First Aid for Dogs
Table of Contents
When a dog suffers a serious injury or the sudden onset of illness, your first priority is to keep calm (panic will only waste valuable time) and contact a local veterinary practice without delay for advice and assistance. You can take the following action if unable to reach help immediately, but do not attempt first aid if you are at all uncertain of what you are doing.
- Make sure that the dog can breathe by removing debris from its mouth and gently pulling the tongue forward.
- Place the dog in a recovery position, with its left side uppermost, and keep it warm.
- Check for a heartbeat by placing the heel of your hand on the left side of the dog’s chest just behind the elbow. Give cardiac massage if you are unable to feel a heartbeat.
- Stop any bleeding.
- Take the dog as quickly as possible to the nearest veterinary practice.
Moving an Injured Dog
An injured dog is likely to bite, so if the animal is conscious, improvise an emergency muzzle. Two or more people will be needed to carry a heavy dog. Use a blanket to lift the dog or, if severe spinal injuries are suspected, carry it carefully on a board or door to avoid sudden movements.
Unchecked bleeding can quickly lead to shock and death.
- Apply pressure at the bleeding point with your thumb, or place a wad of cotton balls or a gauze pad against the wound and bandage it tightly. If the bleeding continues, you may have to apply another dressing on top of the first.
- Use a tourniquet on a profusely bleeding leg or tail. Tie a narrow piece of cloth (not string or elastic) between the wound and the dog’s heart. Insert a pencil or stick into the knot and twist it to stop the bleeding. Do not apply the tourniquet for more than 15 minutes at a time.
Internal bleeding: Suspect internal bleeding if a dog has been in a road accident, had a serious fall, or suddenly becomes pale and lethargic.
- Keep the dog quiet and warm.
- Minimize movement and seek immediate medical attention.
Blood, vomit, or water inhaled by the dog after an accident or drowning may stop it from breathing. Send someone for help and attempt to resuscitate the dog:
- Pull the tongue forward and clear away any obstructions from the mouth. In the case of drowning, drain the water from the lungs by turning the dog upside down.
- Lay the dog on its right side and extend the head and neck forward to give a free airway.
- Cup your hands around the dog’s nose and breathe through them into its nostrils for about three seconds to inflate the lungs. Pause for two seconds, then repeat. Carry on until the dog starts to breathe on its own.
If the dog’s heart has stopped, give cardiac massage at once.
- Place the heel of your hand on the left side of the dog’s chest just behind the elbow. Place your other hand on top, then press both hands firmly down and forward toward the head.
- Rapidly and firmly pump the chest three times in succession, then blow into the dog’s nostrils: pump, pump, pump, breathe, allowing less than a second for each pumping action.
- Repeat this sequence about 15-20 times a minute until you feel a heartbeat, then cease pumping. Continue with mouth-to-nose resuscitation while someone helps you rush the dog to a vet. Do not abandon your efforts as long as you continue to feel a faint heartbeat.
Burns and Scalds
A quick response is needed to limit the extent of skin damage.
Boiling water or oil
- Cool the burned area of skin by sponging at once with cold water. Do not apply ointment.
- Cover the area with a wet cloth or apply an icepack, and take the dog to a vet at once.
- Muzzle the dog to stop it from ingesting any of the contaminant.
- Sponge the area gently with water to remove all of the chemical and consult a vet at once.
- Switch off the current before attempting to move the dog or use a nonconducting object, such as a wooden (not metal) broom to move the dog away.
- Contact a vet at once. Keep the dog warm and check its heartbeat and breathing. Resuscitate if necessary (see above).
The only sign the owner may see of a minor shock (after the dog chews an electric cord, for example) is difficulty in breathing shortly afterward. Check the inside of the mouth and lips for burns, and apply cold water.
Insect Stings and Bites
An allergic reaction to insect stings or bites shows up as hives (swellings all over the face and body). The dog may have difficulty breathing. Consult a vet at once. Treat with antihistamines.
