Would you know what to do if your dog was in an accident? Although you can’t predict an emergency, you can prepare for one.
Knowing what to do if disaster strikes is key to getting your dog the treatment they need in a timely fashion.
In fact, assessing the situation and recognising whether you can do anything to help before getting your dog to your vet could potentially save your dog’s life.
While first-aid is not a substitute for proper veterinarian care, some basic first-aid skills are invaluable when facing a real-life emergency.
Accidents can happen anywhere. While it’s common to have necessary medical supplies at home, this isn’t always true when we travel.
It’s useful to think about what you need if you get into a situation while outside the home. Would you know who to call if you were out of town and your dog swallowed something they shouldn’t for example?
It’s a good idea to have the following handy wherever you are;
- Your vet’s name, address and telephone number
- A local vets name, address and telephone number if travelling or out of town
- A pen and paper (or ability to take notes)
- A phone
- Animal poison control centre
- Pet first aid kit
- Animal control details
- Non-emergency police contact number
If something does happen, always ring ahead. A vet needs to know that an emergency is on its way. They may have a separate facility that deals with urgent cases or need a specialist vet to deal with your dog. Not only that, but a vet may be able to provide invaluable advice before you move your dog.
Try to give your vet as much information as possible about your emergency, and follow any instructions they provide, this will save time later and give your dog the best chance of getting treated quickly.
Creating a dog First-aid kit
A dog first-aid kit should contain all the things you’ll need to provide basic care. You can buy ready-made first-aid sets for your dog, but you may prefer to make your own. A complete first-aid kit should include;
- Non-stick bandages to protect wounds and control bleeding
- Non-stick self-adhering tape to cover bandages
- Adhesive tape to secure bandages
- Saline solution to clean wounds
- Wound dressing
- Antiseptic wipes (not alcohol or hydrogen peroxide based)
- Antibacterial wound cleanser
- Eyedropper (sterile saline)
- Milk of magnesia or Activated charcoal to absorb poison (on vets advice)
- Hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting (on vets advice)
- Blunt-ended scissors
- Cotton wool
- Tick Remover
- Sterile gloves (latex)
- Thermometer and lubricant
- Muzzle to prevent bites (not to be used if your dog is sick)
- Elizabethan collar
- Spare leash
- Pet carrier
It’s a good idea to have two first-aid kits; one for home and one for when you’re travelling. What’s more, it’s worth including some details about you and your dog in case you get separated.
Emergency Information for my Dog
Sex: M F
Neutered/Spayed? Yes No
The more relevant information you include in your kit, the better the chances of your dog being found and returned to you.
Recognising an emergency
Some emergencies are easy to identify. A dog involved in a car traffic accident, for example, is almost always an emergency.
However, there are urgent situations that are not so obvious, like bites or stings. So how do you know whether your dog is an emergency or not?
The first rule is that if you have any doubts about the safety or health of your dog, call your vet. It’s far better to be safe than sorry, and your vet can give you invaluable advice.
- Open wounds
- Fights and Bites
- Breathing difficulties
- Poisoning, vomiting and diarrhoea
- Stick injuries
- Eye injuries
- Allergic reactions
- Road traffic accidents
Two of the most common emergencies are road traffic accidents and accidental poisoning.
A good way to home check your dog’s general wellbeing is to look out for the following three things; Temperature, pulse and breathing.
A dog’s average temperature is about 38 degrees centigrade. Any higher or lower and your dog could be ill.
A rectal thermometer is the most accurate way to take your dog’s temperature. A mercury or digital thermometer is ideal and one that is specifically intended for dogs.
Use baby oil or petroleum jelly as a lubricant to cover the thermometer and gently insert it your dog’s anus. It only needs to go in about an inch and takes less than a minute to get a result.
A dog’s pulse varies depending on size with larger dogs having a slower rhythm. What’s more, a dog’s pulse isn’t always steady. Often the pulse is slower on the out breath and faster when breathing in, this is called sinus arrhythmia and perfectly healthy.
However, as a rule of thumb, a dog’s regular pulse ranges from seventy to one hundred and eighty beats per minute.
There are two ways to take your dog’s pulse. The first is to place your hands on the left side of your dog’s chest, near the elbow joint. The second is to put two fingers on the femoral artery, easily located on your dog’s inner thigh.
To get your dog’s pulse rate, count the number of beats in a fifteen-second cycle and multiply by four.
The average dog takes around twenty-four breaths per minute while resting. This rate varies from as few as ten breaths and as many as thirty-five breaths per minute, but any more or less than this could indicate a problem.
You can measure your dog’s respiration rate by counting the number of chest movements in a fifteen-minute period and multiplying by four.
It’s a good idea to keep a record of your dog’s natural breathing rate, so it’s easier to note any changes.
When a dog’s respiratory rate is consistently high, it is an indicator of a possible health problem. Likewise, shallow breathing is a signal that something is wrong.
