First Aid For Dogs - A Practical Guide
When it comes to situations in which your dog’s health is at risk, your first thought will be to get them to the vet. But sometimes, especially in dangerous or life-threatening emergencies, there might not be enough time. It’s important that you keep a decent first aid kit and that you have a reasonable knowledge of what to do for your dog until you’re able to get them professional help.
It's a good idea to keep your vets number stored in your mobile or on a piece of paper taped to the lid of your kit as it can be difficult to look up numbers when you're in the middle of an emergency.
First and foremost, your first aid kit should be properly stocked so here is a list of helpful contents:-
First Aid Kit
- A roll of self-adhesive / crepe bandage
- Open weave bandages
- Non-adhesive absorbent dressings to cover open wounds
- Surgical sticky tape
- Cotton wool
- Sterile absorbent gauze
- Blunt-nosed scissors
- A thick towel
- Antiseptic (ask your vet’s advice for the best one for your particular dog)
- An Elizabethan collar (often called a cone, which goes round your dog’s neck and prevents biting and licking at wounds).
When you’re out and about with your dog, carry a smaller first aid kit together with a printed copy of emergency instructions and emergency numbers.
What to do in an emergency
Below are guidelines based on best practice for what you can do to help your dog until you are able to get them to the vet.
An injured pet is often frightened and in pain. Be gentle when dealing with the injury and be sure to protect yourself from being bitten
What to do if your dog is bleeding
- To control bleeding, use absorbent gauze pads or similar material on the site of the wound, and press as firmly as is practical. On the other hand, if bleeding is profuse, an artery could have been injured. Use a thick towel and apply pressure to the wound.
- Only use a tourniquet as a last resort.
- If the paw is bleeding, look for possible sharp objects in the wound, and try to remove these gently, with tweezers, if you have a pair handy. If you are unsuccessful, rather let the vet deal with it.
- Wash the wound in clean water, and dress it with pads and bandages.
- If bleeding continues for more than a few minutes, get your dog to the vet.
- Be aware of the possibility of internal bleeding, should the wound be to the torso or abdomen.
What to do if your dog has breathing problems
- It seems obvious, but you need to stay calm to prevent your animal from getting more distressed than it already is.
- Look for noisy breathing, fast breathing, a stretched-out body, and check the colour of its gums.
- White, blue, or grey gums are a clear indication of a problem.
- Check to see that your dog isn’t choking on a foreign object, such as a bone or small toy.
- Get your animal to the vet as soon as you can.
What to do if your dog suffers from a broken bone
- Don’t hesitate to contact your vet at your very earliest opportunity.
- Broken bones cause extreme pain and distress in your animal, and it must be approached with extreme caution.
- Your pet may have been in an accident. Check for any other injuries, and stop any bleeding.
- Check for pale gums. The animal is quite possibly in shock.
- If a leg is broken rather avoid allowing the dog to walk, but carry it if at all possible.
- Avoid using a splint.
- An operation is quite likely going to be an urgent procedure, so avoid giving your animal water or food.
What to do if your dog has bruises
- Bruises are generally relatively minor problems, and should heal over the course of about 10 days; but they certainly need monitoring.
- Post-operative bruising is common, but still needs watching.
- Multiple bruises are an indication of an important problem, and could be an indication of bleeding or clotting.
- A fresh bruise will benefit from application of a cold compress for about 10 minutes at a time. (Don’t use cold compresses on older bruises.)
- Large or unexplained bruises, painful bruises, growing bruises and bruises that don’t heal and disappear within two weeks need to be referred to your vet.
What to do if your dog has burns & scalds
- Use running water to cool the burn. This needs to take a full 10 to 20 minutes, according to most experts.
- Keep your animal warm and calm. Shock is a very probable consequence of the burn.
- Try not to touch the burn.
- If you have sterile gloves, it’s an excellent idea to use them in this situation.
- Please avoid applying burn creams or ointments; and don’t ever put ice on the burn.
- If the burn is very severe and you notice blistering, phone your vet for guidance on what to do next.
What to do if your dog is choking
- An animal that is coughing is able to breathe in. An animal that is choking will battle to draw breath.
- Check to see what your animal is choking on.
- Common culprits include bones, rawhide chew treats, balls and toys.
- Keep your pet calm, and, if possible, gently remove the object.
- You might need to use tweezers or even pliers.
- Don’t use your fingers, as the animal might be panicky and bite you.
- If your efforts to remove the object are unsuccessful, you’ll need to lay the animal down on its side and push the rib cage quickly and firmly about 3 or 4 times to try to dislodge the object.
- If necessary, repeat this action.
