Dog First-Aid

The first-aid essentials every dog owner should know.

dog first-aid boston terrierKnowledge of first aid is a must for dog owners. Emergencies may require not only that you treat the problem on the spot but also that you stabilize the dog until he can be treated by a veterinarian. Situations that require emergency first aid include allergic reactions, bleeding, burns, choking, fractures, frostbite, heat exhaustion or heatstroke, poisoning, puncture wounds, shock, and spinal injuries.

Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions from insect bites and stings can cause swelling, hives (raised circular areas on the skin), rashes, itching and scratching, or watery eyes. A bite or sting on the face or neck can cause dangerous swelling that closes off the dogs airway. Take your dog to the veterinarian right away if he’s having difficulty breathing. For less severe reactions, relieve itching by applying calamine lotion or a paste made of baking soda and water. An ice pack can help reduce pain and swelling.

A wound with bright red blood gushing from it indicates that an artery (a main highway for blood flow) is involved. Blood loss can be rapid, so apply firm pressure on the wound immediately, using a clean cloth if possible, but use whatevers available if necessary. The blood from a vein looks dark red and has a slower, more even flow. Again, apply and maintain direct pressure on the wound. Secure a pad or have someone hold it in place, and get the dog to a veterinarian immediately. Do not use a tourniquet to stop bleeding. Direct pressure is more effective, and an improperly used tourniquet can injure the dog.

To deal with less serious bleeding such as from a scratch or scrape, clean the wound with Nolvasan (chlorhexidine), which is available in any drugstore. When the wound stops bleeding, apply antibiotic ointment.

Burns can be caused by heat (fires, stoves, the sun), chemicals, or electricity. Bathe heat burns with cool water or apply a cool compress using gauze or cloth. Never cover a burn with butter or ointment, and don’t apply ice to it. Butter and ointments hold the heat in, and ice can damage the skin. If the burn is caused by battery acid or some other chemical, such as toilet bowl cleaner, rinse the area with cool water. Wear gloves to protect your hands.

Chewing on electrical cords can cause burns on a corner of the mouth or on the tongue and palate. Dogs who suffer electrical shock may convulse or lose consciousness. Their respiration may slow, and a severe shock can cause the heart to stop beating. Never touch the dog until the electrical source has been switched off. Don’t perform CPR unless the heart has stopped.

In any of these situations, get veterinary help immediately, especially if a large area of the dogs body is burned or if the dog has suffered serious electrical shock.

Dogs use their mouths to explore, and frequently they swallow what they find. If it doesn’t go down right, the dog can choke. Bones, rocks, bottle caps, small balls, and tinsel are just a few of the things a dog might swallow that could cause him to choke.

Signs of choking include coughing, gagging, or pawing at the mouth. To check for a foreign object, open the mouth by pressing the thumb and forefingers into the upper cheeks and then sweep a finger through the mouth. Gently try to remove any obstruction with the fingers or a pair of needle-nose pliers. If the item won’t budge, perform the Heimlich maneuver by standing behind the dog, encircling his abdomen with the arms just beneath or behind the rib cage, and compressing the chest. Repeat until the object is coughed up. If the object still doesn’t come out, get the dog to a veterinarian immediately.

A fracture is a broken bone. Dogs can get broken bones from a bad fall, being hit by a car, or some other traumatic injury. Broken bones aren’t limited to active, outdoorsy dogs; toy dogs with delicate bones such as Italian Greyhounds can break a leg just by jumping off the sofa.

This painful condition results from prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures and usually affects the extremities: a dogs ear tips, footpads, and tail. Its most serious in very young, very old, or sick dogs.

Signs of frostbite are pale skin that later reddens and becomes hot and painful to the touch; swelling; and peeling skin. Keep a frostbitten dog warm, and thaw frostbitten areas slowly, using warm, moist towels. Don’t massage the skin or apply hot compresses; this can worsen the damage. When the skin regains its normal color, stop warming it. Wrap the dog in a blanket to help prevent shock, and get him to a veterinarian.

Heat Exhaustion/Heatstroke
Most dogs have few sweat glands to cool them, so they control their body temperature by panting. As the dog pants, the body loses heat through evaporation from the mouth. If the body can’t disperse heat quickly enough, the dogs temperature can rise to a dangerous level.

Heat exhaustion is associated with too much exercise on hot days, but the dogs temperature doesn’t necessarily rise to dangerous levels. A dog with heat exhaustion may collapse, vomit, or have muscle cramps.

Heatstroke can develop in only a few minutes, with the body temperature rising to 108° F or higher. A dog with heatstroke can die if he is not cared for immediately. Wet the body with cool, not cold, water, and get him to a veterinarian.

Common household items such as cleansers, rat poisons, and yard treatments can cause poisoning in dogs. Also toxic are seasonal plants such as Easter lilies; common household, yard, and garden plants such as azalea, caladium, dieffenbachia (dumb cane), English ivy (berries and leaves), ficus (leaves), holly, mistletoe (berries), oleander, and philodendron; and bulbs such as amaryllis, daffodil, iris, and tulip. Signs of poisoning include drooling, vomiting, convulsing, muscle weakness, diarrhea, or collapse. The eyes, mouth, or skin may become irritated.

If the poison is known, call a veterinarian or the National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) for advice. If the poison is on the skin, put on rubber gloves and wash the affected area with warm water. If the dog has been poisoned by something he ate, give activated charcoal tablets to help absorb the poison, binding it to the surface of the charcoal so it doesn’t spread through the bloodstream. Do not induce vomiting unless advised to by the NAPCC or your veterinarian. Take the dog to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Bring the package containing the suspected poison and a sample of anything the dog has vomited.

Puncture Wounds
Types of puncture wounds include penetration of the body by a sharp object (stepping on a nail, for instance) or a bite from another animal. Untreated puncture wounds can become infected or abscessed. Signs of infection include swelling, redness, warmth, and pain.
To cleanse a bite or puncture wound, flush the area with a mild disinfectant such as povidone-iodine or 0.05 percent chlorhexidine. A course of antibiotics prescribed by the veterinarian can help ward off infection. A tetanus shot isn’t usually necessary as long as the wound is treated promptly.

Shock is a common result of serious injury such as being hit by a car, poisoning, or severe fluid loss from vomiting or diarrhea. It can be fatal if not dealt with rapidly. When a dog goes into shock, the body is unable to maintain adequate blood pressure. This means that vital organs such as the brain, heart, and lungs don’t get enough blood supply, causing them to fail.

Signs of shock include a weak, rapid pulse; dry gums; lips that are pale or gray; shallow, rapid breathing; a low body temperature; and weakness or lethargy. Control any bleeding, keep the dog immobilized, warm him with blankets, and seek immediate veterinary treatment.

Spinal Injuries
Suspect a spinal injury if a dog is paralyzed; his legs are rigid, stiff, or limp; or his head is thrust backward. Move the dog as little and as carefully as possible. Improvise a stretcher using a board large enough to support the dogs back. Tape or otherwise secure the dog to the board so he won’t roll off or move around. If a board isn’t available, use a blanket pulled taut. If possible, slide the dog onto the stretcher instead of lifting him. Treat for shock as needed, and try to keep the dog as still as possible during the ride to the veterinary hospital.

Additional Articles:
Disaster Preparedness
What to include in a pet first-aid-kit
How to create a disaster kit for for your dog

Excerpt from the book,The Original Dog Bible, edited by Kristin Mehus-Roe, with permission from its publisher, BowTie Press. PurchaseThe Original Dog Bible here. 


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