Emergencies and First Aid For Dogs
First aid is the care you give your dog in an emergency, before getting him to the vet. It keeps him alive, prevents further damage, and eases pain and discomfort. First aid never replaces vet visits.
Situations you should treat as emergencies are:
- The dog having difficulty or stopping to breathe.
- Fainting or/and convulsions.
- Severe bleeding.
- Signs of poisoning.
If your dog shows signs of drowning and has stopped breathing, remove his collar or anything that’s around his neck, and hold him upside-down by the thighs so the water drains from his lungs. Then put him flat on his side, stretch his neck and head forward, and ensure the head is lower than the body. Ask someone to pull his tongue forward, as this helps stimulate breathing. Put both hands, side by side, on his ribs and firmly press down and release the pressure immediately. Apply and release pressure every five seconds. Keep doing this until you get to the vet – get someone to drive you there as fast but safely as possible.
If your dog is coughing or choking and bloody froth is coming out of his mouth or nostrils, get him to the vet immediately, without trying to do anything yourself besides wiping it off. If there’s no blood, there may be an object stuck in his throat. Open his mouth and pull his tongue forward so you can see his throat. Remove the object with your fingers. If you can’t see anything or can’t remove it, don’t waste time – just get to the vet immediately.
There are many reasons why your dog may faint. Get him to the vet as soon as possible. During the journey, make sure he’s got fresh air, and keep him warm if his body feels cold, and cool if his body feels hot. Keep his head level with his body.
If your dog has a convulsion, move every object and piece of furniture away from him so that he can’t hurt himself. Make his surroundings as dark and quiet as possible. Don’t try to hold or hug him, or put anything in his mouth – let the convulsion run its course. When it’s over, get him to the vet. If the convulsion lasts longer than five minutes, take him to the vet while he’s having it. Throw a blanket over him, and carry and restrain him to the best of your ability.
Severe bleeding happens when a large blood vessel – artery, for example – is cut. Severe nose-bleeding may be associated with a disease such as Leishmaniasis. The dog can lose a lot of blood in a short time and go into shock, so you must get someone to go with you to the vet to apply pressure to the cut during the journey. When you apply pressure to the cut, be careful not to push fragments of what cut the dog (glass, for example) further into the wound. To apply pressure, use a one centimetre thick pad of cotton wool, sterile dressing or clean handkerchief. Hold it in place with your hand or a bandage, or with a belt if you don’t have a bandage. If the pad becomes soaked with blood, apply another one over it. Don’t remove the soaked one.
There are numerous poisons, each causing different symptoms, so spotting that your dog has been poisoned may be difficult. Symptoms of poisoning include:
- blisters in the mouth and lips
- foul-smelling breath
- intense pain
- rapid panting
- coloured saliva
- vomiting and diarrhoea
- difficulty breathing
These may also be symptoms of other problems, which have nothing to do with poisoning. To make matters more confusing, with some poisons you should make your dog vomit, and with others, making him vomit will make the situation worse. If you know for sure that your dog has been poisoned with a caustic product and is awake, get him to drink some milk or give him activated charcoal. Don’t try to make him vomit. If you know for sure that your dog has been poisoned with a non-caustic product, try to make him vomit by getting him to swallow water peroxide or extremely salty water.
Your best bet is to know the most common substances that are poisonous to dogs, and keep them out of your dog’s reach, as a general guide the things that are poisonous to humans are highly likely to be equally as poisonous to a dog.
If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, take him to the vet immediately, and tell him which product you think your dog inhaled or ingested, or take the product with you. Poisoning may also occur through the skin – the skin absorbs the poisonous product. In this case, wash thoroughly with water first, and then rush your dog to the vet.
There are other situations where you can give your dog first aid before the vet sees him: these include fractures, dislocations, burns and heat-stroke.
A fracture is a crack or break in a bone, caused by the dog being hit with force – a car, for example – or suffering a bad fall. Some fractures are easy to see because the broken bone protrudes through the skin. Others are less obvious, and their major signs are:
- A grating noise which you hear when your dog moves.
- Twisting or dragging the broken leg.
- Swelling where the fracture occurred.
- Pain, and the dog avoiding being touched.
On the way to the vet, keep your dog as still as possible. Support and immobilise the broken leg – hold it without trying to stretch it. If your dog is large, pick him up by the body and place him on a blanket that will make do as a stretcher. Don’t pull him by the legs. If your dog is small, carry him on your lap. If you suspect your dog has a fractured spine, don’t move him. Ask the vet to come to you, or make other arrangements with him.
A dislocation is the moving out of place of a bone that forms a joint. Dislocations are more common on the hip joint, lower jaw, and knee-cap, but can occur in any joint that has been hit with force – for example, being hit by a car.
Unlike fractures, dislocations result in pain and swelling of the affected joint only; there is no grating noise; the bone doesn’t protrude through the skin. Transport your dog to the vet the same way as if he had a fracture.
Burns in dogs are commonly caused by hot surfaces, hot fat, boiling water, and flames, (sparks from your barbecue, for example) and may also be caused by chemical products. In these cases, apply lots of cold water – spray, hose or pour it – to the burnt area for about ten minutes. If there is any material clinging to the burn, carefully cut it away instead of pulling it off. If your dog has been burned by a chemical product, make sure he doesn’t lick the burn.
Burns can also be caused by electric cables. These happen more often to puppies than to adult dogs, because of chewing. First, switch off the current, and then throw a blanket over your dog before picking him up. If he has stopped breathing, do artificial respiration (both hands side by side on the ribs, pressing down and releasing every five seconds, while pulling the tongue forward). Treat these burns as real emergencies because they can cause electro-physiological anomalies in the heart and pulmonary oedema.
Heat-stroke happens when the dog is exposed to temperatures so high that he cannot regulate his body temperature and it rises dangerously. The dog may faint, go into a coma, or die. Your dog is at risk of suffering heat-stroke if he is: left in the car in hot weather; confined in a small and hot room without water or ventilation; is kept outdoors in the sun without a shady area to take cover.
Signs that your dog may have suffered heat-stroke are: drooling and panting fast, becoming weak and acting distressed or fainting. Bring his temperature down as soon as you can. Use ice cubes, wash his face in cold water, and if you have a hose, spray or hose him with lukewarm water. This should ensure he doesn’t go into thermic shock. Once his breathing is normal, dry him well and let him rest in a cool place. Ensure drinking water is available in case he wants it. Then take him to the vet. If your dog doesn’t improve within five minutes of being hosed with lukewarm water, wrap a wet towel or blanket around him and go to the vet immediately.
If you are in doubt about giving your dog first aid, phone your vet, describe the situation, and follow his instructions.
Whether you give your dog first aid, or phone the vet for instructions, or are dealing with a small ailment, it is wise to have a first-aid kit to hand.