K-9 First Aid

Search and rescue dog handlers are required, at a minimum, to have Advanced First Aid & CPR...for humans. Canine health is just as important, and handlers need to have the basic understanding of how to recognize & treat injuries, and when to rush to the vet.


Before training or searching in a new area, print out contact information and driving directions to the nearest 24-hour emergency vet facility and leave in your glovebox.

What follows is all well and good in theory, but you should either take a few K-9 First Aid classes with hands-on learning, or ask your vet to spend some time with you and go over the following information, using YOUR dog as the patient.

K9 first Aid


The following was put together collectively, but special thanks goes to Kathleen Connor, DVM & SAR K9 Handler, for teaching K9 First Aid classes throughout Virginia over the years! * And a special Thanks to K9 Finn, for patiently letting many new Handlers practice their bandaging technique!


Before the Emergency


What is normal for your dog? Grab a pen and create a note to tape inside your K-9 Emergency Kit.

  1. Heart Rate (HR): You can feel your dog's heartrate using their femoral artery, counting the beats per minute (bpm). Or you can listen using an inexpensvie stethascope. Be familiar with both methods.
    1. adult dog, large breed- average resting HR: 60-80 bpm
    2. adult dog, small breed- average resting HR: 80-120 bpm
    3. young dog - average resting HR: 110-120 bpm
    4. YOUR DOG's resting HR: ______________
    5. Active HR can reach as high as 160.
    6. YOUR DOG's active HR: _____________
  2. Respiration: varies with each dog.
    1. resting breaths per minute: 20 - 25 breaths for young dogs and 14 - 16 breaths per minute for adult dogs.
    2. YOUR DOG's resting respiration ________________
    3. Panting: ______________
    4. YOUR DOG's panting breathes per minute:________________
  3. Color of Mucus Membrane(MM): This is an indicator of cardiac function and hydration. Look in your dog's mouth at the gums for a quick check.
    1. Normal is light pink to pink
  4. Capillary Refill Time(CRT): gently lift your dogs lip and firmly press on the gum, against a tooth, until the gum turns white. The tissue should hold the blanch briefly, and refill to a nice pink.
    1. Normal is less than 3 seconds
  5. Temperature: A digital thermometer is a must, in fact two would be best. One in the car by the kennel and one in the K-9 First Aid box. Insert the thermometer rectally for 1-2 minutes. A common error is a result of less than 100. Retake the temp.
    1. Normal resting temp: 100 - 102.5 F
    2. YOUR DOG's resting temp: _____________
    3. Active temp: can reach as high as 106 F during peck activity.
    4. YOUR DOG's active temp: ______________
  6. Gait Analysis: Is the gait symmetrical?
  7. Hydration: Genlty pinch or pick up a fold of your dog's skin. It should return to the muscle within 1-second.


2 Emergency K-9 Kits

There are many commercially available K9 First Aid Kits, however, making your own means that you are familiar with the contents.

If you don't know how to use it, or what it is for, do NOT include it. !!

(1) for your pack: lightweight and bare essentials

  • Buffered Aspirin   *let the VET know if/when you used Aspirin
  • Antihistamine (Benedryl)
  • Vet-wrap (elastic wrap)
  • Thermometer *digital works fast
  • Forceps
  • K9 Electrolyte *K9 BlueLite works very well
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • Adhesive tape
  • Emergency/space blanket

(2) for your vehicle/or your training unit as a whole: contains the more intense dianostic pieces and larger, sharper items and meds.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide - inducing vomitting
  • Syringes 5cc
  • Saline Eye Flush
  • Saline bag & IV kit
  • K9 Electrolyte
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Dawn dish soap & bucket/pan for washing off
  • 2nd Thermometer
  • gauze and gauze pads and dressing
  • Vet-wrap (elastic wrap)
  • Scissors/Shears
  • K9 Electrolyte
  • Muzzle
  • Tourniquit
  • Adhesive (waterproof) tape
  • Milk of magnesia or activated charcoal - for poison


Initial Physical Exam

Performing this quick initial exam, both improves your efficiency, and prepares your dog to be handled in this fashion. Practice this with your dog, and with your teammates' dogs. Always approach a dog the same way every time. The list may look long, but it only takes minutes after a few iterations. You are not diagnosing the dog, you are gathering important information, which might save your dog's life. Working dogs are often times very stoic, and you will need to watch closely to observe pain or discomfort. A second observer, comfortable with dogs, is an excellent idea.

Head to tail: Start at the head and work backwards.

