MUST bring first aid stuff with you, especially if you’re hiking with pets, but it’s easy to rationalize that, eh, it’s just a day hike, you’ve got your phone, you’re near enough to civilization, you don’t really need to bring that much with you. So I used to occasionally toss some Neosporin in my pack, maybe some vet wrap if I thought of it, and just hope that nothing went wrong.
I was once a Girl Scout, and even though my own scouting experience was pretty lackluster (lots of making bath salts and godseyes, basically zero “Let’s All Learn To Build A Fire!”), I did come away from it with a deep feeling that above all, you have to Be Prepared. So even while I was dashing off into the woods with nothing but some water and a granola bar, I had a certain amount of anxiety that something might happen to the dogs (or me, but: the dogs!) and I wouldn’t be ready for it. Thankfully, nothing has gone really wrong so far, but I have definitely had some cactus spikes that needed removing from noses, rocks stuck between the toes and the occasional ripped nail or paw pad that needed doctoring on the trail.
What precipitated me actually sucking it up and putting a first aid kit together turned out to be….Girl Scouts! A few years ago, Nellie and I did a Dog Jog 5K at the (awesome) Richmond, VA SPCA, and afterwards, we were approached by some Girl Scouts who were giving out little portable pet-geared first aid kits that they’d made (Scouts have gotten more interesting since I was one, apparently!) And here’s the best part: they made them out of recycled pill bottles, to which they’d attached a small clip that could hook on a backpack, a leash, a dog pack, whatever.
The kit included a couple of little first aid supplies and a small card with the number for (US) Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435) and spaces to write the number of your vet, plus your dog’s name and microchip number. Because of the way it was built, it had a couple of things that are, for me, very useful in a hiking first-aid kit:
- Very small and light
- Water resistant
- Just big enough for really useful stuff, not so big that I’m tempted to take the kitchen sink
- Can be just clipped to a bag and forgotten about so I never have to remember to bring it along with me (this is also why I have a bag holder and a roll of bags on all my leashes: remembering basic stuff is not my strong suit.)
I did a little bit of tweaking of the contents to optimize it for my dogs, and now I think I’ve got a nice little kit that balances my desire for minimal pack weight with my desire to be able to solve problems when they happen. Here’s what my kit looks like today:
Here’s what’s what (roughly counterclockwise):
1) The kit itself: as previously mentioned, it’s the genius combo of a pill bottle and a small clip (a little caribiner would also work.) In my Very Extensive Research for this post, I called up the pharmacist at Walgreens and asked if it would be possible to buy just a bottle to use for a kit (since we can’t all have friendly Girl Scouts around). His response? “Um, you can…just have one. In fact, you can have like fifty.” So there you go!
Also, the little card with the microchip numbers, etc. slides right in.
2) Rubber glove. This is useful in three ways: first, it’s a great way to handle a cut on your hand on the fly (I have skinned up my hands more than once while hiking). Second, it can wrap around a cut paw and serve as a temporary bootie that’ll get you home. Third, you can stuff it in the top of your tiny first aid kit to cover the other stuff and make it even more water resistant. Multifunctional FTW!
3) Gauze: great under vet wrap or for making an impromptu sponge if you need to clean a wound off (since you will of course have water with you).
4) Bandages: a small one for you and a large, heavy duty one for your dog that can cover, say, a cut on the belly.
5) Antibiotic wipe: the kind I have now is a little generic one that I got from a human first-aid kit, but when I can find them, I always have a few Neosporin wipes in there (I tried taking mini-packs of Neosporin at first, but I found they always punctured and got gross.) Be careful that your dog doesn’t lick the Neosporin: I usually use it under bandages to be safe.
6) Alcohol pad: for on the fly cleaning/disinfecting of wounds.
7) Benadryl: In small doses, this is safe for (otherwise healthy) dogs: do double check to see how much is appropriate for your specific dog (25 mg is what’s recommended for medium sized dogs, 30-50 lbs.) This is helpful if your dog has an allergic reaction to itchy plants/bug bites or if your dog is stung by a bee.
8) Buffered aspirin: This is more along the lines of reasonably safe than safe-safe for dogs, since all dogs metabolize it differently; however, if you’re in an emergency situation and your dog requires a painkiller, it’s a good choice to keep on hand. Note: when I say aspirin, I mean aspirin and nothing else–a lot of the things we use as interchangeable OTC painkillers (like Tylenol or Advil) can be quite toxic to dogs. I’m the only one who’s ever taken the aspirin in my first aid kit, admittedly, but I like to know it’s there.
9) Strike-anywhere matches: less necessary in a first aid situation, but I feel like you should pretty much always have matches with you. That, and the foil I wrapped the matches in, are pretty much a direct consequence of reading too many Gary Paulsen children-surviving-in-the-wild books when I was a kid (they used foil to start a fire and signal a plane in one book! I was dazzled.)
10) Styptic Swabs: These guys? Best things I own. You break off the tip, some styptic liquid comes out, you spread it around with the other tip, bleeding stops. Great for torn dog nails.
Here’s what it looks like all packed up (just imagine the glove nestled on the top):
One thing that I nearly always have in here (though I didn’t when I took the picture) is a small amount of vet wrap. It’s water resistant, it tears easily, and it sticks to itself: this means you can clean and gauze up a cut and then use the vet wrap both to support the injured area and keep the cut together. It’s one of the most useful things I carry (which is why I was out of it!) so I didn’t want to leave that off the list.
Also, I thought I’d mention the other things that I tend to take with me for the dogs when I’m hiking: I’ve gotten good use out of everything here, so they’re nearly always in my bag when I’m out on an adventure.
1) Light-up collar: I love this thing–it lights up when you press the button on the side so you can see your dog in the dark, which is very helpful if your hike involves dusk/nighttime, and/or if you have a dog who is prone to running off into the woods after critters when they’re off leash and temporarily forgetting that they know about recall (*glares at Lucy).
2) Bear bell: see above about Certain Bad Dogs: this is another good way to find them. These things have a little magnet in the bag that silences them when not in use, they velcro onto your dog’s collar, and since we actually have run across bears when hiking before….it seems smart.
3) Multi-tool: nice to have with first aid kit. The two things I use most frequently are the tweezers (cactus spikes and ticks) and the small blade (for cutting vet wrap and opening packages, mostly).
4) Fold-up travel bowl: must have, especially if you don’t want your dog slobbering on your water bottle.
One other great thing to take along is a small flashlight like this one: even if you’re not going to be in the dark, it’s very helpful for getting a good look at, say, a stubborn spike in your dog’s paw.
So go out, play with your dogs, get dirty, go off into the woods, let them romp around. And just in case: bring a tiny first aid kit!
(PS: do you have any first aid must-haves for when you’re out hiking with your dogs? Let us know in the comments!)