First response - canine first aid can save furry lives

August 3rd, 2018
canine first aid

It’s important to keep our pets safe, but would you know what to do if your dog showed signs of distress? Dr Joanna Paul from Creature Clinic gives us her top advice on canine first aid.


No matter how carefully we might live our lives, accidents and emergencies can happen. When a child grazes his or her knee, we clean it up and put on a Band-Aid. If we suspect a broken arm, we keep it as still as possible and get to the hospital. We treat burns with cool running water and we perform CPCR on someone who has stopped breathing while we await the paramedics. Most of us have a fair idea of how to handle these situations. When it comes to humans, that is.

Something about a furry body, four legs and a wagging tail makes us panic and draw a blank when it comes to dealing with an emergency. This is totally understandable because dogs are not people. I’ve met many who think they are, and they certainly enjoy a lifestyle that many humans would be envious of, but when it comes to anatomy and physiology, there is no getting around the fact that dogs are a little different. This doesn’t mean we can’t help them when they are hurt, though. It’s not only possible to learn how to perform appropriate canine first aid techniques on our furry friends, it could also be the difference between life and death.

It’s important to remember that canine first aid is the provision of emergency treatment and life support to an animal that is ill or injured before professional veterinary help is available. It bridges the gap between the moment an emergency happens and when you reach the veterinary clinic. The purpose of canine first aid is to keep your pet alive and to reduce suffering until the professionals can take over. It is in no way a substitute for veterinary care.

Basic knowledge of canine first aid and a good-quality, practical first-aid kit are critical for anyone with a furry family member. The equipment and skills are also a must for those responsible for other people’s pets. This includes boarding kennel and cattery staff, groomers, dog walkers, trainers, pet sitters and many others. Canine first aid has the potential to alleviate pain and suffering, prevent further harm and, yes, save a life. It can be helpful in a wide range of situations, from road traffic accidents to heat stroke to insect stings and wounds. It might not even be your own dog that you assist — most of us have picked up a stray running down the street at some stage and often these animals can become injured while out and about on their own.

In any emergency situation, the first and most important thing to do is ensure your own safety. Check the environment for danger and always be aware of the pet itself as a source of danger. Even the most placid and gentle dog in the world might bite you if he is in pain. Try not to panic and take a few deep breaths. If you are able to remain calm, it will not only help you think more clearly, but it will also help the animal to remain calm. If you’re not sure what to do, you can always call your vet for advice.

Approach an injured animal slowly and quietly, speaking in a soft, reassuring voice. Don’t try to hug them, even though your first instinct may be to offer comfort. It is helpful to learn cardiopulmonary cerebral resuscitation (CPCR) for dogs, as well as how to manage bleeding, broken bones, spinal and head injuries in the best way possible for transport to a vet clinic. There are face-to-face pet first-aid courses available that cover these topics, and will be offering an online course soon.

Spotting a pet in distress

As always, prevention is better than cure. The importance of knowing what is normal for your dog cannot be over-emphasised. Pay attention to your dog’s day-to-day habits and behaviour. Some are lazy couch potatoes while others love nothing more than to run all day. Some like to pick at their meal throughout the day while others seem to inhale it without taking a single bite. Being tuned in to your dog’s own unique “normal” will allow you to quickly recognise when something is not right. From little things, big things grow, and health problems are no exception. Noticing a small problem with your dog early on can save it from snowballing into a very serious one.

In order to keep you pet safe from accidents and injuries, you need to recognise where potential risks lie and prepare accordingly. Look around your home from your dog’s point of view and think about what might be dangerous or toxic. Always take care when out and about with your dog, keeping him on his lead unless it is safe and appropriate to be running free.

If you’re lucky, you will never have to experience an emergency involving your four-legged best friend. If you’re not so lucky, make sure you are prepared. Keep a pet first-aid kit in the car and know how to use it.

Be prepared

Dr Joanna Paul is the brains behind You can purchase her pet first-aid kit via her website, with each kit including a syringe, antibiotic ointment, thermometer, disposable gloves, bandages, iodine, saline, thermal blanket and tick remover. Best of all, it also comes with a pet first-aid manual that provides simple, step-by-step instructions for how and when to perform pet cardiopulmonary cerebral resuscitation (CPCR) and for owner/caregiver management of common pet emergencies.

Make sure your furry friend is always looked after at our DOGSLife Directory

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