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First Aid for Dogs

What Every Dog Owner Must Know About Dog First Aid

As a dog owner, you want to do what's right for your beloved pet. You feed him, exercise him and teach him how to behave nicely. Don't you think it's just as important to know how to help him if he has an accident? It's not too hard to learn basic first aid for dogs; so much of it is common sense.

You do need to prepare for any emergency beforehand, so you know exactly what to do if your dog gets hurt. Accidents don't keep office hours, so contact your veterinarian to find out what arrangements are available for out of hours vet care. She may be available after his clinic closes; alternatively he may refer you to an emergency clinic. Either way, keep contact details and directions to the clinic in your purse at all times. Ideally, enter the phone numbers into your cell phone so you can find them easily.

first aid kit for dogs


Number 1 rule of caring for your dog in an emergency is don't panic! If something happens to your dog, you're going to be very distressed, but you're no use to him like this. Take deep breaths and think, and you'll be able to do so much more to help him.

Number 2 rule is use a soft muzzle on your dog. Although your dog knows you, and you know he is a gentle dog who would never bite, he is hurting and he is frightened. The last thing you need is both of you injured. You can use a slip leash or a soft stocking around his muzzle to prevent him snapping at you in pain.

Dog First Aid - Transporting Your Injured Dog

If your dog is injured, you will need to be very careful in transporting him to your veterinarian to avoid making his injuries worse. Unless you need to perform cardiopulmonary rescuscitation or you need to stem excessive bleeding, it's more important to get your dog to the clinic quickly rather than splint legs or check for other injuries.

Don't forget the muzzle, and try to prevent your dog moving around too much. If he's unable to walk, a blanket or large flat piece of cardboard will make it easy to lift him. Slide him carefully onto it, and try as best you can to keep his back straight and his head in a normal position as you lift him into your car. Cover him with a blanket and keep the heater on as you drive to the clinic; dogs with shock often feel very cold.

Let's look now at specific dog first aid methods for some of the common emergencies you may be forced to deal with.

Dog Wounds and Bleeding

Dogs cut and scratch their skin often, and even though the wound may not be deep, it can still bleed. The initial first aid for dogs when they have a bleeding wound is pressure. Fold a clean cloth or handkerchief into a pad and press it over the wound.

If the wound hasn't gone through the full thickness of skin, you can usually treat it at home. When the bleeding has stopped, gently clean the wound with a gentle antiseptic such as iodine solution. If the wound is going to weep, or if your dog looks like he may lick it or irritate it, wrap a clean bandage around it for 24 hours, then have another look. If you're concerned at all, have the wound checked by your vet; it's worth it for your peace of mind.

More serious wounds and full thickness skin cuts need to be examined by your vet, as they may need sutures. Keep the pressure on the wound as you drive to the clinic. If the pad becomes soaked with blood, don't take it off, or you'll disturb the clot. Just put another pad on top, and keep pressing down.

You may have heard about using a tourniquet to stop bleeding. This involves tying a tight strip or cloth or piece of cord around the leg above the source of the bleeding, and pulling it tight. It does work to stop bleeding but it also cuts off the blood supply to healthy tissues in the leg. Because that can cause quite severe damage to the leg, you should only use a tourniquet if your dog's bleeding is life threatening. That means only if there is red arterial blood pumping from a wound. You'll need to release the tourniquet every 20 minutes, only for around 15 seconds, just to allow blood flow to the rest of the leg. In spite of this, using a tourniquet may result in permanent damage to his leg.

First Aid For Dogs - Penetrating Injuries

This type of injury results in a deep hole in the skin or even into a body cavity. Common causes include playing with sticks and dog bite wounds.

If your dog has been bitten by another dog, his wounds may bleed quite a lot. Although the puncture wounds are usually small, there is often very painful muscle damage underneath the skin, and your dog really does need pain relief and antibiotics.

First aid involves muzzling your dog, and trying to keep the injured area as still as possible while you transport him to your vet. If there is a stick or other foreign body sticking out of your dog's skin, don't ever try and pull it out yourself. You can trim it until it's only about five inches long, but leave it up to your vet to remove it.

