There are a number of things to look out for at an event. Most, if not all, can be avoided with a bit of diligence and attention on your part. Common hazards to SCA events include, but are not limited to:
Foxtails : these nasty weeds shed off seeds that easily work their way into your pet's feet, ears, nose, and eyes. After walking through grassy areas where foxtails are present, check your pet thoroughly. With longhaired dogs such as Golden Retrievers or Samoyeds, you may want to consider shaving your pet's feet to prevent foxtails being captured and hidden in the thick fur between the toes.
Ticks : prevention is the best option, with the use of a Preventic (tm) collar, Frontline spot-on product, or other tick repellent. Even if you do have a preventative applied, check your animal at least once a day for ticks, paying close attention around the neck, ears, arm pits, groin area and the base of the tail. Any ticks discovered should be removed by firmly grasping the tick as near the head as possible and pulling it straight out. Do not turn it, do not set it on fire, just pull it straight out. Swab the skin gently with rubbing alcohol. Examine the tick to make sure you got the head out as well; if not, then check the skin daily to see if it is reddened or inflamed. If so, see the veterinarian immediately.
Insect stings : bees, wasps and yellow jackets may attack both people and pets. Minimizing the availability of food or sweet drinks can decrease this hazard. Obviously, keep your pet away from hives or nests of these insects.
Cuts : broken glass is often a problem at sites, and as pets don't wear shoes, their feet can easily get cut. Another possible hazard is cuts on the tongue from licking out opened cans of people food. Prevention is key in this as well, and treatment of minor cuts is covered under the First Aid section.
Indigestion : the excitement of going to an event can disturb a pet's digestive system, and the possibility of eating people food as "treats" is quite high. Bringing along the pet's regular food minimizes this problem, as well as bringing along a large supply of treats that the pet handles well at home. Keep the treats on you so you can give them to people who want to give your pet a snack.
Bones : while they are period as can be, ingestion of large pieces or small splinters of bones can cause damage to the stomach and intestine. In the worst instance, the bones can perforate or lodge in the intestine, requiring surgery and possibly risking your pet's life. Chicken bones are notorious for perforating intestines, and should never be fed. If you must give your dog a bone, make sure it is a very large bone that does not break easily or splinter.
Poisoning : some people food should never be fed to pets. Many dogs crave chocolate, but it can cause severe stomach upset and ulceration. Onions, raw or cooked, can lead to anemia in both cats and dogs. Some plants can also cause poisoning, so do not let your pet chew on the local flora. Finally, keep all medications away from your pet's inquisitive mouth.
Burns : where camping is permitted, the chances of burns are present. Burns can happen from either direct contact with a fire or other hot item such as boiling water. Keep the pet well away from any sources of fire. It is also a good idea to keep the pet away from the cooking area to prevent cooking accidents and possible indigestion.
Heatstroke/dehydration : it is 90 degrees with some humidity, and you're sweating up a storm in your cotton T-tunic. How do you think your pet feels with a fur coat? Keep your pets in the shade with plenty of water to drink. With some pets, wetting down their coat with a damp cloth also helps them keep their cool. Another way to provide comfort for your pet is to take the carrier and place several ice packs on the walls and cover them with a towel. This provides a "cool room" to prevent overheating.
Basic First Aid
This should in no way be considered a comprehensive guide for first aid in pets. Two excellent resources are the Cornell Book of Cats and the UC Davis Guide to Dogs, both edited by Mordecai Segal. General guidelines Evaluate the situation and remove the cause of the injury. Be sure you are not putting yourself into a dangerous situation!
Assess the animal : is it breathing? Can you feel a heartbeat? Check for a heartbeat by gently pressing on the chest behind the elbow. If the animal is not breathing then clear the airways and check again. If the pet is still not breathing, start artificial respiration. If the animal does not have a heartbeat and is not breathing start CPR immediately. Check for bleeding and try to control it as quickly as possible. Pressure bandages are often the best choice or direct pressure if it is in a difficult place to bandage. Cover wounds with clean dry dressings. Keep the pet warm. Do not move the animal more than is necessary.
Treat for shock. If the pet is unconscious, place the head slightly lower than the body to prevent inhalation of fluids or materials in the mouth. Get the pet to the veterinarian as quickly and safely as possible. A rough ride could be even more traumatic for the pet, so speed should take third place to safety and smoothness.
Restraint Some pets will not let you examine them without some restraint. For dogs, this often requires a muzzle; for cats, a thick towel or blanket can be wound around them to restrain them. If no cloth can be used to restrain the cat for examination then firmly holding the scruff of the neck with one hand and holding the front limbs in the other hand may be helpful. A second person may be needed to hold the hind limbs if the cat is very fractious. Talk to the pet in a quiet but firm voice to calm it down.
