Canine First Aid
No matter how carefully you supervise your puppy or dog, accidents can happen. It is important to keep calm, act quickly, and safely transport your injured dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Always call the vet's office first to make sure someone is there and to alert the office about your emergency. If you are uncertain about what to do, the veterinarian can advise you.
Plan ahead so you will be prepared in case of an emergency. Make a list of the phone numbers and address of your veterinarian and an after hours clinic if there is one in your area, including directions on how to get to the office(s). Also note the phone number of the poison treatment hotline in your area. If you are unsure of this number, ask your veterinarian’s office.
Prepare a first aid kit. Here are some essential items to include:
- a veterinary first aid manual
- medications prescribed by your veterinarian
- assorted sterile dressings, gauze rolls or pads, adhesive tape, absorbent cotton and swabs
- ace bandage
- rubbing alcohol
- hydrogen peroxide (3%) to clean and disinfect minor wounds and scratches (not to be used on deep puncture wounds)
- antibiotic ointment
- hydrocortisone ointment
- rectal thermometer (use only if you are confident you can use it properly without harming your dog)
- scissors, preferably with rounded tips
- penlight or small flashlight
- heavy blanket
To prevent injury to yourself and others, it is recommended you muzzle an injured dog before attempting any first aid. Any injured animal, even normally gentle or well trained, can bite when injured, frightened or in pain. In an emergency, a muzzle can be made out of many materials (scarf, stocking, necktie, dish towel, cloth belt). Approach the injured animal cautiously, loop the fabric over his muzzle and tie a single knot under the chin. Finish by bringing the fabric ends behind his ears and tie the ends in a bow. Do not muzzle a dog that choking, vomiting or whose breathing is labored.
Moving an Injured Animal
If you suspect your puppy or dog has internal injuries, carefully slide him onto a board, blanket, jacket, or other makeshift stretcher. Be very careful and gentle when moving an injured animal, especially if you suspect a spinal injury. For a puppy or small dog with minor injuries, carry him by supporting his rear end in the crook of your arm, using the same arm to cradle his stomach and chest. Support his head and neck with your other arm. For a large dog, it would be best to carry the dog with two people; one supporting the chest, the other supporting the rear and abdomen. If you must carry a large dog alone, stoop and wrap one arm around his front legs and your other arm around his hind legs and lift. If necessary, get a friend or neighbor to drive you and your injured dog to the veterinarian. This will allow you to hold your dog during the trip to prevent further injuries.
The following first aid treatments should be used only until you can get professional help for your injured puppy or dog.
Allergic Reaction – Allergic reactions to various plants, insect bites, and other substances are common and generally do not represent an emergency. Symptoms include: red, runny eyes; runny nose; sneezing; reverse sneezing (breathing in nose and out mouth); swelling of head, lips, eyes; skin rashes (reaction to poison oak, etc.). Take your puppy or dog to the veterinarian immediately if his reaction seems severe.
Bleeding – Apply direct pressure with a compress (clean cloth or gauze pad) over the bleeding, absorbing the blood and allowing it to clot. Do not disturb blood clots after they have formed. If blood soaks through, do not remove the compress; add additional layers of cloth and continue the direct pressure. The compress can be bound in place using a bandage. In the absence of a compress, a bare hand or finger can be used. If there is a severely bleeding wound on the foot or leg, gently elevate the leg so that the wound is above the level of the heart. This will help slow the bleeding. Elevation of a limb combined with direct pressure is an effective way to stop bleeding. Take your puppy or dog to the veterinarian immediately if bleeding is excessive or does not stop after the wound is bandaged. In a life or death situation, you can apply a tourniquet. Tourniquets should only be used when all other methods of controlling bleeding have failed. There is a high risk of stopping circulation to the affected area which could result in the loss of a limb. Release the tourniquet every 10 minutes to allow circulation to the affected area. Never place a tourniquet over a fracture or joint.
Breathing problems – Breathing problems could be caused by asthma, lung infections, overheating, electrical shock or choking on a foreign object. If you puppy or dog gasps for breath, breathes noisily, or shows other signs of inadequate breaking, such as a blue tongue, seek medical help immediately.
Broken bone – Before treatment, take precautions to prevent injury to the first aid provider. Muzzle or cover the head of the dog. With gentle pressure, feel the limb or area that you suspect might be broken. Open fractures should be dressed with a wet dressing applied over the opening and bone. Never attempt to set or push a protruding bone back into position. If possible, the limb should be immobilized with a splint to prevent further injury. A splint should extend past at least one joint above and one joint below the fracture site. A splint can be made out of newspapers, magazines, or even sticks of wood. Fix the splint in place with tape or cloth. Restrict movement and control any serious bleeding while en route to the veterinarian. If the splint is difficult to apply or the animal objects, do not attempt splinting, but carefully transport the animal to a veterinarian.
