Knowing some basic dog first aid could save your pooch’s life. It is never a replacement for taking your dog to the vet, but in an emergency it could be the difference between life and death. Sunny de Bruyn caught up with leading vets for their essential first aid tips.
First aid is the care that can be provided by those initially attending the scene of an accident. It can be life saving and is about minimising harm, said Dr Justin Wimpole from the Veterinary Specialist Centre in Sydney and author of First Aid For Dogs. But you must always seek professional veterinary care.
Dogs Life spoke to Wimpole about the three parts to first aid. The first is preventing emergencies, the second is recognising emergencies and the third is applying first aid. Prevention is obviously the best cure and you can do many small things to minimise the risk of harm to your dog, such as feeding it the correct diet (to safeguard against dietary indiscretion and poisoning) or walking your dog on a lead (to avoid dog fights and your dog getting hit by a car).
Similarly, recognising emergencies is just as valuable. Get to know your dogs normal breathing, eating patterns, how and when it urinates and defecates, heart rate, energy levels, behaviour and general demeanour. This way you will be able to identify any abnormal behaviour, such as listlessness, lack of appetite or depression.
What to put in a doggy aid kit
If your dog is hurt, sick or injured, having a well-stocked first aid kit will be of enormous help. Wimpole said every dog owner should have a doggie first aid kit. (See box for advice on what to include in the kit.)
The primary rule of dog first aid is to first do no harm, Wimpole said. This sounds obvious, but many owners will be unaware that things they think can help their dog will in fact do more harm than good. For example, he says you should never put anything on your dogs wound.
Antiseptics such as Savlon, Dettol and similar products should never be used! They are far too harsh, he said. Similarly, dogs should never be given human medications such as paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen, anti-depressants or sedatives unless under specific veterinary advice. If in doubt, don’t do anything at all.
According to Dr Simone Maher, from the RSPCAs Yagoona shelter, the most important thing to remember is that when an animal is sick or in pain, its behaviour can become unpredictable. Even your loved, affectionate family pet could bite or otherwise injure you in its distress, she said. So the number one point is to watch out for your own safety. You should also always approach an injured animal with caution, she said.
Watch and listen for signals it may be trying to give you to warn you off (a lifted lip and a low growl). Use low, soothing tones and don’t make rapid movements, she said. She recommended using a thick towel or blanket to bundle a small dog or cat that wont allow handling. A larger dog may need to be muzzled. You can make a muzzle yourself using a piece of gauze bandage if you don’t have one available.
Common dog emergencies
Now that summer is in full swing, there are many conditions and dog emergencies that are common to this time of year. These include heat stroke, tick paralysis, dog fights, car accidents, dietary indiscretion (eating too many fatty foods), snake and insect bites, poisoning and bloating. Wimpole and Maher offer some valuable dog first aid tips for the above situations but in each case, it is still essential to take your dog to the vet.
Heat stroke/heat stress
Heat stroke is very common at this time of year and may result from leaving your pet locked in a parked car, exercising on a very hot day or lack of appropriate shelter for outdoor animals on a hot day. Breeds with short snouts are more predisposed to this, Maher said. Common signs are excessive panting, depression, bloody diarrhoea or vomit and seizures. The most important thing is to cool down your dog.
You can do this by offering your dog water, placing it in front or a fan and covering it with a cool wet towel. If their temperature is very elevated and you cannot get straight to a vet, place it in a cool, tepid bath, Wimpole said. Maher also suggested placing wet towels under the armpits and inside the thighs or wrapping frozen peas in a towel and applying them to those areas.
Dr Wimpole says it is important not to over-cool your dog; stop cooling once the dogs temperature is below 38˚C. Veterinary attention is still required as sometimes the side effects of heat stress are not evident until hours or days later, Maher said. Avoid heat stroke by providing plenty of water and avoiding exercise in the heat of the day or when it is hot or humid.
Remove the tick with a tick remover or levering it off with tweezers by gently rocking it back and forth. Do not put anything on the tick before removing it.
It is important not to give your dog any food or water until it has been checked by a vet, Wimpole said.
First separate the dogs one of the best ways is with a hose. Avoid trying to separate them with your hands as you could get badly bitten! Check the vital signs airways, breathing, pulse. Then check any wounds and wash them with saline.
If you don’t have saline you can make up a solution with water and three teaspoons of salt (but this wont be completely sterile), Wimpole said.
Getting hit by a car
First make sure there is no danger to you, the dog or other people. Check vital signs. Wounds should then be cleaned with saline.
If a wound is bleeding, apply firm but gentle pressure and then dress with a firm, absorbent bandage, Maher said. According to Wimpole, if you suspect a spinal injury, a simple and effective device can be made to immobilise your dog by laying it on a board of some sort and then restraining it with strips of material or rope.
Maher said if it is unable to walk and is a large animal, you can also use a blanket as a stretcher to load it into the car. If you suspect a limb is broken, avoid manipulating that limb and lay the animal on its other side in the car.
Gastroenteritis and pancreatitis can cause your dog to vomit, have diarrhoea, feel depressed or get a fever. Give the dog plenty of water in small, regular amounts and in the case of gastroenteritis, fast the dog for 12 to 24 hours.
Wimpole recommends keeping your dog as calm and quiet as possible in the event of a snake bite.
You can apply a pressure bandage to the bite if it is on a limb. Start this above the wound and work down. Never use a tourniquet or suck or cut the wound! he warned.
If the snake is dead you can carefully take it to the vet for identification, but do not try to catch a live snake. Instead, you can try to describe it to the vet, Wimpole said.
Like humans, some dogs are more allergic than others to insect bites. In any case, apply a cold pack to the area to reduce swelling. This is particularly important if the dogs throat swells and breathing becomes restricted, Wimpole said.
Try to keep your dog calm and if possible, remove the stinger (if there is one).
If your dog has ingested a caustic substance such as cleaning products, it will burn as it is ingested. Wimpole recommends giving your dog egg whites, milk or water to soothe the membranes and never make the dog vomit!
If the ingested substance is non-caustic, such as snail repellent, grapes or ibuprofen, it may be appropriate to make the dog vomit by giving it soda crystals. However, never induce vomiting until you have checked with your vet if it is ok to do so.
This is more common to larger dog breeds, especially those that are older and have deep chests. It usually occurs after exercise following a big meal. There is nothing you can do except get your dog to the vet fast! Wimpole said.
Bones can become stuck in the dogs oesophagus or food pipe. This is a serious problem and requires immediate veterinary attention. Bones that are the greatest risk of becoming stuck are brisket bones or neck bones. Any bone that can fit into the mouth can potentially become stuck. Just because a dog has never had a problem before does not mean that it will not have a problem with a bone, Wimpole said.
The only bones he recommends are raw, uncut beef thigh bones. And remember if you are unsure, phone your vet, who should be able to give you advice over the phone as to what you can do in the crucial moment between the incident and getting your dog to the vet. In some cases, however, your vet will simply tell you to get your dog to the clinic or animal hospital as fast as possible.
Above all, Wimpole said it is important to remember that basic dog first aid knowledge should never replace professional assessment, advice and care. And if in doubt, contact your local vet or veterinary hospital immediately.
What to put in your Pet First Aid Kit
- gauze, dressings, thermometer, scissors, tick removers
- syringe, bandage material, soda crystals
- saline solution, Betadine solution and ointment
- activated charcoal tablets and even a muzzle
- a thick towel or blanket, Elastoplast, a cold pack
- contact numbers for your regular veterinarian and a 24-hour emergency service
- a box or carry cage for small dogs and cats
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