  1. Lift lips to check color of mucus membrane (MM) and capillary refill time (CRT)
  2. EYES
    1. Are the pupils the same size?
    2. Any cloudiness?
    3. pull back the lids gently and check the conjunctiva. Conjunctiva is the white part of the eye and extends to the inner lining of the eyelid. Redness or irritation?
  3. EARS
    1. normal skin color?
    2. swelling?
    3. odor or discharge?
  4. HEART
    1. Listen AND Feel.
    2. Remember, what is normal for YOUR dog?
  5. LUNGS
    1. Listen AND Feel.
    2. Is the dog making extra effort to breath?
    3. Is there wheezing?
    4. Sometimes a little whistling noise is normal.
    1. Palpate and watch for signs of pain.
  7. MUSCULOSKELETAL- this is a very hands-on portion, and you may need to muzzle your dog. !! This portion is best practiced in front of a vet the first time, to ensure you understand the proper flexing and extending capabilities of a canine.
    1. SPINE: With the dog standing, run your thumb gently down one side of the spine, and then the other side. You are feeling for a quiver, indicating a trigger point.
    2. FRONT HALF: Start from the toes and move up the chest and to the neck. With every move you make, watch your dog for a reaction.
      1. toes - gently roll each toe and apply pressure.
      2. metacarpals - run your fingers down each bone, and flex fully.
      3. carpus - flex to observe if full range of motion is possible.
      4. radius & ulna - palpate each seperately
      5. elbow - flex & extend
      6. humerus - palpate from elbow to the shoulder
      7. shoulder - palpate shoulder blade, up to the spine.
    3. REAR HALF: Start at the toes and move up the haunch and to the tail.
      1. toes - gently roll each toe and apply pressure.
      2. metatarsals - run your fingers down each bone, and flex fully.
      3. stifle and hock - flex & extend to observe if full range of motion is possible.
      4. tibia - palpate each seperately
      5. femur - palpate from stifle to hip
      6. hip - flex & extend


The following describes suggestions for how to treat these injuries in the field.

Always let the veterinarian know WHAT the dog has in its system, especially medicine like aspirin, which can cause bleeding problems or severe gastric ulcers if combined with NSAIDs.

K9 eye puncture

  • Eye Injuries - do notuse vasoline.
    • Conjunctivitis - (inflamation of the conjunctiva) flush with a saline wash, to flush out whatever was irritating the conjunctiva.
    • Foreign Body
      1. Flush with saline wash.
      2. If wash is ineffective, then assume a foriegn body has penetrated the conrnea and immediately transport the dog to a vet clinic.
    • Eyelid lacerations
      1. Stop the bleeding.
      2. Transport the dog to a vet clinic for repair.
    • Proptosed Eyeball (out of socket)
      1. As this is the result of head trauma, immediately check the dog for other injuries.
      2. Keep the eye well hydrated, to save the dog's sight.
      3. Try and keepo the eyelid closed over the eye.
      4. Transport the dog to a vet clinic for repair ASAP.
  • Lacerations / Abrasions- common locations for scrapes and cuts on dogs are: face, ear flaps, paw pads and tails.
    1. Clean and Stop the bleeding
      1. Use water and regular soap (betadine can damage tissue)
      2. Apply a thin layer of Triple Antibiotic Ointment
      3. Apply Pressure
      4. Wrap the bandage with pressure to stop the bleeding. Be careful not to wrap too tightly.
      5. Signs that a bandage is too tight:
        1. cold toes
        2. swollen toes
        3. difficulty breathing
      6. Useful bandages are: sanitary napkins, because they won't stick and are very absorbant.
    2. K9 first Aid Pressure Point Pressure Points
      • If the wound is severe, it is useful to know the following 3 pressure points, taking caution to restrict and ocassioanlly release these points.
        1. Fore Limb pressure point - place 3 fingers as deep as possible into the axillary (armpit) area on the leg that is bleeding.
        2. Rear Limb pressure point - place 3 fingers as deep as possible into the groin area on the leg that is bleeding.
        3. Tailpressure point - place 2 - 3 fingers at the base of the tail.
  • Sprains / Strains
    • Sprain: injury to a tendon or ligament
    • Strain: injury to a muscle.
    1. Halt all activity and calm your dog.
    2. Do a full Physical Exam, because both sprains and strains are caused by trauma. Compare this exam to your dog's normal reactions.
    3. Arrange for transportation for your dog back to your car.
    4. If possible, ice the injury with some cloth between the ice pack and the skin.
    5. Confine/Kennel your dog for 24-hours.
    6. If lamemness hasn't improved after 24-hours, take the dog to a vet.
  • xray cooper2 Fractures
    • These are usually obvious, with a mis-shapen limb or bone visiblly protruding. A very bad sprain and a fracture will look similar to you, and both need to be treated by a vet.
    1. Do a full Physical Exam, because trauma isn't limited to just one body part.
    2. AFTER your physical exam, immobilize the JOINT above AND below the fracture.
      • If FEMUR is fractured, splint it to the opposite leg.
      • if HUMERUS is fractures, bind the leg to the body.
    3. CPR might be needed. Keep a constant watch on lung sounds and eye dilation. Watch for signs of shock.
  • Heat Exaustion / Stroke
    • Prevention is most important. HYDRATE your dog.
    • This is one of the most common, yet most preventable injuries to working dogs.
    • K9 rex heat
    • Warning Signs
      1. Insides of ears are dark, brick red
      2. Tongue thickens
      3. Dog appears woozy or weak
      4. Dog has trouble focusing
    • Signs of Acute Distress ( you may already be too late)
      1. Ropey, thick saliva
      2. Tongue darkens to reddish/purple
      3. No productive panting
      4. Dog collapses
      1. Wet the Plexus Points: (axillary area and groin) submerging a over-heated dog completely could cause hypothermia.
      2. Shade: Shade the dog (use your body if needed)
      3. Cooler ground: if water is not available, dig through ground cover to get to cooler dirt
      4. Take your dog's temperature
      5. Keep the tongue wet
      6. Radio for help/transport
      7. If possible, start IV fluids, 0.9%NaCl (Saline / Sodiom Cloride). You can bolus (subcutaneusly) 300mL during transport to vet
      8. Stop cooling once temperature reaches 103 F
  • Shock
    • Shock is often fatal to dogs in the "field".
    • Shock is the body's "over riding" response to a loss of blood (internal and external), usually caused by a trauma.
    • Blood pulls from the extremities, to protect organs from blood loss.
    • The heart beats faster to compensate for lower blood pressure casused by blood loss.
    • Warning Signs
      1. Rapid breathing
      2. Lower than normal Body Temperature
      3. Rapid and/or faint heartbeat: Count the number of heartbeats in 10-seconds, then multiply by 6. Anything more than 150 beats per minute is suspect for shock.
      4. Pale or White Gums: white gums are a clear sign of shock, or internal bleeding.
      1. Stop visible bleeding immediately. Use dressing and apply pressure, and do NOT remove the dressing, only add to it and keep steady pressure.
      2. Arrange and begin transport to a vet clinic ASAP.
      3. Place the dog on its side with its head extended.
      4. Gently pull out the dog's tongue to keep the airway open.
      5. Elevate the dog's hindquarters slightly by placing them on a pillow or folded towels.
      6. Wrap dog in blankets to keep warm, as shock causes the blood to pull away from extremities.
      7. Time is critical. Get to the nearest vet clinic.
  • Venomous Bite- toxins copperhead by Nathan Wells
    • Venomous SNAKES(in North America) - snakes typically bite as a last resort.
      • While antivenom exists, it is very, very expensive and hard to find, due to the fact that it has a short shelf life. Carry antihistamine in your pack at all times.
      • Bites near the head are the most dangerous, as they may cause swelling that can suffocate your dog.
      • TREATING SNAKE BITES - Time is critical!
        1. Immobilize the affected limb
        2. Give a large dose of antihistamine ( Benadryl)
        3. Get to the an emergency vet clinic ASAP, and call en route to find nearest antivenom.
        4. Watch for shock
      • Correctly identifying the snake is very helpful. Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, and Cottonmouths are all venomous pit vipers, and have a "pit" between and slightly below the eye and nostril. Learn about the poinsonous snakes where you are working.

