The moment you bring home a dog, you need to know what you can do in case of emergencies. As much as we try to keep our furry companions out of danger, you can never rule out the possibility of accidents happening. What matters is how quickly and how well you can respond to them.
In many cases, first aid can mean the difference between life and death. Whether it’s a mishap during playtime or a more serious injury, being equipped with first aid knowledge is your first line of defence.
Your Dog’s First Aid Kit
Chances are you already have your own first aid kit at home and in the office for emergencies. You should also have one for your pup in addition to their usual gear, so you have an arsenal of tools you can use when the unexpected happens.
A canine-friendly first aid kit should have:
- Your vet’s contact numbers
- Sterile saline solution
- Medical gauze
- Bandaging tape
- Cotton balls
- Pet thermometer
- Latex or nitrile gloves
- Warm/cold compress
- Elizabethan collar
- Pet transportation gear
- Collar and leash
Remember that emergencies can happen at any time. Your regular clinic may not be open, so you should find 24-hour veterinarian clinics near you. You should also look for the bigger pet hospitals that take all types of cases and surgeries. Save their address and contact numbers.
Things to do before administering first aid
Before administering any first aid at all, there are things you need to consider. Remember, first aid works best when you yourself are ready to take stock of the situation!
Call the veterinarian immediately. Describe the situation to them—what’s happened to the dog, what injuries they have, and other things your vet may ask you, like the breed or size of the dog. This allows them to instruct you on what kind of first aid to administer, and gives them time to prepare for when you bring the dog to them.
Make sure the environment around you and the pup is safe. Did you spot the dog in the middle of a highway, or in an alleyway full of garbage and clutter? You’ll want to keep yourself safe for you at all to administer effective first aid.
It’s best to get some help with you to help you work faster. You’ll also need to make sure it’ll be easy for you to transport the dog out of the area.
DO NOT DELAY bringing your dog to the vet in these cases:
All of the emergencies mentioned here need a visit to the vet once your dog is stabilised. But these instances are particularly dangerous and needs immediate medical attention:
Internal bleeding: This may happen to dogs who have sustained physical trauma, like getting hit by a car, falling from somewhere high up, or getting attacked. It can also manifest in advanced or severe stages of certain diseases. Internal bleeding is life-threatening. When we see it because the dog vomited blood or bled from the nose, it’s already dangerous.
Signs of internal bleeding:
- Vomiting blood
- Fresh, bright blood in pee or poop
- Pale gums
- Your dog feels cool on their legs, ears, or tail
- Painful belly when touched
If you suspect they have internal bleeding, take your dog to the veterinarian immediately.
Bloat: Medically known as gastric dilatation-volvulus, bloat happens when the stomach quickly fills with gas, food, or liquid, causing it to twist. When this occurs, the twisted stomach puts pressure on the other organs, restricting blood flow throughout the entire body and causing your dog to go into shock.
Signs of bloat:
- Enlarged, taut abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
- Your dog can’t move and is in pain
Your dog may easily get bloat if they tend to eat or drink too fast.. Age is also a contributing factor to the risk of bloat. Keep an eye on your canine pal’s meal portions, and consider investing in slow feeders to keep them from gobbling up their food too quickly.
Collapse: Dogs collapse for a variety of reasons. It may be because of extreme heat, an allergic reaction, or poisoning. If you have an elderly dog, it may be because of age-related conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
Signs your dog is about to collapse:
- Appearing weak
- Eventual loss of consciousness
Immediately do CPR—that is, mouth-to-nose resuscitation and chest compressions—and continue until you’ve reached the vet or until your pup has regained consciousness themselves. Consult with your vet on what could have caused this to happen.
Seizures: Seizures themselves can vary from intensity, ranging from dazed expressions and mild shaking to full-blown spasms and total loss of consciousness.
Signs your dog is about to go into seizure:
- May either try to hide or seek you out
This is extremely upsetting to see, but keep yourself calm and time the duration of the seizure. Only move the dog when seizures have stopped, and let your veterinarian know how long the seizure was. Depending on the intensity and frequency of the seizures, your vet may run tests to see if liver, kidney, or heart diseases are behind it.
First Aid for Common Emergencies
From minor cuts and scrapes to more serious snake bites, you need to learn how to provide immediate care to ease your dog’s pain and keep complications at bay until you get to your vet.