Burns – For first degree burns (reddened skin and singed hair), apply cold water or ice. Veterinary care is usually not needed and healing is rapid. For second- or third-degree burns (skin may be swollen, loose or discolored), cover the burn with a cool, damp cloth (but do not use cotton). Try to keep the puppy or dog lying down and restrained during transportation, and rush him to the veterinarian for treatment. Because the risk of infection is too high, do not apply any ointments to the burns. For dogs burned by chewing on electrical cords, there will be burns on the lips, tongue and gums. There is a threat that the heart may stop or that fluid may get into the lungs. Seek medical help immediately. For chemical burns, flush the skin with water for 10 to 15 minutes until all traces of the chemical are gone before taking puppy or dog to the veterinarian.
Choking – If your dog is pawing at its mouth, gagging, coughing, drooling or has collapsed, immediately open its mouth and look down its throat. If the object is visible, pull it out, using your fingers, tweezers or a pair of pliers. If you cannot see the object or cannot pull it out, hit the dog behind the neck or between the shoulders to try and dislodge it. If this fails, try a Heimlich maneuver adapted for dogs: grasp either side of the dog’s ribcage and apply quick, firm pressure. If the dog can get some air around the obstruction, get to your veterinarian as soon as possible. If the dog cannot get air, work on getting the object out of its throat before moving the dog.
Drowning – Remove the animal from the water. If possible, hold the dog up by the hind legs to allow the water to drain from the trachea and lungs. Place him on his side with his head and neck extended. It is preferable to have the head slightly lower than the body. Pull the tongue forward and check that there is no foreign material obstructing the airway. Gently press and release the ribcage with a flat hand steadily at two-second intervals to expel any water from the lungs and stomach. Repeat until the dog is breathing and wrap him in a blanket to keep him warm. Get veterinary help immediately.
Electric shock – Never touch an animal that is touching an exposed electrical wire. Turn off the current and remove the wire or source of electricity (use something non-conductive, such as dry wood or rubber). Check for breathing and pulse. If necessary, administer CPR. Electric shock can produce burns on the lips, tongue and gums. The dog may salivate profusely and have problems breathing. Severe electric shock can result in unconsciousness or death. Get veterinary help immediately. Any animal that has suffered electric shock should be taken to the vet even if there are no apparent complications. Electrocution is a life-threatening emergency and may cause abnormal electrical activity of the heart or a build up of fluid in the lungs that could be fatal hours after the shock.
Eye injury – Do not attempt to remove a foreign object from the eye. Eyelid lacerations can bleed profusely. Apply direct pressure with gauze or a clean cloth to the lid for five minutes to control the bleeding. Restrain the dog to prevent self-injury and take him to the veterinarian immediately. Even minor injuries to the eye, if not treated properly, can cause vision loss.
Frostbite – Your pet can suffer from frostbite on his ears, feet, and tail. Symptoms include pale, glossy skin that reddens and becomes painful, sluggishness, general weakness, and low body temperature (100.5°F or less). Move the pet to a warm environment. To warm the animal, wrap him in a blanket (put a hot water bottle in the blanket to add heat), turn on the car heater, or use your own body. Thaw out frostbitten areas by applying warm, moist towels that are changed frequently. Continue until the affected areas become flushed. Severe frostbite can result in damaged feet and ears, so get veterinarian help immediately.
Heatstroke or overheating – Symptoms include rapid, noisy breathing; salivation; possible vomiting; dog is down and unable to get up; staggering; high body temperature (104° to 107°F). If possible, hose down or submerge the dog in cold water up to his neck for at least 10 minutes, place in front of a fan or air conditioner, and/or apply an ice pack to his head and stomach. Take him to the veterinarian when his temperature begins to decline.
Internal bleeding – Internal bleeding is a life threatening condition and the animal should be transported to a veterinarian immediately. Symptoms include: weakness, pale gums, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, and a weak pulse. If the animal was injured by a car, assume that there is some internal bleeding. Internal bleeding of the stomach is usually indicated by a bright or dark red color to the dog’s vomit. If its excrement is dark and tarry, or bright red, the intestines may be bleeding. If a red foamy material is coughed up, the lungs may be affected. Some poisons can cause internal bleeding, including anticoagulant rodent poisons. Lay the animal down and cover it lightly while en route to the veterinarian. If possible, call your veterinarian so that he or she can prepare for your arrival.
Poisoning – Symptoms will vary depending on the type of poison taken. In general, symptoms include lack of coordination, retching and vomiting, diarrhea, salivation, labored breathing, dilated pupils, delirium, collapse, and convulsions. Call the Animal Poison Hotline (1-800-548-2423) or your veterinarian for advice. They will need to know what the dog ingested and how much before prescribing treatment. Do not induce vomiting unless the veterinarian recommends it, as some poisons can be more hazardous when vomited. If possible, take the poison container with you to the veterinarian
Shock – Shock is the body's reaction to any serious injury and can be life threatening in itself because it reduces the blood supply to the brain and other vital organs. The condition is life threatening and requires immediate attention and treatment. Symptoms include: pale mouth, lips and eyelid color; weak and rapid pulse; rapid breathing; weakness; collapse; unconsciousness; fixated stare; dilated pupils; a low body temperature (100°F) with skin and legs cool to the touch. If the animal is unconscious, elevate the dog's hindquarters. Wrap him in a blanket or coat to maintain body heat and take him to the veterinarian immediately, without taking time to treat minor injuries.