        1. cottonmouth by Nathan Wells Cotton Mouth(aka Water Moccasin)
          • Aggresive, when threatened. They open their mouths as defensive warning.
          • Coloring: generally dark above: olive, brown, or black. A lighter/darker cross banding pattern may be seen, especially on the sides.

        2. Copperhead
          • Coloring: generally dark above: olive, brown, or black. A lighter/darker cross banding pattern may be seen, especially on the sides.
          • PHOTO: see above.

        3. Rattlesnake(aka Diamondback)
          • there are many different types, colors and markings.
          • Listen for the snakes' warning! 
          • Red Rock Biologics has created a venom-specific Western Diamondback "vaccine" in 2003, and may provide partial protection against other species. However, it provides no protections against Cotton mouths, Coral snakes or Mojave Rattlesnakes.
          • Coloring: generally dark above: olive, brown, or black. A lighter/darker cross banding pattern may be seen, especially on the sides.

        4. coral snake by Nathan Wells not coral_snake by Nathan Wells
        5. Coral Snake
          • "Red and yellow kill a fellow, but red and black is a friend of Jack". Red and Yellow bands are touching..... ( not red and black bands side-by-side)
  • Venomous SPIDERS
  • OTHER Nasties that sting
  • Environmental Hazards
    • Blue/Green Algae Blooms- lethal blooms in stagnant or calm bodies of water
      • Caused by excess nutrients in the water from runoff, (usually from fertilizers)
      • NEVER let your dog drink from stagnant ponds.
      • Symptoms include seizures within 1- 24 hours after ingestion from neurotoxins, hepatoxins and cytotoxins.
    • Frostbite
    • Meth labs

    Animal Poison Control Center

    888-4ANI-HELP ( 888-426-4435)


    To learn more about poisons and toxins for animals, check out the Pet Poinson HelpLine.



    e collar pout THANKS TO:

    Kathleen Connor for the double check!

    Nathan Wells for the snake photos!

    David Wyttenbach (and K9 Sirius Black) for the eye puncture photo! 

    Autumn Manka (and K9 Cooper) for the Xray & eCollar photos!