Taking your dog into the backcountry is a rewarding experience for both people and their pups—it provides health benefits, an opportunity to bond, and an outlet to burn off extra energy. It also presents the possibility of injury far away from a veterinarian. You can’t prevent your dog from having an accident while hiking, but you can prepare for it by making smart decisions and packing a first aid kit for your four-legged friend.

Credit: Tim Peck

Good Decision Making

Most dogs are natural hikers, particularly athletic breeds like Australian shepherds, border collies, vizslas, and pointers. However, even naturally athletic dogs need to work up to longer hikes. Many dog injuries in the backcountry are the result of pups being pushed past their limits. A smart strategy to avoid an injury to your dog is to start slow—take shorter trips, increase mileage gradually, and learn your dog’s preferences and limits.

Before taking to the trails, also consider the limitations of your dog’s breed. For example, some brachycephalic dogs (short-muzzled dogs with flattened faces) are prone to overheating, while breeds like boxers and whippets with thin single coats and low body fat are susceptible to cold temperatures. Also, keep in mind your dog’s age. Hiking with puppies can do lasting damage to their bones and joints while older dogs lose strength, stamina, and agility as they age.

Ultimately, the foundation of a successful trip into the backcountry with your best boy or girl is built on making smart decisions from the start.

Credit: Tim Peck

What to Pack in Your Dog’s First Aid Kit

Even for the most prepared dogs, injuries still happen. One of the simplest ways to ensure you have everything you need in the event of an injury is to purchase a dog-specific or combo dog/human first-aid kit. It’s also easy to supplement your current first-aid kit with a few dog-friendly items. Here are some useful items to include.

1. Information

Before hitting the trail, make sure to save a few important phone numbers in your phone, namely:

  • Your veterinarian
  • The local emergency vet
  • ASPCA poison control center

Cell phone coverage is often spotty in the mountains and, in the event of an emergency, having this info on hand will save you the stress of searching for a signal, much less a vet and their contact information.

Another good idea is to keep your dog’s medical and vaccination records on hand—get a copy from your vet and stash them in your glovebox or store a photo of them on your phone. Having the rabies vaccination card is especially important if you’ll be overnighting with your pup at many campgrounds in the northeast.

2. Muzzle

Even the best-behaved and gentlest good boys and girls are liable to lash out and get aggressive when they’re hurt or scared. A well-fitting muzzle allows you—along with rescuers or a vet—to treat your four-legged friend without worrying about being bitten.

3. Space Blanket and an Extra Layer

A space blanket/emergency blanket is a handy item to have in your first-aid kit in the event of a human or dog injury/accident. A space blanket can keep you and/or your dog warm if you need to wait for rescue or if their body temperature is dropping due to shock. Space blankets also provide an inexpensive, disposable, dirt-free surface for treating injuries—especially compared to your expensive pack or prized puffy.

In addition to a space blanket, don’t forget an extra layer for your pup. They can get cold and wet just like you, and a fitted pup sweater is a great way to keep them warm.

4. Medical Gloves

If you’re not carrying medical gloves in your first-aid kit already, add them. They are essential for both human and canine first aid, helping protect against the transmission of blood-borne disease and illness along with reducing the chances of introducing dirt or bacteria to the wound. In a pinch, you can even fashion a glove into a bootie to protect an injured paw.

5. Tweezers and a Multi-Tool

Tweezers are another item in your first-aid kit that works well for both humans and dogs. Keep a pair on hand to remove things like thorns, stingers, and ticks. If ticks are a particular problem, you might consider also adding a tick nipper—which removes ticks more simply and safely than other methods—to your kit.

In a similar vein, porcupines can also be a threat to dogs. In the event your pup gets too curious, you’ll want a multi-tool to help extract the quills. A prescription sedative from your vet is a good idea too; it’ll help calm the dog while extracting them.

6. Styptic Pen or Wipes

A styptic pen or wipes help the clotting process and slow bleeding. They’re particularly useful for treating torn toenails, a common and bloody occurrence for pups in the backcountry.

7. Antiseptic, Gauze, and Self-Stick Bandages

Just like for humans, an antiseptic is useful for cleaning a wound and gauze is super-useful for controlling bleeding (or as an absorbent pad under a bandage). When performing first aid on dogs, opt for self-adhesive bandages—they’ll stick to themselves, not your dog’s fur. Be sure to pack enough bandaging material too, as it’s much more liable to get dirty on low-to-the-ground pups while others may chew it off.

8. Benadryl

From bites and stings to flora and fauna, the backcountry is filled with stuff that can cause allergic reactions and Benadryl provides a simple solution for dealing with them. The good news is that you likely already have Benadryl in your first-aid kit. Just make sure it hasn’t expired and consult your vet to learn the right dosage for your dog—generally, it’s between one and two milligrams per pound. Do these calculations at home, then put a note in your first aid kit so you won’t have to worry about the math while you’re trying to treat your buddy.

Keep in mind that Benadryl will make your dog drowsy. On technical trails, this may mean that you’re carrying them out.

9. Booties and/or Super Glue

Paw injuries are one of the most common injuries to dogs on the trail. Booties protect a dog’s paws from issues ranging from snow build-up on winter hikes to lacerations and blisters caused by rough New England granite. Even if your four-legged friend prefers to hike au naturel, carrying a set of booties can help prevent paw issues from worsening on a hike.

Of course, your pup may not love their booties—who hasn’t seen the viral videos of dogs walking funky (or just refusing to walk) when they’ve got booties on their feet? Super glue is a great way to seal a paw wound in a pinch, all while allowing your pup to walk with their natural stride.

10. Rescue Pack/Sling/Harness

Seasoned hikers and backpackers strive for self-sufficiency, including having a plan to self-rescue in the event of an accident/injury. When traveling with a dog in the backcountry, this also means having a strategy for saving your four-legged friend. Numerous lightweight and packable rescue packs, slings, and harnesses are available that allow you to carry your dog in the event of everything from exhaustion to an injured paw or a strain or sprain.

Credit: Tim Peck

Where to Carry Your Dog First-Aid Kit

If you’re stressing about where to put all this extra stuff, don’t. A dog pack allows your furry hiking buddy to carry their own supplies. Like hiking, start your pup off with a light load and build up to carrying a heavier pack. Just like your own pack, a dog pack should fit snugly but not constrain movement and be packed so the load is distributed evenly. In addition to canine first-aid kits, dog backpacks are great for letting your hiking hound carry their own food, water, and bowls. Don’t forget the treats!

Gone to the Dogs

Injuries and accidents happen in the backcountry—even to the most experienced travelers. If you’re hiking or backpacking with your dog, plan for the worst and set yourself up for the best possible outcome, including getting yourself some first aid training.

Have a key dog-specific first-aid item you carry or a story of how one saved the day? Tell us about it in the comments below!