When the sun gets particularly too aggressive, your pup can fall prey to heat stroke. To avoid this, always make sure your dog has access to clean, fresh water, and doesn’t stay too long outside in the sun when temperatures are up.
- Heavy panting, difficulty breathing
- Excessive drooling
What to do:
- Take your dog somewhere cool and shaded, or use a fan. If they have passed out, they’ll stop panting, so they need extra aggressive cooling.
- Pour cool water over your dog. Do not use cold water, as this may cause them to go into shock. Do not pour it over their heads—you don’t want to drown them!
- Give them small amounts of water, but do not force them to drink.
- Continue to pour water over your dog until their breathing starts to settle. By then, take them to the vet immediately.
This happens when your dog falls from somewhere high up, or is hit by something heavy like a car. They will sustain a few bruises or limp for a few days, or their bones could break, and there could be internal injuries.
- Joint swelling
- Holding affected area up
- Bruising around affected area
- Protruding bone
What to do:
- Remember that an injured dog is likely to bite, even if they know who you are. You can attempt to put a muzzle on them, but your best course of action now is just to keep the dog calm until help arrives.
- The best scenario is on-site care. Your vet can make sure the dog is moved carefully and correctly for transport.
- In cases of open fractures, do not try to splint the injured area without pain medication. Cover it instead with sterile gauze or a clean cloth. Even a sanitary pad works well if you’re in a pinch.
- If bleeding occurs, apply direct pressure.
- If there is swelling or bruising around the affected area, apply ice packs.
- When transporting the dog, it’s best that they’re lying on a large board. If they’re still able to walk without the injured leg, create a makeshift sling using a large piece of cloth and tie it around their abdomen, with the ends in the air.
Bleeding occurs every time there is a break in the skin. It can be from your canine companion getting caught or stepping on something sharp, from them scratching themselves too hard, or from a fight with another animal. Apply first aid and go to the vet immediately.
This section is for superficial bleeding only. Remember that if you suspect internal bleeding (see above), go to the vet right away.
What to do:
- Check for any debris to remove. Use tweezers or flush it out with saline solution or running water.
- For big or deep punctures, it’s best to go to the vet immediately.
- Do not remove any puncturing items, as they act like a plug that keeps your pup from bleeding more.
- If your pup is bleeding from their paws, wrap the injury in a clean towel or sterile gauze and add direct pressure.
- If they’re bleeding from their legs, wrap a clean towel around the area and keep it elevated.
- If they’re bleeding from their torso, your best bet is tape. Wrap around the chest and abdomen a couple of times, making it secure but not too tight for your dog to breathe. Seek medical assistance immediately.
- If your dog is bleeding from their ears, apply a sterile gauze or a clean cloth and fold the affected ear atop their head. Tape it down.
Eye Injury (out of socket/chemicals in the eyes)
Common causes of eye injuries in dogs can be from altercations with other animals or from getting toxic substances in their eyes. It can be distressing to see your dog in pain, and even more so seeing an eye fall out of its socket. Do your best to stay calm, however—saving your dog’s eyesight is still possible, depending on how quickly you work.
- Rapid blinking
- Inability to open eye
- Bloody or bloodshot eyes
- Avoiding bright lights
- Pawing at the eye and face
- Visible foreign object
- Cloudiness or change in eye colour
- Discharge from eye
What to do:
- If your dog’s eyes have been exposed to chemicals, like cleaning agents, flush them with clean running water for ten minutes. Check the instructions on the product to see what other remedies can be done.
- If your dog’s eyes have made eye contact with a foreign object, like thorns or sticks, do not attempt to remove the object yourself. Bandage it up or fit your dog with an Elizabethan collar to keep them from touching it.
- In case the eye has been dislodged from its socket, do not attempt to put it back. Soak a clean cloth with a warm saline solution and bandage it loosely to the head.
Choking / shortness of breath
Normally, with smaller items, dogs can cough out whatever’s lodged in their windpipe. But in case it’s too big for them to remove on their own, you’ll need to step in. Always keep items your dog can choke on out of their reach.
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive pawing at the month
- Choking sounds when breathing or coughing
- Blue lips or tongue
What to do:
- Open your dog’s mouth. Gently pull the tongue out until the tip is outside the mouth.
