First aid for dogs: learning to take care of search dogs

16 July 2012

Dr Chris Tan (far right) with some of the paramedics and doctors taking part in the workshop.
Dr Chris Tan (far right) with some of the paramedics and doctors taking part in the workshop.

Paramedics and doctors, already highly trained in the treatment of human patients, will learn how to apply advanced first aid training to rescue dogs at the University of Sydney today.

Sixteen Special Operations paramedics and helicopter doctors, who travel overseas in times of disaster, will learn about canine health and first aid from University of Sydney Veterinary Teaching Hospital vets. They will use the knowledge to care for specialist search and rescue dogs.

Murray Traynor, Ambulance Assistant Zone Manager, said urban search and rescue environments present many hazards to both two and four-legged rescuers, including structural collapse of buildings, shattered glass, unstable surfaces, exposed concrete reinforcing and hazardous dust.

Dogs are at high risk of lacerations, falling from heights, getting trapped under shifting rubble piles and drinking and eating contaminated water and organic material.

"Search dogs are an equal member of rescue teams and their injury or death greatly affects the morale of people operating under the most difficult circumstances," Mr Traynor said.

"The University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Search Dog Advanced First Aid training course gives our rescuers the ability to provide their dogs with the same medical care they would give to a human.

"Experience shows dogs often injure their pads, have lacerations and suffer eye irritations due to dust. They need care managing their temperature in tropical regions and frostbite in colder environments, such as after the recent earthquake in Japan.

"But more than that, as well as treating immediate injuries and illness, our paramedics and doctors will be ensuring they're aware of health issues early by medically assessing the dogs twice each day," Mr Traynor said.

Dr Chris Tan, Senior Registrar in Small Animal Surgery, said the workshop is the first of its kind to be run at the University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

"We're running practical sessions in canine anatomy, physical examinations, canine behaviour and handling. Taskforce participants in the workshop will learn how to evaluate and treat a whole host of injuries the dogs might sustain while working," Dr Tan said.

"This is a really practical course that will equip the taskforce with the skills needed to look after their search dogs, especially when in areas where infrastructure has been destroyed and there are no vets available - as is the case with many of the sites where search dogs work.

"The workshop doesn't replace the need for vets, but does mean taskforce members can treat search dogs on-site as soon as possible if the dogs sustain basic injuries and illnesses in the course of their work on disaster sites."

In developing the workshop, Dr Tan and colleagues at the University of Sydney Veterinary Teaching Hospital liaised with the Veterinary Practitioners Board to ensure the content is appropriate for the search and rescue taskforce context.

"We're hoping this workshop can become a regular part of the training for staff in the NSW Urban Search and Rescue Taskforce," Dr Tan said.

The training is intended for use in situations where veterinary attention is unavailable such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011 where entire populations were missing and the region's health and veterinary infrastructure was destroyed.

The NSW Urban Search and Rescue Taskforce is a multiagency taskforce with representation from NSW Ambulance & Health, NSW Police, Fire Rescue, and the Department of Public Works.

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