A Pet Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Fundamentals of Pet First Aid
We all worry about our dog getting sick or injured. For many, the thought of seeing your beloved pooch in pain is a reoccurring nightmare. But, it is a nightmare that can be tamed.
You do not need to be a fully-fledged veterinarian, but knowing a few fundamental pet first aid practices can give you some extra time to get your dog to the vet. This is always the most important thing to do when it comes to the health of your pup.
Bear in mind that if a dog is in pain they may bite. So, it is best to check that the area is safe, remain calm and speak softly to reassure your pet, before conducting any first aid.
Also, in cases of emergency, be sure not to give your dog any food or water as this can delay your vet if they need to use anaesthetic.
To help prepare you for any pet emergencies, we have put together a few basic tips on doggy first aid that could save your dog’s life.
Disclaimer: it is important to note that these are merely tips and it is always best to get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible in case of an emergency.
Keep a first aid kit handy for your dog
Having a pet first aid kit at the ready can be a lifesaver. They are relatively inexpensive, contain many of the same things as the human version and can help save your dog’s life.
What should a first aid kit for your dog contain? Ensure that your pet first aid kit has the following basics:
- Bandages: some self-adhesive bandages or a crepe bandage is great to help cover up a wound. A roll or two around 5cm in width is perfect and highly versatile.
- Cotton wool: a small box or bag should be more than enough.
- Sterile absorbent gauze
- Non-adhesive absorbent dressing. This is great for treating any open wounds on your dog.
- Open weave gauze: two or three rolls are best.
- Blunt end scissors
- Surgical sticky tape: one or two rolls is more than enough.
- An Elizabethan collar, otherwise known as the dreaded “cone of shame”. There are great inflatable protective collars available for dogs that will easily fit in a small bag. This will stop your dog from irritating or infecting a wound by licking or gnawing at it.
- Add a document with your dog’s information, as well as your vet’s information. Having this information readily available in an emergency is not only convenient, but it can also ensure that your pet receives the right treatment.
- First aid guide or notes: when your dog is in pain or injured, you may become overwhelmed and forgot some of the necessary steps. Having notes available can help jog your memory.
You can add or remove items as you see fit to build your own dog first aid kit.
Again, having this kit handy is great, but we would always recommend getting your dog to the vet. Even if you think it is something minor. As the saying goes, “rather be safe than sorry”, especially in the case of caring for your pooch!
How to treat bleeding cuts or wounds on your dog:
The most important thing to remember when treating cuts or wounds on your dog is to calm them down before treating them. An agitated dog might bite you out of fear when they are in pain.
The go-to for treating a bleeding cut is to get a bandage on the wound. You will want to ensure that the bandage is wrapped tightly enough to be secure without cutting off the blood flow. Wrapping a wound too tightly can cause further damage to your dog’s injury, so always be sure to double-check!
Similarly, if tourniquets are applied incorrectly, they can cause a lot more harm than good. So, making use of tourniquets to treat a dog’s wound will always be a last resort, with the best treatment being to get your dog to a vet.
The process of getting a bandage on your dog is fairly straight forward. If you have a first aid kit, start by applying a non-adhesive dressing to the wound.
Next, wrap a cotton bandage around your dog’s wound. Follow this with an additional layer of cottonwool and a final layer of bandage. Use surgical tape to secure the bandage and prevent it from slipping off.
If the cut is on your dog’s leg, bandage the entire leg including your dog’s paw, to prevent it from swelling.
If you do not have a first aid kit handy, use a towel or piece of clothing and press against the wound. This will help stop the bleeding while you get your dog to the vet as quickly and safely as possible.
Photo via: https://www.petfinder.com/
What to do when your dog is chocking:
Watching your dog choke can be a terrifying ordeal. Fortunately, there is a Heimlich manoeuvre designed just for dogs!
Before trying the manoeuvre, check the inside your dog's mouth and see if you can see the object causing the obstruction. If you can see it, try and clear it, unless it is a bone. A bone can cut your dog’s throat and should be removed carefully by a vet.
There are two ways to do the Heimlich manoeuvre on a dog.
The first step is always to carefully restrain your dog.
Once your dog is restrained, move behind them, placing your legs on either side of your dog.