Cuts and abrasions Be sure to clean your hands thoroughly and have the pet well restrained. Apply a thin film of antibiotic ointment to the wound and clip away any hair that is surrounding the injury. After the hair is trimmed away, clean the wound thoroughly with water and then with an antiseptic solution such as Betadine, chlorhexadine or hydrogen peroxide. Wet a cotton ball or gauze sponge and clean in a circular motion, starting at the center of the wound and working out towards the edges. Blot away any excess fluid and apply a suitable antibiotic such as Bacitracin, Neosporin or nitrofurazone. Apply a clean gauze pad over the wound and bandage it firmly but not tightly in place. If the cut is deep enough to require stitches, take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible to have the best possible outcome. For shallow cuts, change the bandage every other day to keep it clean and dry.
Thermal burns First, try to evaluate the size and extent of the burn. If the burn covers more than 5% of the animal's skin surface it is a major burn and should be taken to the veterinarian immediately. Deep burns damage beyond the skin to the tissues underneath. Deep burns should also be taken to the veterinarian immediately. If in doubt, check with the veterinarian sooner rather than later as burns can easily seep serum, providing a great breeding ground for bacteria and leading to a severe infection. With superficial burns, apply ice packs wrapped in towels to the affected area for 10 minutes on, 5 minutes off, or immerse the affected area in cold water. Dry the pet off and try to remove the hair over and around the burn to minimize infection. Apply a thin film of either eye ointment or aloe vera gel to the wound. Do not apply any oil-based ointment to the wound as it may increase the burning feeling.
Insect stings This is primarily a problem with dogs, as they like to snap at insects. However, some cats may be affected as well. If you can locate the stinger, remove it and apply an ice pack if possible. If the sting is in the mouth, wash out the mouth with a mixture of 1 teaspoon baking soda to 2 cups water. If the sting is on the skin, swab the area with rubbing alcohol and apply a paste of baking soda and water. If your pet starts to drool copiously, or have difficulty breathing or swallowing it may be in indication of a systemic reaction to the sting and requires veterinary attention.
Heat stroke Immersing the pet in cool water stroke or wrapping it in cool, wet towels can treat a mild case of heatstroke. Check the temperature 10 minutes after starting treatment : if it is still elevated, the pet should be taken to a veterinarian as it may require more aggressive therapy. Encourage the pet to drink cool liquids but do not force them to drink.
Poisoning As poisoning can present with many different
symptoms, it is important to discover what the pet has been poisoned
with. Danger signs include excessive drooling, difficulty breathing
or swallowing, trembling, vomiting and diarrhea. If the toxin is not
an acid, an alkali (such as drain cleaner) or kerosene then vomiting
is the first step to remove the toxin from the system. To induce
vomiting, use syrup of ipecac, hydrogen peroxide or dry mustard mixed
with water. Use the lower end of the dosage outlined in the previous
"Period Pets" article for cats and small
dogs, the upper end for large dogs. For ingested acids, administer a
solution of baking soda mixed with water or milk of magnesia. For
ingested alkalis, give vinegar or lemon juice. Milk, vegetable oil,
or egg whites can also be used to help coat the intestines and
prevent further toxin absorption. Even if the pet seems all right,
have it evaluated by a veterinarian as quickly as possible after
One of the ideals of the SCA is to re-enact the courtesy and chivalry of the Middle Ages. So why should we let this go when it comes to our pets? Basic knowledge of our pets and courtesy to others can help a great deal in having people look at our pets as a source of joy, rather than stress.
Elimination : imagine the dismay of walking around in your new hand-made shoes and stepping in a pile of dung. Since our pets can't use the privy, it is the pet owner's responsibility to pick up after their pet. Keep at least one plastic bag on you at all times for emergencies. Also, please remember that dogs (and some cats) like to mark their territory with urine. It is important that you keep a close eye on your pet to make sure they don't mark a pavilion, chair or table!
Restraint : all pets should be on a leash or in a carrier. This prevents trauma to your pet that may wander onto the list field, stress for those people who are afraid of your species of pet, and thwarts the chance of the pet becoming lost. Some people claim that "my pet is so well trained, it doesn't need a leash." Wrong. If your pet is that well trained, that is good and wonderful, but a leash is still a necessary reminder to the pet owner that the pet needs observation and attention.
Noise : if your pet is very noisy, please do not take it to court. If your pet is vocal at night, it disturbs the sleep of others around you, and possibly the entire site. If your pet cannot be kept quiet, it may be best to keep it at home where it feels more comfortable.
Behavior : your pet should know the basics of good pet behavior. For dogs, this means do not jump up on people, do not growl or bite at people, know the basic commands of sit, lie down, stay and come. For cats, the rules are somewhat looser, but cats should not attack people that are not touching it or claw up items that do not belong to the owner. Owners of cats that are very playful and may bite people may want to keep their cats at home.
Finally, all pets should not be destructive of any items other than their own personal items.
Dr. Shanna Compton is a small-animal veterinarian who practices in San Jose.
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