What to do in an Emergency
If your dog is injured or hurt, it’s essential that you remain calm. Your ability to assess the situation and react quickly relies on you thinking clearly and taking the appropriate measures.
Call your vet. Provide them as much information as possible about the nature of the emergency and take any advice given. Don’t give your dog anything to eat or drink unless your vet has expressly told you to do so.
It’s tempting to try to comfort your dog if they’re injured, but be cautious. Even the gentlest of dogs can lash out when in pain or scared. Avoid putting your face near your dog’s mouth and ask other people to give your dog some space.
Examine your dog carefully and gently, avoid sudden movements and stop if you notice your dog becoming agitated or distressed.
If your dog can’t walk, lift your dog into the car by rolling them onto a blanket or rigid board. It’s possible to carry small dogs by supporting the chest and hindquarters. Once secure, make your way to the veterinary clinic as soon as possible.
Shock is an urgent medical condition that happens when a dog’s internal systems are not getting enough blood flow or oxygen to function normally.
This loss of circulation leads to critically low blood pressure leading to vital organs like the brain, liver and kidneys not getting the blood supply they need.
While the body tries to compensate for the decrease in circulation by speeding up the heart prolonged shock is fatal. The body can’t continue to maintain itself without adequate blood flow.
What causes shock?
The most common cause of shock is trauma like a road traffic accident or dogfight. However, dehydration, heat stroke, burns, poisoning, bloat, infections and allergic reactions can all trigger shock.
Whatever the cause, urgent veterinarian intervention is essential to give your dog the best chance of survival.
Symptoms of shock
Symptoms of shock develop over three stages. The earlier you can spot the signs that your dog is in distress, the more likely it is that your dog will make a full recovery.
During the early stages of shock your dog may display the following symptoms;
- Anxious behaviour or pacing
- Shallow breathing
- Rapid pulse
- Bright red gums
While the early stages of shock are often overlooked, especially in the middle of a trauma, the later stages are more noticeable and develop quickly
As shock progresses, the symptoms become more apparent and include;
- Even faster heart rate
- Breathing is shallow and rapid
- Your dog may appear weak or lethargic
- Pale or blue-tinged gums, lips and eyelids
- The skin may feel cool when touched
- Fixed stare
- Pulse is faint and hard to find
- Your dog’s temperature will be abnormally low
Before your dog loses consciousness from lack of blood supply, you may notice the following;
- White or grey gums
- Difficulty in detecting a pulse
- Eyes will take on a glazed look
- Yawning or gasping for air
- The temperature will fall even lower
- Heart rate may become irregular
What to do if your dog is in Shock
If you suspect your dog is suffering from shock, contact your vet immediately. In the meantime, you can help your dog in the following ways;
- If possible, get your dog to lie down on their right side
- Place a folded blanket under their lower back elevating them slightly as this encourages blood flow to the heart
- Wrap your dog in a blanket or towel to keep them warm but don’t apply any artificial heat
- Gently massage your dog’s legs to encourage blood flow
- Keep your dog as calm as possible
Never give your dog anything to eat or drink without checking with your vet first.
If your dog is bleeding, it’s essential you assess the severity of the wound. Often what you see on the outside, the laceration itself is only part of the story.
If you don’t know how your dog was injured, there’s no way of knowing if your dog has any internal damage.
Road traffic accidents and fights with other dogs often cause more tissue damage than the outer wound shows, so always contact your vet.
Bleeding can range from slight to severe as follows;
Capillary bleeding is superficial. The blood will ooze from the injury rather than flow, and common capillary injuries include clipping a toenail too short and a cut paw pad.
This type of bleeding comes from a damaged vein and is a slow flow of dark-red blood.
Arterial bleeding is the most severe type of bleeding and involves damage to an artery. Blood is bright red and will spurt forcibly from the wound.
Usually, the faster the blood flow, the more dangerous the injury. Although there are parts of a dog that bleed a lot even with relatively minor injuries, like the ears.
What to do if your dog is Bleeding
Controlling the bleeding is the most important thing you can do for your dog before you get them to a vet.
Try to keep your dog as calm as possible and restrict their movement. Remember that a frightened dog or a dog in pain is often unpredictable. Unless the injury is on your dog’s face, don’t hesitate to use a muzzle.
Injuries to a dog’s ear bleed a lot. The ear flaps are full of blood vessels near the surface of the skin. So even a minor wound may bleed excessively.
Examine the wound and clean the area with sterile saline solution or water. If you have gauze, fold it over the ear so that the injury is sandwiched in between the gauze and apply firm but gentle pressure. A clean facecloth or towel is a good alternative if you don’t have medical supplies handy.
Ideally, elevate the ear until the bleeding stops. It may take up to five minutes before you can safely release the ear without aggravating the wound.
