Most dogs love hiking with their human companions. But when you bring your furry friend on a backcountry hiking adventure, you bring your dog away from roads, cell reception, and veterinary clinics. Out on the trail, you are responsible for tending to wounds and emergencies that may develop. As a veterinarian and avid hiker, I encourage everyone to pack a basic lightweight dog first aid kit for every dog-friendly adventure.
There are several different first aid kits available for purchase online, some of which are even specifically designed for people who hike with their dogs. But which is the best lightweight first aid kit for backpacking and hiking with dogs?
The best first aid kit for your dog is the one that you will take with you and know how to use. It should include the following:
- A way to clean wounds, such as anti-septic wipes or triple antibiotic ointment
- A way to stop bleeding and protect wounds, such as gauze, vetrap (self-adherent bandaging), or other bandaging material
- A way to get slivers or other material out of skin or paws, such as lightweight tweezers
- A way to treat allergic reactions. A common medication to bring with is Benedryl (diphenhydramine).
- A way to carry your dog out of the backcountry. This can be your arms, your backpack, or an emergency sling.
Before we review some of the best dog first aid kits available for purchase, let’s go over each of the above items and why they are important. This will help us better evaluate the pre-packed first aid kits and also allow you to create a DIY first aid kit for hiking with your dog if you already have the right supplies at home.
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The Components of a Good First Aid Kit for Dogs
It is easy to go overboard with a first aid kit for your dog. But since this first aid kit is intended to be brought with on a hike, weight matters. So for this post, I am going to keep the recommended first aid items to the bare minimum. If you are looking for information about supplies to keep on hand at home or for car travel, check our post “Essentials You Need in Your Travel Pet First Aid Kit.”
A way to clean wounds
Some of the most common injuries that happen in the outdoors are puncture wounds, scrapes, and other skin lacerations. Depending on the severity of the wound, your first priority may be to stop bleeding and apply pressure. But for minor wounds, it is preferable to attempt to clean the wound before bandaging.
If you have water available, you can rinse visible debris out of a superficial wound. Then wipe with an antiseptic wipe and apply triple antibiotic ointment to the wound before bandaging.
A note on triple antibiotic ointments: Most basic triple antibiotic ointments, like Neosporin, are safe to apply to a dog’s skin. Just make sure not to purchase one with pain relief (although lidocaine is okay) and don’t let your dog eat the tube or otherwise ingest a large amount. If you aren’t sure which ointments are safe for your dog, as always, I recommend consulting with your dog’s veterinarian before applying anything to your pet.
Below are two examples of small packets that can be easily added to a hiking or backpacking first aid kit for both you and your dog.
A way to stop bleeding and protect wounds
Once a wound has been cleaned, it is time to apply a bandage to put pressure on the wound and reduce bleeding. This bandage will also help protect the wound from dirt and debris.
If I were bandaging a wound in a veterinary clinic, I would start with a non-adherent dressing (like a Telfa pad) and/or a gauze square, covered with soft cast padding, then a layer of conforming gauze, and finally a layer of self-adherent cohesive bandaging. I would tape the bandage in place to reduce risk of the bandage slipping away from the wound.
However, many of these supplies are bulky and add weight to a pack. So when backpacking, I am more of a minimalist and skip the cast padding and the tape. Remember a bandage applied on the trail is hopefully temporary and just needs to stay in place until you can get off of the trail.
Depending on the day, I might also leave the gauze roll behind. I have debated bringing the gauze roll every time, as it can also be used to create an emergency muzzle. But in a pinch, a lot of objects can be used to create an emergency muzzle, including paracord, a shoelace, or your dog’s leash.
You might think that a muzzle isn’t needed for your dog, as your dog wouldn’t bite. But all dogs are capable of biting when they are painful and you are causing pain to increase by moving your dog or touching a wound.
The video below demonstrates how to apply a gauze muzzle in a veterinary clinic. On the trail, you may have to apply a muzzle to your dog alone, so I recommend practicing this with your dog in a non- stressful environment before heading out on a hike.
Okay, back to bandaging. With my minimalist bandaging supply on the trail, I would apply the telfa pad and/or sterile gauze over the wound. If I had the stretch gauze, I would apply that next to help hold the pad/gauze in place. If I didn’t pack the stretch gauze, I would just wrap with the self-adherent cohesive bandage (commonly known by the brand name, Vetrap, in the veterinary industry).
When bandaging with Vetrap, please remember that this is a very stretchy material. We want the bandage to be tight enough not to slide off, but also make sure you aren’t cutting off circulation with a wrap applied mid-limb (especially if it will need to be left on for several hours as you hike back to cell phone reception).
Below are some of basic first aid kit supplies I use for bandaging that can be purchased on Amazon.
Another item to consider when contemplating ways to protect wounds on the trail are a pair of lightweight dog booties. Injuries to paws are unfortunately common. I carry a pair of dogbooties.com dog boots along on my dog-friendly hiking adventures.
A Way to Remove Slivers or Other Materials from Your Dog’s Skin and Paws
Did I ever tell you about that time that my dog Glia chased after a porcupine? Yeah, neither of us were happy about that later when she ended up with a face full of quills.
But even if your dog doesn’t chase after a porcupine, there are many other items that can become lodged in the skin that are difficult to remove with your fingers. From wood splinters to cactus spines to embedded ticks, a good pair of tweezers can come in handy in several backcountry situations.
