Healthy Pets

Emergency Care

posted: 05/15/12
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First aid, as its name implies, is the initial treatment your dog will receive after an incident.

Dogs will be dogs, and with this special status comes a world of play, activity and fun. Sometimes, however, sprains, breaks and even more serious accidents can befall a dog, or sudden serious health conditions can arise. Your responsibility as his human companion is to try to prevent problems while being prepared for every eventuality.

Your immediate actions can mean the difference between life and death for your pet. First aid, as its name implies, is the initial treatment your dog will receive after the incident, to stabilize or comfort him. Usually your goal is to get him to the vet as quickly as possible, or at least to speak to a vet for advice. Post the numbers of your vet and the nearest 24-hour emergency clinic in a handy spot, and also make sure you have the number of an animal poison control center. Keep a well-stocked first-aid kit in an easily accessible place. Have an ice pack and extra bandages on hand, as well as larger items such as a board or blanket or towel that can double for a stretcher.

Consider taking a course in canine first-aid and CPR to prepare yourself; CPR should only be administered if you know exactly what you're doing.

If you live in an area with frequent tornadoes or the potential for other natural disasters, it helps to have a well-thought-out plan of action ready, including a detailed evacuation plan and extra survival supplies. Ask your vet or local humane society about the emergency services available in your area.

When the Unthinkable Happens

Having your wits about you and staying calm are the two most important things to keep in mind in an emergency — your dog will pick up on your mood. Take a few seconds to regain your composure, if necessary.

Whether he was hit by a car, attacked by another animal, shocked by a loose electrical cord, or even if he has ingested poisonous antifreeze solution that has spilled onto the ground, calm your dog as best as you can. If he looks like he might bite because of his fear or pain, muzzle him, then restrain him.

As soon as possible, compare your dog's vital signs to their normal figures. His resting heart should be anywhere from 80 to 120 beats per minute, and he should take from 10 to 30 breaths per minute, depending on his size, age, breed and physical condition. Normal rectal temperature should range from 100 to 102.5 degrees F (37.8 to 39.2 degrees C).

If he's too agitated for this measurement, check his ears, nose and extremities. If they're cooler or warmer than usual, his body temperature is likely off.

If you spot any cuts, scrapes or other sign of injury, take him to the vet. If he needs to be carried, do so carefully; if he needs to be immobilized, get a helper and pick him up on a makeshift stretcher.

Transporting an Injured Dog

Before you can get your dog to the vet, you'll have to decide whether to immobilize him, carry him or just help him into the car. Of course this will be determined by the size and weight of your dog, and the extent of his injuries. Whether you splint a dog's broken bone depends on the fracture.

With a mobile fracture, where the extremity is dangling below the break, create a temporary splint by wrapping the limb gently and thickly with padding, such as cotton rolls, or even a disposable diaper. Place a piece of heavy cardboard along the whole limb on the side of the injury, then secure it with an elastic bandage. This will keep the limb still, prevent nerve damage and ensure that there is no further interruption to the blood flow.

Do not attempt to splint or immobilize the leg if part of it is dangling but you are unsure of the location of the break. If you can't splint a compound fracture, simply place a clean bandage over the exposed bone areas. Try to gently ease your dog onto a makeshift stretcher, or hoist your dog by yourself. A small or medium-sized dog can be placed in a box for easier carrying. Partial paralysis of the limbs, accompanied by little or no pain, can indicate a spinal fracture, so don't lift your dog in this case.

Immobilize him on a board to prevent any further injury to the spinal cord. Try to keep your dog still and calm as you lift him to place him in the car; do so as carefully as possible to avoid causing pain. Call ahead so the vet is prepared for you.

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Treat every wound and accident as if it's an emergency.


Until a vet determines that your dog will be all right, treat every wound and accident as if it's an emergency. Even a scratch can later become infected, and a puncture wound can become abscessed if not treated properly and promptly.

- Clean a minor wound with water or hydrogen peroxide (3%).

- Swab with povidone-iodine, chlorhexidene or another antiseptic solution

- Clean the surrounding skin and hair with soap and water.

- Apply an ointment such as neomycin.

- Avoid touching any odd-looking wound, since it could be the result of a snake or other animal bite, with venom or bacteria still present. Instead, wear gloves to clean it, then cover it with a bandage and get to your vet as soon as possible.

A bleeding wound:

- Apply firm pressure to the site of the injury using gauze, then bandage it. You'll see a slight swelling near the injury if the bandage is too tight.

