Boating Safety and Dogs
By Rick Hayward

Mayday! Mayday!… well, not quite. But I must admit, the sight of blood on the deck of our boat, and our puppy nowhere to be seen, gave me that panicky feeling. So what do you do? You’re on a boat, miles away from shore, no cell service and your dog needs veterinary attention. Upon close inspection of my puppy, I could see he had slashed his paw and the cut was quite deep. Likely, he had fallen prey to one of the many zebra mussels covering the rocks in Georgian Bay.

I pulled out our first-aid kit, treated the cut with Polysporin and wrapped his paw with gauze, but the bleeding didn’t stop and I wanted to get him to a vet. Using the boat VHF radio, I contacted the Parry Sound town dock, where the staff provided the names of two veterinarians and offered to contact either, to make an appointment. We were lucky. A few hours later, ‘Bosun’s’ paw was treated, he was prescribed antibiotics and we were underway again.

The experience made me think about the number of times we’ve been far from port; the occasions when we’ve been isolated in areas of Georgian Bay plagued with rattlesnakes; the times we’ve travelled with friends whose dogs were elderly; and the incident when a real mayday was hailed on the radio. I decided to do some research.

Safety first
“Be familiar with breed-specific dispositions,” James Young, of the Boardwalk and Guildwood animal clinics in Toronto, advises. “Bloat is common in deep-chested dogs, such as Irish Setters, for instance, and requires immediate attention from a veterinarian.” But at the same time, he suggests that you “recognize when you need a vet, and when it can wait until Monday” – good insight for boaters who are regularly away from port on the weekend. “If your dog is wagging his tail when you show him the leash, is eating and drinking, it is likely not urgent. If, however, your dog is not responding to you, hesitant to move, and not eating or drinking, contact a vet right away.”

Before you depart, identify the local veterinarians in each of the ports you’ll be visiting. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association provides a list by province and town on

Bite watch
What about those rattlesnakes we hear campfire stories about? While the symptoms are alarming, most dogs can survive a rattlesnake bite. In fact, the Georgian and Parry Sound animal hospitals in Parry Sound, which treat approximately 40 bites a year between their two clinics, have lost only one dog in 15 years. Keep diphenhydramine hydrochloride (e.g., Benadryl) on hand in case your pet sustains a rattlesnake bite. Your vet can give you the proper dosage. You do not need to, and definitely should not, suck the venom out!

I also spoke with Holly Levinter, commander of the Ashbridge’s Bay Power Squadron on Lake Ontario, who suggests that “First and foremost remember, people don’t bite when they are injured and frightened… dogs often do, so make sure that you are prepared to muzzle, or guard the animal’s jaw before attempting any treatment.” Holly recommends a life jacket for your pet.

Call for help
Finally, I asked Theresa Nichols of the Canadian Coast Guard what they would do if I radioed for help when underway, or in an isolated locale, without any way to get my dog to a vet. Theresa advised, “The Canadian Coast Guard would assist by way of providing the locale and coordinates of the closest veterinarian, and further, if the pet couldn’t be transported, we would facilitate a link contact through the VHS radio with a telephone for direct communication with a veterinarian.”

Before you go
Dr. Young often coaches his clients on CPR and general first aid before they head out on vacations to remote areas. He recommends The Pet Lover’s Guide to First Aid and Emergencies by Thomas K. Day, D.V.M., which provides good examples of when to use what.
A first-aid kit on board is obvious, but what should it contain? Below are Dr. Young’s suggestions:

First-aid kit staples

  • one- and two-inch adhesive tape
  • roll of two-inch gauze(for muzzle)
  • two-inch and four-inch gauze
  • 3-x-3-inch and 4-x-4-inch gauze pads
  • cotton balls and pledgets (small-wound dressings)
  • chlorhexidine or providone iodine (antiseptic)
  • eye wash (saline in a squirt bottle)
  • ispopropyl alcohol
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide (or syrup of ipecac)
  • Vaseline
  • activated charcoal
  • rectal thermometer
  • scissors
  • tweezers
  • bulb syringe
  • Elizabethan collar
  • ice pack
  • plastic food wrap (e.g., Saran Wrap)
  • blanket with heat pack
  • flat surface for transport
  • newspaper
An avid boating enthusiast, it’s perhaps no surprise that Toronto-based Rick Hayward breeds, exhibits and loves Irish Water Spaniels.

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