Fold the injured ear over the top of your dog’s head and hold it in place by wrapping a bandage around our dog’s head and neck.
The bandage should be tight enough to hold both the ear and gauze in place until you get to the vet. However, there should be room for you to put two fingers between your dog’s neck and the bandage comfortably.
Damage to a dog’s foot include punctures, cuts and grazes. While common, paw injuries can take time to heal.
The first step is to check for any foreign objects stuck in the foot. If there is something small in the paw like a piece of glass, take it out if it’s easy to remove.
Wash your dog’s paw with clean water or a saline solution and then apply pressure to the wound using a clean cloth or piece of gauze.
Keep adding layers of gauze or cloth if the blood soaks through, but don’t remove the original dressing as this can disturb any clotting.
Continue to apply pressure until the bleeding has stopped, usually within five to ten minutes. Bandage your dog’s foot or cover it with other soft material and tie it firmly so that the gauze remains secure until you get to your vets.
If the object that injured your dog’s paw is deep, leave it alone. Apply pressure around the object but avoid pushing the item deeper.
Pulling a deeply buried object from the foot can cause more damage and increase the bleeding. Instead, take your dog to your vet who may need to sedate your dog to remove it.
Like paws, dog’s legs are a common site of injury. Just as with damage on a dog’s foot, it’s essential to examine the wound and remove any foreign material if it’s visible.
If the site of injury appears to be near a vein or artery and you are unsure how deeply embedded the object is into your dog’s leg, do not remove it.
Instead, flush the wound with a saline solution or water to remove as much debris as possible. If possible raise your dog’s the leg above the level of the heart and apply pressure to the wound using gauze or a clean towel.
If blood soaks through the material, do not remove it. Clotting is essential to minimise bleeding and taking away an existing cover may disturb any clots and open the would again. Instead, add another towel on top and continue to apply pressure.
Once the bleeding is under control, bandage the leg to keep the towel in place and get your dog to your vet.
Injuries to the chest and stomach can be difficult to assess and manage. However, the primary aim is still to minimise or stop the bleeding if possible.
If a large object penetrating the skin has caused your dog’s injury and it is still present, for example, a stick, do not remove it.
While surface debris and small particles can be taken away by tweezers or fingers anything substantial or heavily embedded should be left for your vet to remove.
Some injuries to the chest and torso can be fatal. A foreign object can damage internal organs by penetrating the skin and trying to remove it can make the situation worse.
Instead, hold a towel over or around the wound area and apply pressure. You may need to bandage around your dog’s torso to keep the cloth in place. The bandage should be firm but not so tight that it impedes your dog’s breathing.
If you don’t know what’s caused your dog’s injury, it’s crucial that you visit your vet. While bleeding is a visible sign of tissue damage, there could be internal damage that goes unnoticed.
Always take puncture wounds sustained in a dogfight seriously. Not only are they prone to infection, but they are often worse than they look.
A dog’s canine teeth can cause deep wounds although they don’t usually bleed that much. But as the teeth are narrow, the wound closes quickly in on itself, trapping bacteria inside.
Not only that, but as bites are a combination of penetrating and crushing damage, the underlying muscle, tendons and organs can be injured. As such injuries to the head or body need immediate veterinary care.
How to break up a dog Fight
Let’s be clear; there isn’t a safe way to break up a dogfight. All methods involve separating the dogs, and you need to either get near the dogs or handle them in some way to do so.
Fortunately, most dog fights are not serious. Although dogfights look frightening, most are fierce squabbles. While dogs can get hurt during these interactions, they are usually over quickly, and injuries are relatively minor.
However, if the fight continues the least dangerous way to separate the dogs is for two people to take hold of the back legs of both dogs and ‘wheelbarrow’ them back away from each other.
What to do if your dog has a Bite Wound
Infection is by far the most common issue with bite wounds. So, cleaning the area as quickly as possible is critical.
- Control any bleeding, use a gauze pad or towel to cover the wound and apply pressure
- Clean the wound thoroughly with a saline solution
- Cover the wound with a bandage to keep out dirt and bacteria
- Use an Elizabethan collar to prevent your dog from licking the wound
- Apply a covered ice pack to reduce swelling
If the injury becomes infected, your dog will need antibiotic treatment. Look out for any of the following signs;
- Hot skin
Intense dogfights can also lead to shock. It’s essential that you can recognise the symptoms and get your dog seen by a professional as soon as possible.
Burns and Scalds
The first rule of treating burns or scalds is to NOT put creams, ointments, ice packs or butter on them. It doesn’t help and can introduce bacteria into the already compromised skin.
There are three main types of burns; electrical, chemical and heat and treatment depends on the type and severity of the trauma that your dog has sustained.
Burns are much more likely to happen at home. Keep all household cleaners locked securely away and if possible restrict your dog’s access to the kitchen while you’re cooking.
