First aid isn’t a substitute for veterinary care, but sometimes your dog needs urgent attention before you get to the vet. For example, your dog may unearth an old box of rat poison and need emergency action fast. Or your dog could be hit by a car and you may have to do some patch work before you can get him in the car. Knowing first aid for dogs is a life saver.
The best thing you can do to prepare yourself for emergency situations is to take a pet first aid training course, but in the meantime, here are a few guidelines so you can provide basic first aid for dogs.
The steps you take while waiting for veterinarian treatment to become available can be potentially life-saving. Even in circumstances where your dog’s life is not immediately at risk, knowing some first aid techniques can help keep him comfortable, and expedite his recovery.
First things first, here are some things you can do right now to make any potential emergency situations easier to deal with:
- Find out your vet’s contact details and have them easy available.
- Find out what your vet’s policy is on emergencies. Do they provide 24-hour emergency care? If not, find out where the nearest 24-hour emergency animal hospitals are, and have their contact details on-hand as well.
- Make sure your dog has a name tag with your up-to-date contact details imprinted on it.
- Have a dog first aid kit
A first aid kit for pets should contain the following:
- Non-adhesive absorbent dressings
- Surgical sticky tape
- Box of cotton wool
- Box of sterile absorbent gauze
- Blunt-ended scissors
- Thick towel
- Elizabethan collar
Some things to bear in mind:
- A dog who is in severe pain or discomfort will be more likely to lash out, and may even bite anyone who attempts to help him. In such situations it may be necessary to muzzle the dog. DO NOT do this if the dog is suffering from breathing difficulties, however.
- DO NOT attempt to treat the dog with human medication.
Recognize something is wrong
Dogs who are ill generally don’t act themselves. Here are some classic signs that your dog may need treatment, or at the very least a visit to the vet.
- Loss of appetite
- Breathing is noisy or rapid
- Persistent vomiting
- Difficulties with balance
- High temperature (normal temperature for dogs is 37.77°C (100 °F)
- Swollen stomach. It could be sign of bloat, torsion (twist in the stomach) or Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (GDV), all of which are serious emergencies. In this situation, your only recourse is to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Bear in mind that some dogs will try to hide the fact they are under the weather, so it’s important that you understand your dog’s body language and character.
How to deal with emergencies that require first aid for dogs
There may be situations when you need to resuscitate a dog, and knowing how to perform CPR is the staple of any first aid training.
- Put the animal on their side
- You can check if breathing has stopped by holding a wisp of fur in front of their nostrils
- Open their mouth and check for any obstructions. If there is an obstruction, try to remove it, being careful not to be bitten while doing so.
- If no obstruction is visible or removing it doesn’t help, hold the mouth closed and blow into the nose 20 times a minute. In the event you can’t feel a heartbeat, push on the chest behind the front legs every second. Give two breaths into the nose for every fifteen compressions of the chest.
Hold the dog’s mouth open (one hand on each jaw) or have someone else do it, and try to remove the foreign object with your fingers or a flat spoon. If you can’t see the object, here’s how to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre for dogs:
- If the dog is standing, fold arms around the belly, join your hands in a fist, and push firmly up and forward behind the rib cage. Move dog onto side afterwards.
- If the dog is lying down, put one hand on its back and use the other to squeeze abdomen up and forwards
- Check dog’s mouth to see if object appears and remove with fingers. Always take your dog to your veterinarian after a choking incident. This is so the vet can treat any resulting or secondary injuries.
Heat stroke is a serious condition that can occur very quickly in dogs, especially if they are left unattended in cars on hot days. Symptoms are heavy panting, discomfort and fatigue. Move the dog somewhere cool and keep soaking with cold water (not freezing cold as this may induce shock) until your veterinarian provides further instructions.
If your dog has ingested a toxic substance, try to find the packaging it came in (or the plant if they consumed harmful plant matter). Call the vet immediately. Don’t try to make your dog vomit unless instructed by your vet to do so.
Carefully, pull out the sting, clean the area with water or bicarbonate of soda and apply some ice. This is not usually an emergency situation (unless your dog is allergic to bees), although you should contact the vet if the sting was in the mouth or throat, as this may cause swelling that can interfere with breathing.
Dress and bandage the wound using a towel or piece of clothing if no bandaging material is available. You can also press and hold a pad to the wound if it’s in an area that can’t be bandaged. Don’t use a tourniquet unless absolutely necessary and avoid getting sticky plaster on your dog’s hair. You can find more detailed instructions on bandaging a dog’s wound on Vet Info.
If your dog has a fit or seizure don’t try to hold or comfort him or do anything that will increase your dog’s state of arousal. Instead, you want to reduce stimulation, so darken the room and keep noise levels down. Remove any furniture or other objects that could cause injury, and contact your vet.
Most road accidents are preventable, so try keeping your dog safe by having them on lead when in proximity to traffic. Should an incident occur however, follow these steps:
- Talk gently to your dog and avoid sudden movements
- If your dog can walk, take him straight to the vet. Even if there aren’t obvious injuries, there may be internal damage that needs to be treated immediately.
- If your dog can’t walk, a makeshift stretcher can be made from a coat or blanket, or something rigid, like a board. Be very careful because your dog might be paralyzed. Gently lift or slide the dog onto the stretcher for transport to a vet, and cover with a blanket to reduce heat loss.
- Pick up smaller dogs with one hand on the chest and the other under the hindquarters.
Remember that preventative treatment is always the best kind of first aid. So dog-proof your home to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. Familiarize yourself with a list of substances that are toxic to avoid the need for first aid for dogs.