It's a good idea to have your vet check any deep wound to make sure there isn't anything still stuck in there. Also, bacteria can multiply in these wounds, and antibiotics are often necessary.

Treating Dog Fractures

Dogs with fractures are also frequently presented to emergency vets. There are many causes, but one of the most common would be a motor vehicle accident where a dog has been hit by a car. A dog with a broken bone in a limb won't use the leg at all, and will carry it all the time. He may cry when the leg is moved, but many dogs are very stoic and tolerate quite a lot of pain in silence.

If you are worried your dog has a broken leg, don't try to splint it. He will be in a lot of pain and moving the broken bones will hurt even more. Don't try to wash any wounds either, just cover them with a clean cloth and use a blanket or board to carry your dog to the car for the trip to your vet. She will sedate your dog to make sure he feels no pain while she examines his leg and prepares him for x rays. X rays are the only way to tell for sure if a bone is broken.

Dog Heat Stroke

This dangerous condition can occur if a dog is left in a hot car, or if he exercises too much in hot weather conditions. Recent research has shown that cars can become hot death traps even on a cool day.

A dog's normal temperature is 101.5 degrees F. Dogs don't sweat to reduce their body temperature like we do. They rely on panting to keep cool. If your dog has a temperature over 105 degrees F, it means he is in serious trouble. A high body temperature can affect every organ in the body and it can be fatal.

Symptoms of heat stroke are easy to recognise. Your dog will pant heavily, and will want to lie down all the time. He may even appear to be dizzy. These symptoms, plus a warm environment, will usually lead you to the right diagnosis.

The first thing to do is to get your dog away from the source of heat. That means move him out of the car, or if you're playing outdoors, take him under a shady tree. It's very important that you take immediate steps to get your dog's body temperature down as quickly as possible.

The most logical first aid for dogs suffering from heat stroke isn't necessarily the right one. Most people think that if they wash their dog down with iced water, it's better because it will cool them quicker. In fact, the opposite is true. Iced water will cause the blood vessels in your dog's skin to contract, and slow the circulation of cooled blood around his body. It's much more effective to use tepid or tap water. You can hose his body, and put cool wet towels in his armpit, groin and on his neck. That's where the body's largest veins are closest to the surface. Take your dog to the nearest vet immediately for care. Even if your dog looks okay, there can be damage to internal organs that needs further treatment.

Eye and Nose Injuries

These are also common emergencies that dog owners have to deal with.

Dogs get nose bleeds just like we do, often after a bump to the face. Treatment is very straightforward; keep your dog as calm as you can so his heart rate eases and the bleeding slows. Then put an icepack on the top of his nose. Don't try and stick cotton balls or anything similar up his nose because it will probably make him sneeze and will dislodge any clot that has formed.

This treatment is usually very effective but if the bleeding happens regularly, have your dog checked by your vet.

It's important to treat eye emergencies quickly to give your dog the best chance of making a full recovery. Some breeds of dogs, such as Pekingese and Chihuahuas have very shallow eye sockets, and their eye may pop out if there is any tension on the fur over their head and neck! If this happens, keep the eye moist with water and go immediately to your vet. She can usually replace the eye, and will suture the eyelids closed for a few days while the inflammation settles down.

If you're concerned about a splinter in your dog's eye, or if he's constantly squinting and pawing at his eye, place a moist cloth over his eye and take him to your vet to have it checked.

Caustic solutions such as bleach can cause ulceration of the cornea if they're splashed into the eye. If that happens to your dog, flush his eye with water for at least 15 minutes, and then take him to your vet to have the damage assessed.

Dogs only have two eyes and when they're gone, they're gone. Don't hesitate in getting eye injuries treated straight away to give your dog the best chance of keeping his sight.

dog first aid kits

Dog First Aid for Choking

It is terrifying to see a dog choke. Fortunately, this doesn't happen very often. Many dogs who appear to be choking actually have a respiratory infection that is making them gag and retch. If you're not sure, make an appointment with your vet to have your dog checked out, just for your peace of mind.