Using one hand, make a fist and reach around the side of your dog.
Place it underneath your dog where the ribs meet the abdomen on the sternum.
Using your other hand, reach around the other side of your dog and place your hand (open-palmed) over your fist. This will cause an almost cradle-like effect.
Once you are ready, make a short sharp movement, up and forwards towards your dog’s head.
This should hopefully force the air from the lungs down your dog’s throat, dislodging the object. Repeat these steps if necessary.
For this method, start by getting your dog to lie on its side. Then, locate the widest part of your dog’s chest.
Interlock your fingers over this spot and give a quick strong press down on your dog’s ribs.
This will again cause a rush of air that should dislodge the object.
Be careful when using this method. Pressing down too hard on your dog’s ribs can cause them to fracture or break.
For a step-by-step guide on how to give your dog the Heimlich manoeuvre, check out this tutorial (https://youtu.be/fAIz3zD2l60).
We recommend taking your dog to a vet afterwards, just to check that there is no other damage.
How to treat heatstroke in dogs:
Heatstroke in dogs occurs when a dog is not able to regulate its temperature. This can be very dangerous and should be treated immediately.
In some cases, your dog may experience heatstroke because of underlying medical conditions. Heatstroke in dogs can also be caused when your dog is exposed to hot temperatures for prolonged periods. For example, if a dog is left alone in a car on a hot day. If you do ever see a dog stuck in a car on a very hot day, call the local authorities immediately, for our British friends that’s 999.
There are a few warning signs of heatstroke that you can look out for in your dog. These include:
- Excessive drooling
- Your dog may become lethargic, uncoordinated, or drowsy
- Heavy panting
- In extreme cases, your dog may collapse or become unconsciousness
So, what should you do when your dog experiences heatstroke?
First things first, get them to a cool shaded area and inform your vet immediately.
Do not force them into cold water. While this may be your first instinct, you mustn't do this. Exposing a dog who is suffering from heatstroke to cold water can cause a massive shock to their system, which can be fatal.
You can instead wet your dog’s belly and the inside of their legs with cool water. You can also spray their coat with cool water and fan them to help improve heat loss.
Try to give your dog small amounts of water to drink. Avoid giving them to much water at once, rather let them have small amounts at a time.
Always be sure to get your dog to a vet as soon as you can. Heatstroke is sadly life-threatening and can lead to organ failure if not treated quickly.
What to do when your dog has been poisoned:
Poisoning is one of the most common forms of emergencies that vets see. Sadly, most poisonings are caused by items that are found around your home. Chocolate is a big culprit!
We all know how difficult it can be to resist treating your dog to whatever you are eating, but human foods can be extremely dangerous for dogs. Check out our guide on which human foods to avoid feeding your dog.
Below are a few common symptoms of poisoning in dogs to look out for:
What you should and should not do when your dog has been poisoned:
Firstly, get your dog to a safe place and then try and find the source of the poison.
Avoid doing a full clean up of the area as this wastes time, but rather look for obvious signs of what caused the poisoning. For example, chocolate, medicines, cleaning products, pool chemicals or any unidentified foods or substances that could have been fed to your dog.
Next, call your vet or the local animal poisoning hotline and let them know what has happened and what you believe the source of the poison to be. Based on the cause of the poison, they will guide you through what to do next.
If your dog is vomiting, collect a sample for your veterinarian. This may help them identify the source of the poison, which can help them better treat your dog.
If your dog has ingested something that has caused the poisoning, do not induce vomiting. This can causes more damage, especially for certain types of ingested toxins. Induced vomiting should only be done under the guidance of your vet or animal hotline.
The best way to avoid exposure to poisoning in dogs is to ensure that dangerous items are safely locked away and avoid feeding your dog people foods. For the sake of your dog’s health, it is best to stick to all-natural treats or human foods that you know are definitely safe for dogs.
Seeing your dog sick or in pain is something we would not wish on anyone. Pet parents often feel completely helpless in these types of situations, especially when all they want to do is comfort their pooch.
In these types of situations, the best thing to do is always to remain calm and try to think rationally. Assess the situation and call a veterinarian to let them know what has happened. Based on the severity of the injury, try to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.