Puppies are prone to chewing electrical wires so keep them out of sight or use cable guards and provide your puppy with suitable chew toys.
Always call your vet if your dog has sustained a burn. Burns are not only painful and prone to infection, but they can also cause shock which is deadly.
Burns fall into three categories; First-degree, second-degree and third-degree depending on how severe and deep they penetrate the skin.
First-degree burns are superficial. Although first-degree burns can be extremely painful, it only affects the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and is not life-threatening.
The site of the burn is red and dry without any blistering. These types of injuries rarely cause long-term tissue damage.
Second -degree burns
Second-degree burns affect both the outer layer of skin as well as the thick layer of living tissue below (the dermis).
The site of this type of burn is typically red, blistered, swollen and extremely painful.
Third-degree burns are severe and affect both the epidermis, dermis and often damage the subcutaneous tissue layer underneath.
The site of the burn looks charred or white, and there is usually no sensation in the burn site. As the protective layer of skin has been destroyed bacterial infections are high risk.
What to do if your dog has a Burn
Immediate care can be provided at home to minimise skin damage in the following way;
Burns caused by liquids or hot objects
Cool the burn as quickly as possible. Ideally, run cold water over the area for five minutes and apply a cold (but not freezing) water compress using a clean cloth.
Keep the area cold and wet and change the compress frequently as this can help prevent further tissue damage.
Even a weak electric current can cause severe damage to skin and tissue. What’s more, a minor electric shock can cause internal damage to the lungs and heart.
Symptoms often take hours to appear, and while the damage to the skin usually looks superficial, it can lead to severe infections.
Ulcers form after a couple of days as the damaged tissue dies and these ulcers are prone to bacterial infection.
If your dog has received an electrical burn, make sure you switch off the electricity supply and unplug nearby equipment before touching your dog.
Treat the burn in the same way as a burn caused by a liquid or hot object and apply cooling water to the area for at least twenty minutes.
Chemical burns are common and happen when a dog either ingests or comes into contact with a corrosive substance.
These substances could be everyday products typically found in a home, like household cleaners and detergents.
As with other types of burns, minimising the damage is vital. All household products have instructions on what to do in case of accidental contact or ingestion. If you know what has caused the burn on your dog, read the label carefully and follow the advice provided.
If you are unsure what has caused the burn, run the affected area under cold water for at least twenty minutes.
In the case of an ingested substance flush your dog’s mouth with fresh water but don’t pour water down their throat.
Broken bones are not only painful, but they can cause damage to underlying tissue. Stabilizing the break offers your dog the best chance of preventing further injury before you get your dog to the vet.
Types of Fracture
Fractures can be as open, closed or hairline.
Open fractures are typically the most obvious as the bone breaks through the skin. Whereas closed fractures involve a broken bone, but the skin remains intact.
Partial breaks, known as hairline fractures are common and involve a sliver of bone or a crack in the bone rather than a complete break.
How to Tell if Your Dog has a Broken Bone
While some broken bones are apparent – the bone sticking out through the dog’s skin, others are not. Take any sign of discomfort or pain following an accident or injury seriously.
Because sprains and strains show similar symptoms, it’s always advisable to get your dog seen by a vet who can assess them further.
Signs of a broken bone include;
- Visible bone protruding from the skin
- A limb that looks odd or in the wrong position
- Swelling or bruising
- Unable or unwillingness to put weight on the leg
- Breathing difficulties
- Refusal to walk
- Loss of appetite
- Unusual aggression
- Lethargy or depression
What to do if your dog has a broken Bone
While it’s important to stabilise the fractured bone as much as possible, DO NOT attempt to apply a splint. A poorly implemented splint can cause more damage and pain.
Assess the situation to determine what type of fracture your dog has sustained. The immediate aim is to reduce pain and prevent further damage to the affected area.
- Muzzle your dog if possible – pain makes dogs unpredictable, and your safety is paramount
- For open fractures, bleeding should be minimised by placing a gauze pad or clean tea towel around the area and applying pressure (Never apply pressure to the broken bone).
- Do not apply creams, ointments or antiseptics to an open fracture.
- Prevent your dog from moving as much as possible. Small dogs can be confined to a box or crate while tethering larger dogs may be necessary
- Use rolled towels to gently support the break and keep it as still as possible
- Keep your dog warm to prevent shock
- Do not give your dog anything to eat or drink
- If you need to transport your dog, place a board or towel under them and lift them gently onto it
Early treatment of broken bones gives your dog the best chance of further complications and recovery. So always get your dog to a vet as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, accidental poisoning is a common occurrence in dogs. From ingesting poisonous foodstuffs to chewing toxic plants, dogs are opportunistic and will grab anything even mildly edible.
What to do if your dog is Poisoned
While it’s tempting to think that making your dog sick will help the situation, this isn’t always the case.
In fact, it can make your dog’s condition much worse and cause further damage. So never force your dog to vomit without checking with your vet first.