A classic swiss army knife should have a good small tweezers in it. The following are all swiss army knife options available for purchase at REI.com.
There are also numerous lightweight titanium tweezers available for purchase online. Both of the tweezers below weigh less than 2 oz.
Regardless of the type of tweezer you add to your first aid kit, I don’t think you will regret bringing one along on your hiking and backpacking adventures.
A Way to Treat Allergic Reactions
Diphenhydramine (commonly known by the brand name Benedryl) is the go-to medication for over the counter treatment of allergic reactions. Check with your veterinarian before your outdoor adventures to get accurate dosing information for your dog. But a rough estimate is to give one 25 mg tablet for every 25 pounds of body weight. So a 50# dog would receive two 25 mg tablets.
Many dog first aid kits include a couple of individually wrapped Benedryl tablets. For a DIY kit, I prefer to buy a bottle of Benedryl and then place a few tablets in an empty contact case. The contact case keeps the tablets dry and protected and is refillable if I end up using the tablets or when they expire.
A Way to Carry Your Dog Out of the Backcountry
For small dogs, you can easily pick them up and carry them back to the car. But the larger the dog is, the more important it is to have a plan in place for how you can get your dog off of the trail.
Recently some emergency harness/slings have been specifically made for dog and human pairs to carry along on backcountry adventures. Here is a quick list of some of the popular brand names:
- Fido Pro Airlift: “The Airlift is an easy-to-use harness to safely carry your dog if they become sick or injured on an outdoor adventure”
- Pack-a-Paw: “With the Pack-a-Paw, you’ll never have to worry about your dog’s well-being on a hike. Adventure boldly, and know you’ve got a backup plan to carry your dog out.”
- The Back Country: ” A rescue harness that’s ergonomic for both you and your canine!”
And here are some videos of the emergency carriers in action.
Most first aid kits won’t come with an emergency harness, but whether or not you choose to purchase a rescue harness for your dog, just make sure you have a way to transport your dog back to a trailhead. Many rescue services that take injured people out of the backcountry are not equipped to rescue dogs.
The Best Lightweight First Aid Kits for Dogs
Okay, now that we have discussed the components that every good first aid kit should have, let’s take a look at the first aid kits currently available for purchase.
The Heeler Kit from Adventure Medical Kits) is designed as a first aid kit to be carried along on dayhikes. It is compact, lightweight (only 2.7oz), and contains all the basics plus a Pet First Aid Handbook and Reference guide.
Adventure Medical Kits also make larger pet first aid kits if you want something with more supplies.
American Pet Supplies also makes a nice lightweight (3.7oz) pet first aid kit that would be easy to add to your hiking pack.
The company states that “emergencies often present themselves when you’re least prepared for them. Don’t let that happen to you.”
Another option is the Labra Pet Canine First Aid Kit. This is a 28 piece kit that still weighs less than 7 oz. And if you are a true lightweight minimalist, you could remove a few of the items in this pack and carry only the most basic essentials.
And for the last pick for this blog post, we have Tactical Freedom’s Pet First Aid Kit. Weighing in at 4.8 oz, this dog first aid kit was designed with input from veterinarians to “treat wounds from small scratches and bleeding nails to major wounds.”
To make it easy to compare these 4 first aid kits, I have made this table:
|Adventure Medical Kit: Heeler||American Pet Supplies First Aid Kit||Labra Pet First Aid Kit||Tactical Freedom First Aid Kit|
|Weight||2.7 oz||3.7 oz||6.8 oz||4.8 oz|
|Ways to clean wounds||2 antibacterial hand wipes, 1 triple antibiotic ointment, 2 antiseptic wipes||Hand cleansing wipes||4 Antiseptic Cleaning Wipes||4 Ointment Packs, 4 Cleansing Wipes|
|Ways to stop bleeding and protect wounds||2 sterile non-adherent (telfa), 1 gauze bandage, 1 self adhering bandage||3 sterile gauze pads, adhesive bandages (looks like gauze roll)||1 Woven Bandage Roll||1 roll of self-adhering elastic wrap, 1 roll of Gauze, 4 Gauze Pads|
|Benedryl?||Yes, 2 tablets||–||–||–|
|Extras||Triangular bandage, pet first aid manual||Scissors, medical tape, disposable gloves, eye rinse, sting relief pads||Scissors, Pet Brush, Pair of Rubber Gloves, Triangle Bandage, Tape, Alcohol Wipes, Bandage Adhesive Strips, Cotton Swabs||Bottle of Saline, Styptic Pencil, Roll of Tape, Pair of Large Gloves, Scissors|
|Bag Size||Waterproof plastic pouch is ~7 x 1.5 x 6.5″||Bag with carabiner is ~5 x4 x2″||Zipper pouch|
|Custom First Aid Bag with Belt Loop (water resistant)|
The Best Lightweight First Aid Kit: Adventure Medical Kit – Heeler
As you can see in the table above, the Adventure Medical Kit’s Heeler Kit is the lightest weight and most complete kit with the fewest extras. If you are looking to purchase a first aid kit for hiking and backpacking with your dog, this is the best lightweight first aid kit for dogs currently on the market.
While eyewash, a styptic pencil, and some of the other extras would definitely come in handy in certain situations, when backpacking I try to stick to the absolute essentials. There is only so much space in a backpack and only so much weight I am willing to carry.
But whether you choose to purchase a first aid kit for your dog or create one yourself, be prepared for injuries on the trail. Stay safe by staying prepared.