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News | March 31, 2021

Saving Our Hides: A Kit for Every Occasion

By Courtesy Story

Fast decontamination is critical to military working dog survival. For immediate canine decontamination, current guidance recommends the use of existing human skin-based decontamination solutions, such as Reactive Skin Decontamination Lotion (RSDL), along with copious amounts of soap and water. RSDL is highly effective on human skin, but since the RSDL is a lotion optimized for human skin, it may not be the best option for dogs, such as when warfighters are downrange where there is not likely enough water to fully wash and rinse the dogs. As a result, DTRA-JSTO is developing an effective immediate decontamination kit specifically for military working dogs to rapidly remove contamination and reduce risk to both the dogs and their handlers.

To do this, DTRA-JSTO is teaming with industry through Small Business Innovation Research grants to develop a decontamination kit specifically for military working dogs that is effective for a wide variety of CWAs and toxic industrial chemicals. Their goal is to develop a lightweight, versatile decontamination kit that can be carried by the military working dog or its handler. The materials in the kit would be tailored to remove and neutralize chemical contamination on military working dog skin and fur until handlers can perform a more thorough decontamination.

Prototype military working dog decontamination kits will be designed for use in an operational environment to reduce contamination levels on the dog by 90 percent within one hour. The kits will be usable by a single handler in personal protective equipment and effective even with limited external resources like soap and water. Kit design will focus on several of the major military working dog breeds, including the Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd, and Labrador Retriever. The kits will be modular to allow the warfighter to select the decontamination protocols and materials based on the type of contaminating CWA.

Several challenges remain for research and development of these kits. First, canine skin includes fur, foot pads, and other attributes that increase body region complexity as compared to human skin. Decontaminants must be effective on all these body regions. Second, the many working dog breeds used with the military and civilians have different fur characteristics, such as hair length, thickness, and undercoat depth, that may lead to various interactions between the agent and decontaminant. These fur characteristics determine if chemical warfare agents penetrate to skin or are instead wicked into the fur coat, becoming a potential residual hazard. Finally, any decontamination kit must be easily and rapidly applied, safe for humans, and have limited, acceptable side effects for both handler and canine, such as a neutralization reaction that warms the skin, not requiring further resources like soap and water. Handlers will likely decontaminate a motionless canine immediately upon exposure and may carry the military working dog to a thorough decontamination area, so the decontamination kit must reduce the potential for cross contamination to handlers.

In the future, industry and government researchers will explore the materials, test methods, and procedures needed to develop novel military working dog decontamination kits. For example, some data suggests that the longer, thicker hairs of a dog’s coat may provide a level of protection by preventing liquid CWAs from penetrating the coat and contacting the skin. However, the best way to immediately remove the contamination from long fur remains a key question. Researchers will not use live canines for actual CWA or simulant testing. Instead, in a laboratory, they will test neutralization of the CWAs and simulants on different skin and fur type surrogates to develop complementary application processes, such as wiping, blotting, or other techniques, and how much decontaminant to use, etc. Researchers will, however, use military working dogs along with their handlers in personal protective equipment to develop safe processes and procedures to implement a future immediate decontamination kit.

These collaborative efforts between industry and Department of Defense (DoD) laboratories will generate data that are critical for the design of new decontamination methods and equipment options for military working dogs beyond the use of RSDL. This data will also show researchers how different military working dog breeds are affected by CWAs and the parts of their bodies that are most vulnerable. Ultimately, this research is part of a larger personnel decontamination effort within the DoD to reduce risk and improve decontamination options for the warfighter’s four-legged team members on the front lines.


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