Also, don’t give your dog anything to eat or drink until you know what has caused the issue. While some toxins need to be absorbed from your dog’s system, others, need to be flushed out. Using the wrong treatment will put your dog in further danger.
Although your first-aid contains
- Activated charcoal or milk of magnesia to absorb poison
- Hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting
Only give your dog these on the advice of your vet. Your vet will be able to provide you with an accurate dosage based on your dog’s weight, so it’s useful to have that information handy.
It’s essential to identify what your dog has eaten. Not only that, but amount consumed, how long ago since ingestion and list of symptoms all help a vet determine appropriate treatment.
If you can take the product container/packaging with you to your vet, it will help determine treatment.
If you’re unsure what it is, but your dog has been sick or has diarrhoea, collect a sample. It can help determine what type of poison is affecting your dog and speed up treatment.
The list of toxic foods and plants is a long one. But below are some of the most common;
- Grapes, including raisins, currants and sultanas
- Onions, garlic and chive (garlic in large amounts)
- Nuts, including macadamia and black walnuts
- Xylitol (sweetener)
- Azalea (Rhododendron)
- Conkers and Acorns
- Cherry laurel
- Lilly of the valley
- Cleaning products
Unfortunately, it’s not only foods, plant and household items that can poison our dogs. Coat contamination is another serious issue that can prove life-threatening for dogs.
Not only is your dog likely to try to lick an unknown substance off their fur. But chemicals can be absorbed by the skin and find their way into the bloodstream.
What to do if your dog has a Contaminated Coat
If there is something stuck on your dog’s coat that you suspect may be dangerous your priority is to stop your dog ingesting it.
- Use an Elizabethan collar to prevent your dog from licking their fur
- Wash the area with mild soapy water – NEVER use solvent, concentrated detergents or paint stripper on your dog
- Check your dog’s skin for signs of a chemical burn and treat as per What to do if your dog has a burn
- Do not induce vomiting even if you think your dog has ingested the substance, always contact your vet first
If you know what your dog has come into contact with, make a note of it and tell your vet. For heavy contamination that can’t be washed out, your dog’s coat may need to be clipped
Unfortunately, choking is an all too common emergency. It can be difficult to recognise as coughing, retching and reverse sneezing all cause a dog to look like they have something stuck in their throat.
However, a dog that does have something stuck in their gullet will show symptoms that are distinct from other issues, they include;
- Pawing at the mouth
- Rubbing the mouth on furniture or floor
- Difficulty breathing
- Blue coloured skin
What to do if your dog is choking
If your dog has a blocked airway every second counts, you need to try to remove the object that’s causing the obstruction as quickly as possible.
If you can’t remove the object quickly, get your dog to your vet immediately. A choking dog will panic, so you may have to restrain them in some way to look in their mouth.
- Remove anything that may restrict your dog’s breathing further, like a collar
- Hold your dog’s muzzle from above and place your thumb just behind the canine teeth on one side of the upper jaw. Place your index finger in the same position on the other side.
- Press your dog’s lips over their teeth if possible, so that the lip is between the teeth and your fingers. It makes it less likely that your dog will close their mouth.
- With the other hand, gently but firmly grasp the lower jaw and pull apart.
- If the object is visible, reach in and pull it out.
Don’t be tempted to use anything other than your fingers if the object stuck in your dog’s throat is not visible or is challenging to remove.
Spoons, pliers, and tweezers can do a tremendous amount of damage if your dog moves its head. Not only that but sweeping a finger over the back of your dog’s throat is not a good idea either.
Dogs have small bones at the base of their tongues which can easily be mistaken for chicken bones or foreign objects. If you can’t see and identify what is obstructing your dog’s airway, do not try to remove it.
If you haven’t managed to remove the object from your dog’s throat, there are two other options available.
A small dog can be lifted and suspended upside down. Hold your dog by the thighs and turn them upside down. If the item remains stuck, try gently shaking your dog.
For larger dogs, hold your dog’s thighs and lift the hind legs off the floor as high as possible so that your dog’s head is facing down towards the ground.
If gravity doesn’t work, the next thing to try is abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich manoeuvre.
The Heimlich manoeuvre works by expelling air from the lungs forcing any obstructions from the airway.
Hold your dog around the waist with their head facing away from you. Make a fist, thumb on top and place it underneath your dog’s diaphragm, just behind the ribcage.
Place the palm of your other hand on top of your fist and pull sharply up towards your dog’s chest three to five times.
Foreign objects can cause a lot of internal damage to the mouth and throat. So even if you are successful at removing it, get your dog to the vet for further examination.
Heatstroke in dogs is potentially fatal. So, it’s vital that your dog receives treatment as fast as possible.
Dog’s don’t sweat in the same way that we do. While they do have sweat glands on their feet and around their nose, they are not very efficient.
