column By: Dr. Hank Clemmons | March, 20
Lily’s getting older now. A small Llewellyn-style setter, she limps as she methodically trots through the brush finding birds most dogs would miss. But in her youth, she was a white specter, ghosting through the woods barely touching the ground, sailing back and forth in front of Leon. A retired major in the U.S. Marine Corps, Leon was the only one in our regular hunting group who was physically fit enough to keep up with her. While the rest of us covered acres, Leon and Lily covered miles, returning full of wild stories and a bag full of birds.
On one trip, Leon came back leading Lily, who was wearing a bloody bandage on her head. Leon, face covered in blood splatter, curtly said, “I think she sliced most of her ear off. It’s hard to tell. It was gushing blood, and she kept shaking her head.” Ever the resourceful Marine, Leon had removed his sock, cut the top tube off and pulled it over Lily’s head, effectively pinning both ears down.
Quick thinking, common sense and a little training can turn a potential disaster into a manageable situation. The Marines taught Leon that the top portion of his socks can be used as emergency toilet paper; his veterinarian-hunting buddy taught him he could also use it to bandage a dog’s head.
Compression bandages are bulky and tight and should be considered temporary. These are used to stop bleeding or provide stability and cushioning when splinting a fracture. The basic principle is to put a bunch of bulky padding down and wrap it in place as tightly as possible. Once bleeding has stopped or slowed significantly (usually about 10-20 minutes), it should be switched out for a protective bandage. Materials for compression bandages can be as common as a towel (or shirt) held in place with a belt. Pressure and time will stop bleeding.
Dark purple steadily flowing bleeding is venous, oxygen-depleted blood on its way back to the heart from body parts. Bright pink pumping blood is arterial, freshly oxygenated blood coming from the heart to the rest of the body. Arterial blood is under pressure (blood pressure) and is being pumped directly from the heart and delivering oxygen to the body parts. A severed artery can quickly become life-threatening if not addressed properly.
Venous bleeding is easier to control with pressure alone, but some heavy venous bleeding and most large arterial bleeding might require a tourniquet along with compression to control bleeding. (See the caution in accompanying sidebar on page 17.)
Protective bandaging materials should be clean, soft and absorbent. Gauze pads, roll cotton, a clean handkerchief or a cut-up T-shirt all work. Protective bandages should be changed daily to help prevent infection.
The general principles of a protective bandage on a dog are to make it comfortable (tight enough to stay on but not so tight it bothers the dog), nonbulky/noncumbersome and conforming to the dog’s body part. If the object is to restrict movement of a body part, then a splint is a better option than a bandage.
Head and Ears
Wounds to the face are hard to bandage. Primary closure (sutures, staples) is the best treatment. Wounds in the mouth and to the tongue will eventually stop bleeding on their own, sometimes not until the dog calms down and stops panting.
Chest and Abdomen
All chest wounds should immediately and repeatedly be evaluated for thoracic penetration. Even a small penetrating puncture wound can quickly become life-threatening. The thoracic cavity is a vacuum. If penetrated, the vacuum is broken and the lungs collapse and can no longer expand. When in doubt, tightly wrap chest with plastic (Saran) wrap, cover with a towel and tape tightly over the wound. Seek professional help immediately.
Penetrating abdominal wounds should be handled similarly.
Good luck. Tails are easy to bandage, but it’s nearly impossible to get the bandage to stay on, especially while hunting. Restricting tail movement is frequently the better choice. An old pair of underwear with the tail tucked in sometimes works back at the cabin, but the dog will still tear up the end of his tail the very next time he goes into the woods. Wrapping it with one layer of tape is protective, but it pulls the hair off. Applying a heavy coating of “Tough Skin” or other blister shield protector and/or covering the tail with a thick coat of Vaseline will help. Unfortunately, tails usually don’t heal up until hunting season is over.
I’d appreciate hearing people’s clever solutions to manage cut and bleeding tails in the field.