Canine Decontamination

Guidelines for Emergency, Gross, and Technical Decontamination of the Urban Search and Rescue Canine


Lori E. Gordon, DVM


During the course of a search, canines may be exposed to hazardous materials. Exposure to contaminants can range from the most benign dirt to potentially life-threatening hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, and radiological substances. They are encountered during natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and earth quakes, as well as man-made accidents like fires and explosions, and terrorist events.

These contaminants may come in several different forms, including solids, liquids, powders, and gas. Search and rescue operations involve the sorting of collapsed materials, aerosolizing any hazards that may otherwise settle during a deployment. Working without the personal protective equipment that humans use, a search canine’s risk of exposure is increased. In addition, many hazardous materials are heavier than air and tend to pool low to the ground, where canine exposure is high.

Decontamination of animals is an important component of responsible emergency response management and is a recognized part of an emergency response plan. The importance is for the health and well being of the animals affected as well as the humans to whom they may transmit hazardous materials.

This paper is designed specifically as a guide to the practical, day-to-day operations of providing a means of decontaminating a canine in the variety of situations that may occur. Hazmat-related information on contamination detection, avoidance, and identification are covered elsewhere by multiple sources. Common hazards and canine medical issues are touched on briefly, with greater detail also available elsewhere.

Much of the information regarding the practical operations is directly due to the continued dedication and hard work of the members of the Massachusetts Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue team, of which I am honored to be a member. I wish to thank them for their tremendous support in my efforts to expand our decontamination protocols, and the obvious care they have for our search canines. I also wish to thank the handlers for their help, and especially the search canines who put up with lots of bathing!


Lori E. Gordon, DVM



Submitted October 2008

Revised May 2017


When discussing decontamination there are two basic levels: gross decontamination and technical decontamination. Whether one, the other, or both are used is dependent on the particular contaminant or hazardous material involved. Having a system on site with the ability to adapt to a range of needs, from benign to emergent, is important. This will allow protection and provide safety to the canines, their human partners, and everyone else around them.


  1. GROSS DECONTAMINATION – This is an initial phase of the decontamination (decon) process during which the bulk amount of surface contaminant is significantly reduced. It is designed to be done quickly.
    1. Emergency Gross Decontamination is used to immediately reduce contamination of those with potentially life-threatening exposure, where immediate medical attention is required. The goal is to save lives.
    2. Non-Emergency Gross Decontamination is bulk removal of a non-life threatening contaminant, also designed to be done as quickly as possible.
  2. Technical Decontamination

This process involves an established corridor, specific stations, and detailed guidelines designed for complete removal of contaminants, leaving no residual hazard, and addressing the medical needs of victims and responders as needed. This is a meticulous process to remove as much contaminant as possible utilizing several methods such as brushing, vacuuming, adsorption, absorption, washing, chemical detoxification, chemical neutralization, and others.

Two types of technical, also known as thorough, decontamination are described: (1) emergency, which includes a medical component, and (2) non-emergency, which may or may not involve a medical component.

    1. Emergency/Medical Technical Decontamination refers to a Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) or Weapons of Mass Destruction (CBRNE) situation, where complete decontamination is a necessary component of the medical treatment in a life-threatening situation
    2. Non-emergency +/- Medical Technical Decontamination refers to a contaminant that is not immediately life threatening, but must be removed completely to avoid future complications. Regardless, a medical check is always recommended.

NOTE: The need and ability to medically treat a canine before reaching the decon corridor is based on several factors: a life-threatening status, medical personnel presence within the hot or warm zone, on site medical supplies, and safety of involved personnel


Click here to view and download PDF Document. get_adobe_reader