The most effective way our dogs have of cooling themselves is panting. Panting enables cool air to move around the body and prevent a dog from overheating.
However, if a dog doesn’t have access to fresh air, either because of ambient temperature or lack of ventilation they are unable to reduce their body temperature and are vulnerable to heatstroke.
Heatstroke is entirely preventable. To avoid your dog overheating in warm weather;
- Ensure your dog has access to shade
- Keep water bowls topped up
- Don’t walk your dog in the hottest part of the day
- Restrict off-leash exercise
- Never leave your dog in a car, even with the windows open
Elderly dogs need special care, as do overweight dogs and brachycephalic (short nose) dogs as they are all more vulnerable in warm weather as are dogs with thick, heavy coats.
What to do if your dog has Heatstroke
Typically dogs show the following signs when experiencing heatstroke;
- Heavy panting
- Excessive drooling
- Lethargy or drowsiness
If your dog is displaying any of the above symptoms, act fast. Heatstroke is an emergency, and the sooner you cool down your dog, the more likely they are to recover.
- Move your dog into a shady or cool area
- Soak your dog in cool Never use cold or freezing water as it can cause your dog to go into shock.
- Wet towels and get your dog to lay on them if possible
- Use a fan if you have one or place your dog near a breeze
- Allow your dog small amounts of fresh water to drink
- Keep your dog cool until their breathing begins to settle down.
Gradually cooling down your dog is essential to prevent further complications. Always stop once your dog’s breathing has settled as it’s vital to avoid your dog from getting cold to the point that they shiver.
Always take your dog to your vet if you suspect heatstroke. Elevated body temperatures can cause neurological, circulatory and urinary body systems to fail.
Seizures are always a reason for concern. They can have many causes but are a result of abnormal brain activity.
Fortunately, seizures are rarely fatal but always make your vet aware. Most seizures are over within two to three minutes, however prolonged or continuous seizures are much more serious.
During a convulsion, your dog’s brain receives a reduced oxygen supply which is why extended seizures are so dangerous.
Symptoms of a seizure
It can be difficult to know if your dog is having a seizure. Unless they are experiencing a full convulsion, seizures can be as subtle as a vacant look or unresponsive reaction.
There is often a warning period, called a focal onset or aura before a convulsion occurs. A dog might seem out of sorts, fearful or clingy.
Look out for the following signs;
- Vacant or confused look
- Unexplained agitation or fear
- Unusual behaviour like pacing or not wanting to leave your side
- Muscle twitching or trembling
- Difficulty in controlling bowel movements
Most often seizures occur when a dog is asleep or resting. When a full convulsion happens, a dog will collapse onto its side, twitch, drool, chomp their jaws, paddle with all four legs, and vocalise. It’s also not uncommon for a dog to urinate and defecate during a seizure.
What to do if your dog is having a seizure
Do not comfort or cuddle your dog while they are convulsing. Physical stimulation can prolong the seizure, and you are in danger of being bitten.
The most important thing you can do is to prevent your dog from injuring themselves so;
- Remove any other pets
- Do not attempt to place anything in your dog’s mouth
- Keep lights turned down low and noise minimised
- If possible move any furniture away from your dog
- Make a note of the time, date and duration of the seizure as this will help your vet
- Don’t panic if you see blood around your dog’s mouth – a bitten tongue is common
- Do not try to move your dog until after the seizure has stopped
Following a seizure, your dog may still display some unusual behaviour. Disorientation, confusion, pacing and increased thirst and appetite are all normal. Full recovery can take up to twenty-four hours but more typically around half an hour.
Keep your dog warm and quiet during recovery and contact your vet as soon as you can.
Injuries to a dog’s eye always need immediate veterinarian care. Any delay puts your dog’s eyesight at risk.
Eye injuries typically fall into one of these categories;
- Cuts to the lid or eye
- Ulcers caused by irritants
- Proptosis (eye popped out of socket)
Some eye injuries can be tricky to see. So, if your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms, seek professional help;
- Pawing at the eyes or rubbing face on furniture or floor
- Squinting or twitching of the eye
- Inability to open the eye
- Redness in the whites of the eyes
- Unusual discharge
- Cloudiness in the eye
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Light sensitivity
- Sunken-in appearance
- Watering eyes
- Rapid blinking
- Bulging eyes
What to do if your dog has an Eye Injury
Providing effective first-aid at home depends on the nature of the injury. Always keep your safety in mind before attempting to treat your dog.
Even if your dog is calm, they could be in a lot of pain and are more likely to snap if you approach them or touch the eye area.
To prevent your dog from causing further damage use an Elizabethan collar (cone of shame).
If your dog has something in their eye, only try to remove it if it’s small and loose in the eyeball. Never try to remove something that is protruding from the eye.
- Muzzle your dog if necessary
- Flush the affected eye with a sterile saline solution until you dislodge the debris
Treat the eyelid gently, but if the cut is bleeding the primary aim is to control the blood flow.
