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

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


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

  • Environmental Hazards

    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!