The rise of opioid abuse has become a national epidemic. More than 50,000 Americans die each year from opioid overdoses. But few people realize this crisis is also killing working animals, particularly K-9s who sniff out narcotics. In the line of duty, these dogs are at an increased risk of toxic ingestion given the potency of many opioids (e.g. fentanyl and carfentanil) has made the smallest quantities life-threating.
Realo Veterinary Care has become an active partner in the development of effective strategies to protect working dogs. We believe it is our job to protect them, just as they do us.
Naloxone, an opioid reversal agent used in humans, can also be used in dogs and is available as an injection or a nasal spray. As the number of K-9s exposed to lethal doses in the line of duty increases, the need for law enforcement to identify overdoses, access naloxone quickly, and properly administering the medication has become increasingly critical. The funding, tools and training are the most important next steps.
Exposure to narcotics can lead to respiratory depression and, eventually, cause the dog to be unable to breathe on their own. Handlers must act fast to provide CPR to these animals, but this puts them at risk of ingestion as well through the standard “mouth to snout” techniques in CPR. In order to protect both the handler and working animal, proper training sessions must be put in place to educate the department on how best to provide CPR during emergencies.
New York and Illinois (effective Jan. 2018) have passed legislation allowing ambulances to transport working dogs, injured in the line of duty, to a nearby veterinary facility for emergency care. While this recent legislation is promising, it leaves many potential questions and issues around transportation protocol that must be addressed: the properly equipped location and facility to take the dog, animal restraint during transport, paperwork and handoff procedures, post-transportation vehicle decontamination, and protection from potential human exposure to illicit opioid powder.
Heat stroke in canines is an existing yet preventable problem. Unfortunately, some rules prohibit service dogs from entering certain establishments while on duty, leaving their handlers to make difficult decisions such as leaving the dog in the service car. Though officers have left the car and A/C running, engines have stalled during this waiting period. During hotter months, the internal temperature of the automobile can quickly reach temperatures well over 100 degrees, leading to heat stroke and likely death. Protocols and affordable equipment must be developed as a result.
Hearing impairment has been reported in working dogs after been exposed to the sound of gunshots. Currently, researchers are attempting to collect data on the number of documented cases to gauge the level of severity. At this time, veterinarians are working diligently to develop methods to test the decline in hearing abilities. They also hope to work with engineers and researchers to develop safety gear appropriate for use in canines. Retirement and financial planning represent another important step in the complete care and later life improvements for our brave service animals. There is an investment to make in these dogs to ensure they live the healthiest life possible while serving our communities. There also must be a stronger understanding of the total expenses required to properly transition and care for these animals after their service. Working dogs are often considered “property” today, meaning there is a limited budget to support their treatment for injuries in the line of duty, improved handler training, and increased supply of modern protective gear. Available funds are most certainly depleted by the time the animal “retires.” Moreover, the designation of “property” makes adoption (even by the handler) difficult, as they approach retirement.