- Muzzle your dog if necessary
- Using sterile gauze apply gentle pressure to the eyelid
- Do not attempt to put any cream or ointment on the cut as it can get into your dog’s eye and cause further damage
- If the wound is severe place gauze on the eyelid and tape to keep it in place
Eyeball laceration or Protruding Object
NEVER try to remove an object that has penetrated your dog’s eye. Instead, do the following until you can get your dog seen by a vet.
- Muzzle your dog if necessary
- If possible place a paper cup or small box over the eye and tape it in place
- Do not put creams, ointment or attempt to flush your dog’s eye
- Do not touch the foreign object or try to remove it.
If your dog’s eye is protruding from its socket, apply a wet dressing to prevent rubbing and get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Eye injuries can have serious consequences so don’t delay in getting professional help. In extreme cases, your dog could lose their sight or even the eye itself.
Although many dogs swim well, they can get into trouble if they can’t get out of the water or are fatigued.
Before you rush into the water to help your dog, make sure that you look after your safety first.
Drowning or near drowning (non-fatal water inhalation) is an emergency. If your dog has spent any time submerged in water, your dog should always see a vet.
Complications can arise days after the event and include;
- Water in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
- Brain damage (cerebral hypoxia)
- Disturbed oxygen supply to vital organs leading to organ failure
Even a small amount of water, as little as one to three millilitres per kilogram of body weight can create significant problems for the lungs.
What to do if your dog is Drowning
The first thing to do is to get your dog out of the water. Water absorbs quickly into the lungs, so the quicker your dog is on dry land, the better.
- Place your dog on its side with head lower than its lungs. In the case of a small dog, it can be held upside down for a few seconds to release any water not already absorbed
- Open your dog’s mouth and clear any obstructions
- Check for pulse
- If a pulse is present, but your dog is not breathing continue with artificial respiration
- If your dog doesn’t have a pulse continue with CPR
Keep your dog warm and contact your vet immediately. Your dog may need oxygen supplements, diuretics and assisted ventilation
Although rare, bloat or Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV) is a life-threatening condition. Bloat happens when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and then rotates along its axis.
As the stomach twists, it traps the gas and shuts off the blood supply from the stomach and the spleen. Bloat can kill within hours without treatment and is extremely painful.
Not only that, but a dog can quickly go into shock as the stomach expands and prevents the necessary blood supply to vital organs.
Symptoms of Bloat
Bloat typically occurs after a dog has eaten. There is still debate as to why some dogs suffer from GDV, and others don’t but eating fast seems to be a contributing factor.
If your dog displays any of the following symptoms get help immediately;
- Swollen or hard belly
- Dry retching
- Heavy panting
- Pale gums
What to do if your Dog has Bloat
Contact your vet quickly; there is very little you can do at home regarding first-aid. The only treatment for bloat is surgery to untwist the stomach. Do not give your dog food, water or medication.
How to prevent Bloat
Although debate goes on as to the cause of bloat, there are prevailing theories as to why some dogs suffer, and others don’t.
Large breed dogs and dogs with deep chests are more susceptible than small breed dogs
- German shepherds
- Great Danes
Also, dogs that;
- Eat quickly
- Have one large meal a day
- Exercise within an hour of a meal both pre and post food
- Bloat runs in the family line
- Eating or drinking too much
Slow feed dog bowls are an excellent way of slowing a dog that gulps their food. Keep rigorous exercise and play to a minimum before and after meal times. And feed two or three smaller meals a day rather than one large one.
Allergies and Allergic Reactions
Dogs can experience both allergy symptoms and allergic reactions. Exposure to an allergen triggers your dog’s body to produce an immune response and over time can sensitise the immune system causing allergy symptoms.
Common allergens include;
- Prescription drugs
- Cleaning products and perfumes
How to tell if your dog has Allergy Symptoms
While mild allergies are not life-threatening, they can make your dog miserable. Your vet can help determine the allergen and prescribe appropriate treatment to keep it under control.
Even though there isn’t a cure for allergies, minimising the symptoms can improve the quality of your dog’s life.
Symptoms typically include;
- Excessive paw licking
- Runny eyes
- Swelling of the face and paws
How to tell if your dog has an Allergic reaction
Anaphylaxis or a sudden allergic reaction is a life-threatening condition that needs emergency treatment.
Dogs can experience an extreme reaction to insect bites and stings, foods and drugs. An allergic reaction usually occurs within an hour of exposure to an allergen and symptoms include;
- Swollen eyes or muzzle
- Difficulty breathing
- Unusual behaviour, pacing, excessive itching
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
What to do if your dog has an Allergic Reaction
Call your vet immediately if you suspect our dog is experiencing an allergic reaction. Do not give your dog any medication unless expressly instructed to do so by your vet.