What to do if your dog's coat is covered in paint or gets contaminated
- Paint or tar are common causes of contamination. The smell of your dog’s coat will probably tell you what you are dealing with.
- Prevent the dog from licking the affected area. The substance is very possibly toxic.
- Use an Elizabethan collar / cone to stop your dog from licking.
- You may need to clip the dog’s coat to help rid the animal of the contamination.
- Do not use turpentine or paint removers.
- Wash the dog in washing up liquid or swarfega.
- Get your pet to the vet, to be on the safe side.
What to do if your dog collapses
- If your pet collapses, it is very likely a sign of something very serious, such as heart disease, low blood sugar, pain, breathing difficulties, Addison’s disease, blood loss and seizures.
- Check your pet’s responsiveness - or lack thereof.
- Check its gums and belly, as well as breathing.
- Get your animal to the vet as soon as you can, but in the meantime keep it in a quiet, safe and preferably cool place.
- If need be, apply CPR. (See below for advice on CPR.)
- Sometimes a dog will recover from an episode quite quickly; however, please make careful observations about how it presented, and ask your vet’s advice for future reference.
How to help your dog if they are drowning
- Unfortunate and distressing as events like these are, NEVER put yourself at risk by trying to save a drowning dog.
- At most, what you can do in a situation like this is to try to clear the dog’s airwaves, and try to resuscitate it, as soon as possible.
- If it is small enough, hold the dog upside down by its hind legs, to let water drain from its airways.
- If breathing has stopped, use CPR, as detailed below.
- Get your pet to the vet for a check-up.
What to do if your dog is suffering from electric shock
- If you are in a public area, and the dog is shocked by high voltage power lines, or similar power supply, call the police.
- In a domestic situation, turn off the power immediately, and use something that doesn’t conduct electricity, such as a wooden broom handle, to push the animal away from whatever has shocked it.
- If it has stopped breathing, apply CPR, and call the vet immediately.
- Try wherever possible to prevent electric shocks by making sure that the dog is unable to chew through cabling in your home.
- Check for burns in its mouth if you suspect chewing a cable to be the cause.
- Electric shocks can cause internal or delayed damage, so a check-up by the vet is vital.
- Keep your animal warm until you get it to the vet.
What to do to help your dog with eye injuries
- Injuries to the eye itself are extremely serious, and need to be seen by a vet at your earliest opportunity.
- Scratches to the eyeball can lead to blindness if not treated as soon as possible.
- If the injury has caused the eye to bulge from its socket, wash it gently and apply a wet dressing.
- Try to assess whether the eye has been harmed by chemicals or other substances, and try to flush the toxic matter out by using an eye dropper.
- Put your Elizabethan collar / cone on your dog, to prevent it scratching its eye.
- Get the animal to the vet!
What to do if your dog is caught in a fight and suffers from bite wounds
- Bite wounds can be very poisonous, especially snake bites, and need to be checked as soon as possible.
- For a snakebite, put an ice pack - wrapped in a towel - on the bite and get straight to your vet.
- If your dog has been in a fight, it may appear shocked or lethargic.
- Puncture wounds need to be seen to immediately.
- Animal mouths are full of potentially harmful bacteria, and a bitten dog is very likely to need antibiotics for infections.
- If the bite isn’t a huge gash, flush it with lukewarm salty water (1 teaspoon of salt in a pint of cooled (previously boiled) water).
- All bite wounds and body wounds, such as injured legs, need to be assessed as soon as possible.
What to do if your dog gets a fit
- Fits (also known as convulsions and seizures) may vary in number, length - from seconds to hours - and severity. If possible, make a note of these variables to help your vet assess the situation.
- Fits can present in a wide variety of ways; if your dog unexpectedly starts twitching, or falls over, accompanied by barking, urinating, defecating and clenching its teeth, it’s most probably having a seizure.
- Multiple and long-lasting seizures can cause the animal’s body temperature to rise. If you are able to, assess your pet’s temperature, though be cautious while doing so.
- Don’t try to hold or comfort your dog, because this can in fact prolong the fit. Rather darken the room, if possible, and reduce noise as far as you can. (Any external stimulation can affect your animal negatively, lengthening the duration of the fit.)
- Clear the area around your dog of anything that might cause injury, especially any electrical equipment.
- Where applicable, pad your furniture with pillows or cushions.
- Call the vet.
What to do if your dog gets heat stroke
- Dogs often pant when it’s hot, but if your pet appears distressed as well, then you need to be aware that it’s probably suffering from heat stroke. (Short-nosed dogs are particularly susceptible to it, as are overweight dogs.)
- If you can, turn on a fan, or get the dog into a cool draught.