If your dog really does have something stuck in his throat, you can try what is called a finger sweep. This is when you use a finger and slide it along the inside of his cheek to the back of his mouth. Move it towards the center of his throat, and try to dislodge anything that is stuck there. This isn't hard to do if your dog is unconscious but may be dangerous if he is awake. Don't ever try a finger sweep if there is any chance your dog could bite you.

You can also compress his chest to try and use the air in his lungs to force the object out of his windpipe. Depending on the size of your dog, you can press firmly on his chest, or you can perform the Heimlich manoeuvre if you own a larger dog. This involves putting both fists together just underneath his breastbone and suddenly pushing upwards towards his chest.

If neither of these are successful, start artificial respiration and race him to your veterinarian.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

It's a great idea to learn how to give your dog cardiopulmonary resuscitation, also known as artificial breathing. Yes, it means you have to put your mouth to your dog's nose, but it may save his life.

It's much easier if you have help from a second person; they can perform chest compressions while you breathe into your dog's nose.

Stretch out your dog's neck until it is straight, and pull his tongue forward. Cup your hands around his mouth so they seal his lips, and make sure the corners of his mouth are tightly closed. Blow into his nose until you see his chest expand. You can continue this at a rate of around 20 breaths per minute.

If your dog doesn't have a pulse, you'll have to perform chest compressions to keep blood circulating around his body. Use the flat of your hand on the widest part of your dog's chest, and press firmly down until the chest wall compresses by a few inches. If you have a tiny dog, wrap both hands around his chest and squeeze. You'll need to do this around 80 to 100 times per minute. Ideally, give your dog two breaths after every 12 compressions of his chest.

You can see that performing CPR on a dog can be physically tiring. It's important that you keep going until your dog shows signs of responding, or until you get him to your veterinarian.

Dog First Aid Kit Contents

This is a suggested list of contents for your dog first aid kit. These items aren't expensive, and it is very much worthwhile packing them into a small box that you can keep at home or in the car - or even take on vacation with your dog.
First Aid Cleaning products:
  • Saline eye wash to flush injured eyes.

  • Sterile saline to bathe skin wounds.

  • Antiseptic skin cleanser e.g. iodine or chlorhexidine scrub.
  • Conforming bandage in case of snake bite.

  • Gauze pads.

  • Adhesive tape to hold swabs in place.

  • Self-adhering bandage such as vet wrap to put pressure on bleeding wounds on legs or tail.
Dog Medications:
  • Benadryl - an antihistamine - used for allergic reactions to insect stings. Speak to your vet re dosage, but guideline is 0.5 to 2 mg per pound (1 to 4 mg/kg) given by mouth two to three times daily.

  • Antiseptic wound dressing ointment such as iodine for abrasions and wounds.

  • 3% Hydrogen Peroxide - if your dog eats something toxic, giving one teaspoon (5ml)per 10 pounds of body weight which will make him vomit it up. Contact poisons information first because shouldn't induce vomiting if he's eaten something caustic.

  • Styptic powder or corn starch to stop bleeding.
Other Items For Your Dog First Aid Kit:
  • Your dog's medical history in case you need to visit an emergency vet.

  • Laminated instruction card with basic first aid. Also Vet's phone number, emergency clinic phone number, poisons information phone number.

  • Bandage scissors.

  • Tweezers to remove splinters or other foreign bodies..

  • Muzzle - even the gentlest dog may bite if he/she is in pain.

  • Blanket to keep your dog warm, or could be used as a stretcher.

  • Disposable gloves.

  • Torch - accidents happen in the dark too.

  • Syringes to flush wounds.

First Aid For Dogs - Conclusion

Dogs often get into mischief or have accidents, and sometimes it's amazing how they escape without any injury. Other times, they're not so lucky, and you'll need to care for him and take him to the emergency vet. Knowing what to do may make the difference between life and death.

Having a well-stocked first aid kit, and learning first aid for dogs will mean you're well prepared for any emergency.

Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.