- When the bleeding stops or slows, lightly cover the wound, then take your dog to the vet.

- If the bleeding is too severe to be stanched in this way and the injury is on a limb or the tail, you can tie a piece of thick string or gauze into a tourniquet for a few minutes every 20 minutes or so to let blood flow into the injured area. Get your dog to the vet immediately, and watch for shock, which can result from too much blood loss.

Localized pain, limping or swelling may be signs of bruises, muscle strains or sprains. Seek help if an apparently minor problem doesn't remedy itself in a few days. For a more serious problem, you might need to immobilize the limb or area with a splint. Symptoms such as limb deformity or deviations from a joint or bone's normal position may indicate a fracture; take your dog to the vet immediately, especially if he has a compound fracture, in which bone pokes through the skin.

The Symptoms of Shock

When your dog's body is suddenly stressed, his blood flow may be inadequate, tissues will not get enough oxygen and he'll go into shock. Dogs that have suffered grave injury or illness, an overdose of medication or any other sudden bodily system change will at first have a rapid heartbeat and breathing as the body tries to compensate. Left untreated, the body will eventually slow down to slow the effects of injury and illness. Your dog's bodily systems can become so overtaxed that they shut down altogether, resulting in death.

In addition to a weak, quick pulse and rapid, shallow breathing, symptoms of shock include a lower-than-usual body temperature or shivering, cold feet, pale skin and quiet behavior or inactivity. A lowered blood flow can be checked by pressing on his gums with your finger until the gums turn white; the natural pink color should return within a second or two if blood flow is normal.

If your dog is in shock, treat the most pressing problems first. Keep his head lower than his body and remove mouth secretions if he's unconscious. Give him CPR if he's not breathing — and if you know how. Control bleeding and splint bones as needed. Muzzle him if he tries to bite you. As soon as he's more stable, wrap him in a warm blanket and bring him to the vet. Carry him on a stretcher or hoist him yourself.

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Don't take any injury lightly. Seek veterinary assistance if you have any doubts that your dog's injury is serious.

Eye Injuries

A dog's eyes are very delicate, and untreated conditions, foreign objects and seemingly mild problems can develop into rather severe trouble. Any change that is still present after 24 hours should be seen by the vet. Unexplained swelling or excessive tearing, especially if in only one eye, could be signs of infection or a foreign object in the eye. Inspect your dog's eye under a strong light, gently pulling the lids open. If the corneal surface isn't smooth or there's something protruding from behind the third eyelid (the nictitating membrane), gently rub a moistened cotton ball along the inner lid surfaces and under the third eyelid. If your dog doesn't easily comply, hold his head steady, then try to wash out the object with tepid water or eyewash. If you can't remove it, or if the eye is still red and irritated after a few hours, take your dog to the vet clinic.

Pulse Rate

To determine your dog's pulse rate, place your fingers on the inside surface of his rear leg near the point where it meets his body. Count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by four to get the pulse rate. It should range from 80 to 120 beats per minute, depending on the dog, breed and other factors. Or, for a quick check for a rapid or weak heartbeat, place your hand or fingertips against his chest, just behind the point of the elbow.

Controlling Bleeding

Once you've controlled the bleeding clean the wounded area thoroughly, then cover it with gauze pads. For back, belly and limb wounds, secure the dressing with cotton fabric placed on the wound, then wrap and tie it around his abdomen or limbs using a cotton sheet or strips, or stretch bandaging. Outer ear wounds are best left unbandaged, but those on the inside of floppy ear flaps should be covered. Fold ears on top of your dog's head to allow for good air circulation to the wound, then secure the ears in place with a bandage wrapped under his chin and tied on top of his head.

Difficulty Breathing

If your dog is having trouble breathing, there could be something lodged in his mouth or throat. Or, he could be having heart trouble, a reaction to an insect bite, or may even be in shock. To narrow in on the cause, do a quick check of his vital signs.

Anything that your dog can get his paws on will probably end up his mouth and may get stuck in his throat. If he is calm enough, remove the obstruction. Alternatively, a canine-modified Heimlich maneuver might rid his airways of the blockage. To perform it, stand behind him and wrap your arms around his abdomen, just below his ribs. Apply a few quick compressions, or thump both sides of his chest simultaneously with cupped hands. Be careful about how much force you use; especially with a smaller dog, you might break his ribs.


Burns, either chemical or thermal source, may not be visible under thick fur. Indeed, there may be no signs of skin damage, such as oozing pus or blisters, for up to three days. If you do suspect a burn or see symptoms, flush chemical burns with cold water; for a thermal burn, apply cold compress, then disinfectant. Get your dog to the vet quickly.