While it’s useful to keep anti-histamines in our first-aid kit, only give them to your dog under medical advice.
Anaphylaxis is an emergency. The sooner you get your dog veterinarian treatment, the better the chance they have for survival.
Road Traffic Accident
Unfortunately, road traffic accidents involving dogs are common. Although it’s essential that you assess your dog’s injuries as quickly as possible, do not put yourself or other road users in danger attending to your dog.
While not ideal, it may be necessary to move your dog to keep them from further injury. Place a blanket or board as close to your dog’s back as possible and slide your dog onto it, supporting as much of its body as possible.
Once you’re in a position where you can examine your dog safely, call your vet immediately and apprise them of the situation.
What to do if your dog is in a Road Traffic Accident
Never give your dog anything to eat or drink if they’ve been in a collision with a car. Likewise, while it’s tempting to offer pain relief medication don’t until you’ve spoken to a vet.
Dogs involved in road traffic accidents often have multiple injuries. Look for bleeding, broken bones, signs of shock, puncture wounds and difficulty breathing.
- Control bleeding with clean gauze and firm pressure
- Stabilize broken bones
- Restrict your dog’s movement as much as possible
- Manage shock by keeping your dog warm with a blanket or coat
- Check for a steady pulse
- Place in the recovery position – on their right-hand side if they are breathing but unconscious
- If your dog is not breathing, open their mouth and remove any obstructions
- Consider artificial respiration if your dog is not breathing or their heart has stopped.
Even if your dog does not have any apparent injuries, always seek veterinary care if they have been in a collision.
Internal damage is entirely possible. And even if your dog has managed to escape with only bruising, your dog is likely to need pain management and monitoring for a few days after the event.
CPR for dogs
What do you do if the worse happens and your dog stops breathing? CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) is the only option in some situations.
For example, when an otherwise healthy dog’s heart has stopped beating as the result of choking, drowning or electrocution.
However, CPR does come with some warnings. It is a physically demanding process that can cause your dog further injuries such as broken ribs and collapsed lungs.
Unfortunately, it also has a low success rate. However, it can and does work in some cases.
How do I know if my Dog needs CPR?
If you suspect your dog has stopped breathing, you need to assess the situation as quickly as possible and remember you’re ABCs;
- Open your dog’s mouth and pull the tongue forward
- Check if there’s a blockage in your dog’s throat
- If there is an obstruction, remove it
- Are they breathing?
- Look and listen, is your dog’s chest rising and falling?
- Can you feel the breath coming from their nostrils?
- Check for a heartbeat or pulse by either placing your hands on the left side of your dog’s chest, near the elbow joint. Or by putting two fingers on the femoral artery, easily located on your dog’s inner thigh.
If your dog has a pulse but isn’t breathing, they need artificial respiration. However, if your dog isn’t breathing and doesn’t have a pulse either, your dog needs CPR which is artificial respiration combined with chest compressions.
What to Do If Your Dog Isn’t Breathing
If your dog isn’t breathing but still has a pulse perform mouth to snout artificial respiration;
- Close your dog’s mouth. Place a hand on your dog’s muzzle and make sure their mouth is completely shut
- Extend your dog’s neck so that their muzzle is in line with their spine
- Put your mouth firmly over your dog’s nostrils, creating a seal and blow.
- Watch your dog’s chest, if it doesn’t inflate ensure you have made a proper seal and blow harder
- Aim for one breath every two to three seconds or twenty to thirty breaths per minute
- Uncover your dog’s snout between breaths but keep the mouth shut.
What to Do If Your Dog Isn’t Breathing and Doesn’t have a Pulse
If your dog’s heart has stopped and they aren’t breathing either, the only option is to perform CPR.
The general rule is two breaths of artificial respiration after each set of thirty chest compressions in two-minute cycles.
- Lay your dog on the floor on their right-hand side
- Straighten their head so that their nose is in line with their neck
- Pull your dog’s tongue forward so that it sits just behind their front teeth
- Check for any obstructions in the back of the throat
- Close your dog’s mouth
- Sit or kneel behind your dog’s back
- For small dogs use one hand and for large dogs use interlocked hands
- Place your hands on the fullest part of your dog’s rib cage.
- Keep your arms straight and push down firmly on your dog’s rib cage in quick bursts – the Bee Gees song Staying Alive is a good tempo for compression
- Push hard. A compression should move your dog’s chest by a quarter to a third of its width
- Let the chest fully expand after each compression
- Repeat thirty times and then perform artificial respiration
- Check for heartbeat and repeat if necessary
If there is still no heartbeat after five minutes, it’s unlikely your dog will recover.
Emergency first-aid for dogs
Hopefully, you’ll never have the occasion to use any of these emergency first-aid tips. But if the worse does happen, you’ll be prepared.
While these tips should NEVER replace professional medical care, they can help your dog feel more comfortable until you get them the help they need.