Wasp stings: The venom is alkaline, so treat by washing the area with a diluted acid such as vinegar.
Bee stings: Try to remove the stinger with tweezers—it looks like a dark, short hair. Bee stings are acid, so the swelling should be bathed with an alkaline such as bicarbonate of soda.
Snake Bite: If, on a walk in snake country, your dog begins to drool and tremble, and its pupils dilate, suspect a snake bite. The site of bite is usually on the head or legs. There will be rapid swelling.
- If possible, apply an icepack or cold water to the wound to slow down the flow of blood.
- Contact an animal emergency center at once to make arrangements for an antivenom to be ready for your arrival.
- If the bite is on the paw, a tourniquet between the bite and heart may delay the spread of the venom. Do not let the dog exert itself in any way, as this will raise its heart rate and spread the venom more rapidly around the body. Carry it to and from the car.
This occurs most commonly when the dog eats a toxic substance such as prescribed drugs or garden pesticides, but some poisons can also be inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
- Call a vet for advice. If swallowed, induce vomiting only if the substance ingested was not corrosive or irritating, the poison was swallowed within the last hour, and the dog is conscious and alert. To induce vomiting, give hydrogen peroxide in the following amounts: 2 teaspoons for a toy breed, 1/2 tablespoons for a medium-size breed, 2-4 tablespoons for a large breed. Alternatively, place a large crystal of washing soda (sodium carbonate) on the back of the dog’s tongue.
- Waste no time in getting the dog to a vet. If you know what has been swallowed, take a sample of the substance, if possible with the packet label listing the ingredients.
Objects in the Mouth and Throat
Sticks and bones: Sometimes splinter and become wedged between the teeth or at the back of the throat. Attempt to remove the object yourself only as a last resort. Extreme care must be taken in case the dog bites. Get someone to restrain the dog firmly.
- Keep the dog’s mouth open by placing a wooden object (such as a kitchen utensil) between the upper and lower jaw.
- Reach over and carefully remove the object with tweezers or kitchen tongs.
Small balls: If trapped at the back of the throat, they can quickly cause asphyxiation.
- Grab the dog around its waist and squeeze, elevating the abdomen. This should force the ball out over the back of the tongue (the Heimlich maneuver).
- Alternatively, press on the throat from the outside, and try to push the ball up and out over the back of the tongue.
Fish Hooks: Fish hooks can imbed themselves, especially in the lips. Don’t pull one out by the end as the barb will cause further damage. Be careful.
- With wire cutters or pliers, cut the hook in two, then push the barb through to the outside. Clean the wound with antiseptic.
- If you cannot remove the hook, take the dog to the vet. Do not pull on or cut a fishing line trailing from the mouth. This will make it more difficult for the vet to remove the hook.
Bites: Fighting dogs most frequently bite their opponent’s face, ears, neck, or chest. Even though the surface wound may seem clean, it is best to have any laceration looked at.
Ears: Frequently torn in fights and will often bleed profusely.
- Clean the wound and apply a pressure pad to the site to stop bleeding.
- Tape the ear upward onto the top of the head by winding the bandage over and round the head under the chin. Leave the other ear outside the bandage so that it helps to keep it in place. Bandaging will prevent the ear from bleeding when the dog shakes its head.
Prolapsed eye: Sometimes results from a fight, most usually in short-nosed breeds such as Pekingese and Pugs. Speed is vital if the eye is to be saved.
- Keep the eyeball covered with a moist cloth.
- Take the dog to the vet immediately.
Heatstroke occurs rapidly in dogs, often proving fatal in minutes. The first signs are rapid, heavy breathing. The dog becomes distressed, salivates, gasps for breath, and collapses.
- Take the dog out of the heat.
- Cool the dog by pouring water over it. Use tepid water at first, then gradually reduce the temperature as the dog cools. Cover the dog with damp towels.
- Offer water to drink.
- Take the dog to a vet if it has failed to recover after a few minutes.