- If you can see the object they’re choking on, gently use your fingers or the flat side of a spoon to remove it.
- If you can’t see the obstruction, do the Heimlich manoeuvre: apply forward pressure to their abdomen, just below their ribcage.
- For bigger dogs, if they’re standing, first place your arms around their belly before adding pressure to their abdomen. If they’re lying down, place one hand on their back and use the other to apply pressure.
- Administer rescue breaths, or CPR. Hold your pup’s mouth closed and breathe directly into their nose until their chest expands. Repeat this process ten times every minute, or until your dog starts breathing on their own.
Food and household items have serious implications for your dogs when ingested. Always make sure to keep chemicals, like bleach, insecticide, and dishwashing liquid out of your pup’s reach, or locked behind cabinets. That goes the same for food toxic to dogs, like chocolate or onions, as well as household plants like aloe vera and ivy.
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Strange or unusual behaviour
- Loss of appetite
- Pale gums
- Lethargy and collapse
What to do:
- Your pup’s chances of survival will depend on how quickly you can get them to the vet. Administer first aid on the way.
- If the affected areas are the eyes or skin, read the instructions on the label of the product. It may tell you to wash the area with soap and water, or flush it out with just water.
- If your dog has ingested or licked the toxin, they will likely vomit. If they do not vomit within 30 minutes, check with your vet if you can induce vomiting.
- Once your vet has given you the green light, follow their instructions to get your pup to throw up. Alternatively, you can give them 1 tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide for every 20 pounds every 10 minutes, or until vomiting starts.
- Do not induce vomiting in the following cases:
- If the toxin ingested was a cleaning product, a strong acid, a petroleum product, or an alkali (like oven cleaners, drain unblockers, etc).
- If your dog is semi-conscious, unconscious, convulsing, or has swallowed the poison more than two hours ago.
If you live in a grassy area or somewhere where snakes are often seen, your dogs are at risk of getting bitten. It’s important to note that you may not always see the bitemarks, so keep an eye out for any related symptoms. When administering first aid for snake bites, the safest course of action is to always assume that the snake is venomous.
- Snakebite marks
- Swelling, bruising, and bleeding around the mark
- Dilated pupils
- Sudden weakness and collapsing
- Newfound aggression
What to do:
- If the snake is still around, there’s no need to capture it—taking a picture will be enough. Show it to your vet so they can assess whether or not the snake was venomous.
- If the bite wounds are visible, run the affected area under water to remove some of the venom. Do not attempt to suction all of the venom out from the bite, as your only option now is for your dog to receive antivenom.
- If you are able to, apply a firm bandage below, above, and over the site of the bite to slow the flow of the poison to the heart.
- If your dog has been bitten on the face and neck, remove your dog’s collar. This is to keep the area from swelling.
- Keep your dog calm and reduce their mobility until you have reached the veterinarian. Antivenom works best within 6 hours of the bite, so make sure to transport the dog to the clinic as soon as you can.
Insect or spider bite/sting
Whether it’s a curious pup digging and aggravating a colony of fire ants or an unsuspecting dog sitting on a bee, insect or spider bites can deal a whole world of pain. When you spot the symptoms, go in with your first aid kit as soon as possible.
- Swelling around the affected area
- Affected area is warm to the touch
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive itching
- Identify the insect. Capture them if you can, especially in cases of potentially venomous spiders.
- You’ll know if your pup has been stung by a bee because it’s the only insect that leaves their stinger behind. When removing the stinger, do not use tweezers, as it can cause the toxin to spread even more. Use something thin and stiff, like a credit card, to flick it off.
- If the sting or bite is swelling, use a cold compress.
- Apply a paste of baking powder to the affected area. If there are multiple stings or bites, give your pup an oatmeal bath.
- Consult with your veterinarian if you’ll need to give your dog some oral antihistamine.
- Your vet may also recommend giving your dog a cone to wear to keep them from licking or biting the area. This keeps the wound from getting even more infected.
Because our dogs have boundless energy and curiosity, accidents can happen when we least expect them. Still, our preparedness as dog owners can make all the difference. With all the love and a dash of first aid know-how, you can bet your pups will thrive, tails high, knowing they’re safe and well taken care of.