- Dampen the dog’s coat with tepid water. (Don’t use cold water, as this can in fact retard heat loss.)
- Let your dog drink a small amount of water.
- Call the vet.
What to do if your dog gets hypothermia
- Prevention is better than cure, so please make sure you have somewhere warm and dry for your dog, especially if you leave your dog in the garden when you’re out. Temperatures can drop suddenly, and hypothermia is a real danger in the UK.
- Also, please don’t ever leave a pet in a cold car.
- However, if you think your animal has hypothermia, whatever the reason, resist the temptation to warm it up too quickly, so get it to warm shelter, rather than somewhere hot.
- If your dog is wet, dry it with a towel.
- Put warm blankets on and around your pet. (Remember that too warm is dangerous. Use caution and common sense.)
- Let your animal drink some lukewarm water, and get it to the vet at your first opportunity.
What to do if your dog is poisoned
- Symptoms of poisoning include nausea, dry heaving, excess salivation, vomiting, and diarrhoea
- If you suspect poisoning, check for pale gums, unusually rapid heartbeat, blood in its vomit, and collapsing. These signs could well point to internal bleeding.
- If you possibly can, find out what your dog has eaten.
- Check that it hasn’t eaten something in your house, such as rat poison.
- Check whether there is plant matter in its vomit, and see if you can ascertain which plant it may have eaten.
- Don’t induce vomiting, unless you have spoken to your vet and they have asked you to.
- Get your animal to the vet as soon as possible.
What to do if your dog is in a road accident
- Here, too, prevention is better than cure, so please make sure your dog has a collar that isn’t too loose, and that it’s on a lead whenever you’re out in public.
- If your (or any) animal has been hit, approach the dog slowly, and with caution, as the dog will very probably be in shock.
- Try to stay as calm as possible, and gently reassure your dog by talking quietly.
- Check for things like bleeding or difficulty breathing. (These can be signs that the dog’s life is in severe danger.)
- Look for broken legs.
- The dog might be able to walk, and appear to be okay, but there can be internal bleeding, and the dog needs to be assessed professionally, therefore get it to the vet.
- Depending on the apparent extent of the injuries, and the size of the dog, pick it up carefully, or improvise a stretcher with an item of clothing, if possible.
- If the dog appears to be paralysed, or have a spinal injury, try to find something flat and strong like a board, and slide it under the dog, before picking up the board.
- Cover your pet with a blanket, to reduce heat loss.
What to do if your dog is stung
- Although hornets aren’t common in the UK, they can do severe harm to your dog, as they are likely to sting and bite repeatedly, and their poison is particularly nasty.
- If you can see the sting, pull it out of your dog below the poison sac, and then wash the affected area with a bicarbonate of soda solution.
- If you have ice cubes handy, these will help soothe the pain.
- If your animal has been stung in the mouth and throat area, swelling can cause airways to constrict, making breathing difficult.
- Get your animal to the vet as soon as possible.
What to do if your dog is suffering from a swollen abdomen
- If and when your dog suddenly presents with a swollen abdomen, and it gulps for air, salivates, or tries to vomit, this is a very serious sign, most particularly in deep-chested dogs.
- The most likely cause is a twisted bowel, which can lead to death very quickly.
- Get your animal to the vet as soon as you can!
Here are a few techniques that you may well need to apply in an emergency, so please give these your attention.
Basic resuscitation / CPR for dogs
- Put your animal on its side, and check to see whether breathing has stopped.
- Open its mouth, pull its tongue forwards, and check for any obstructions, including foreign objects.
- If you need to try to restart breathing, extend the dog’s head, hold its mouth closed, and breathe into its nostrils, at the rate of about 20 times a minute.
- If you can’t detect a heartbeat, push on its chest, just behind the front legs, at one second intervals, at the rate of 2 breaths to every 15 chest compressions. Allow the chest to return to its original position after each compression.
- For best results, keep your arms extended and straight while you administer the compression. (This is a very tiring process. If you have someone who can share the process with you, this will help.)
- If you have no success after a couple of minutes, it is very likely that the animal will not recover.
How to move an injured dog
- First assess the extent of your animal’s injuries.
- If your dog has hurt its neck or its back, try to contact your vet before moving it.
- If your dog weighs more than 30lbs / 15kg, you are likely to need help lifting the animal.
- Give support to its head and neck and back by placing one arm under the head and shoulders.
- Use your other arm to support its pelvis.
- Improvise a stretcher using a coat, or a blanket or a similar item that will be the right size for your dog.
- Depending on where you are, please take care to keep yourself safe as well, particularly if there is road traffic.
- Don’t forget to keep talking quietly and gently to your animal.
- Get the dog to the nearest vet.