Temperature-Related Problems

Have you ever left your dog in the car with the windows rolled down slightly to run into a store for "just a minute"? With the summer sun beating down on your car's roof, it only takes a few minutes for the temperature inside to rise to 120 degrees F (49 degrees C) or more — a climate that your dog can't tolerate. Since his only way of cooling down is by panting and allowing the moisture from the surface of his nose and paw pads to evaporate, he will likely overheat in no time at all. Signs of heatstroke include an increased pulse rate, heavy panting, anxiety and confusion. If left untreated, he can lose consciousness. Cool him down with cold, water-soaked towels, and call your vet for guidance.

Don't ever leave your dog in a hot spot, enclosed area or place where there's no air circulation. On hot summer days, make sure that he has access to plenty of shade and water, or an air-conditioned room.


The symptoms of a seizure include uncontrollable and uncharacteristic shaking, loss of consciousness and uncontrollable voiding. Don't try to restrain your dog. Gently wrap him in a blanket, protect his head, and wait for the seizure to pass. Make a note of anything he has recently consumed, his behavior before and after the seizure, and the length and intensity of the episode. If the seizure lasts more than a few minutes, or if there are repeated episodes, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible; otherwise, call your vet to describe the seizure and get advice on the course of treatment.


To remove an obstruction from a conscious dog's throat, you may have to use a pair of tweezers or needlenose pliers to reach the object. If possible, have a helper hold him steady while you hold his mouth open to do this. Remove the object carefully and report any swelling, hoarseness or other problems to your vet. If your dog is unconscious, shift his head so his neck is extended, then open his mouth and pull his tongue out past his teeth. Sweep your fingers around his mouth and throat to search for the foreign body.


Bleeding (cut, scratch, animal bite)

Apply pressure to wound until bleeding stops, then bandage. If bleeding does not stop, apply tourniquet to a bleeding limb or tail and get to vet immediately. If a foreign object is lodged in body, do not remove it; wrap a bandage around it and seek immediate vet care. If dog is bitten by animal of unknown rabies status, seek emergency vet care.

Blood in urine/straining to urinate

Seek veterinary care immediately.

Burn, chemical

Flush with cold water and soothe with cold compresses. Seek veterinary care immediately.

Burn, thermal

Apply cold water or cold compress, then disinfectant. Seek immediate veterinary attention to check lungs for damage from smoke.


Remove obstruction, being careful of bites. If not breathing, apply artificial respiration only if you know how and seek veterinary care immediately.


Move harmful objects away from dog and restrain him gently with towel. Record all details, including what dog may have consumed prior. If seizure is longer than five minutes or repeated, seek veterinary care immediately. Otherwise, call vet for advice.

Electrocution/electrical burn

Turn off power or remove source of electricity without making direct contact — use broomstick. Seek emergency veterinary attention.


Immobilize limb with splint in certain circumstances then place dog on makeshift stretcher. If bleeding, apply gentle pressure. Seek immediate veterinary care.

Frostbite (pale, cool skin)

Slowly rewarm affected area with heat of your hand, by applying warm compresses, or by immersing in warm water (102 to 104 F, or 38.9 to 40 C). Seek emergency veterinary care if any pain, swelling, discharge or discoloration or if skin does not return to normal after 20 minutes. Otherwise, get to vet within 24 hours.

Hypothermia (decreased alertness, weak pulse, shallow breathing)

Slowly rewarm by wrapping in warm blanket and applying towel-covered hot-water bottle filled with warm water. Call vet if dog does not return to normal when warm.

Insect bite/sting (may have large facial swellings, impaired breathing)

Pull out insect stinger, if any. Apply cold compresses to swelling to relieve itch and swelling. Seek vet care, especially with signs of allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing.

Poisoning (salivation, excessive vomiting, grogginess, unconsciousness, convulsions)

Call poison control center or vet, having product container on hand if possible. Induce vomiting only if instructed to, administering syrup of ipecac in dose recommended. Monitor for shock; if convulsing, provide gentle restraint. Seek emergency veterinary attention, bringing product container or sample of toxin with you.

Shock (lethargy, rapid breathing, weak pulse, low body temperature)

Keep warm; seek emergency veterinary attention.

Trauma, major (fall, car accident)

Monitor for shock, keep warm, immobilize and stop bleeding. Seek emergency veterinary attention.

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