Even with the best precautions and supervision, accidents can happen and it is crucial every pet owner has a good idea of how to administer basic first aid to their pet, as well as having a well-stocked and pet-relevant first-aid kit on hand.
In any instance, always assess the safety of the situation before rushing in – you will be no help to your pet if you are the next victim, such as from fast-approaching cars, live electrical wires or heavy, loose overhead objects (eg. tree branches). Also, do not assume that any blood on the scene is necessarily from the animal – it may be from a human AIDS or Hepatitis carrier who was involved in the accident – therefore, always take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. If possible, try to wear gloves.
In all these situations, always seek veterinary help once the animal is stable, regardless of how minor the injury seems:
Cardiac Arrest and Respiratory Failure
These are the most urgent conditions to treat. Check first for a heartbeat by listening against the chest, where the front legs meet the ribs, and if none can be heard, start CPR to simulate heart contractions. Place one hand on each side of the chest behind the elbows, and compress every second. (Cats may only need compressions with the thumb and forefinger of one hand.) After 10 compressions, alternate this with the artificial resuscitation procedure. If an animal has stopped breathing, clear the airways by extending the neck and clearing the back of the throat, then pinch its mouth shut and breathe into its nose so that its chest expands. Repeat this every 5 seconds. Always seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Bleeding and Shock
Apply strong, direct continuous pressure to the site of the bleed. To check for shock, look at the gums – they should be pink. If you suspect shock, keep the animal still and warm with a blanket, then seek veterinary help immediately. Shock is serious and can be fatal if not treated promptly.
Cuts and Abrasions
Using clean hands, flush the wound with saline or sterile warm water until all dirt and debris have been removed from the area. Wrap a bandage or large dressing around the wound to protect it. If the wound is small (eg. less than an inch in diameter), then it may heal simply with some antibiotic cream applied twice daily. However, if the wound increases in size, becomes red and inflamed, oozes pus or the animals seems abnormally uncomfortable or restless, then seek veterinary help immediately.
Similar to cut wounds, flush the area with saline or warm water and wrap the wound in a clean bandage or dressing. Bite wounds will often become infected so it is important to seek veterinary attention for antibiotic treatment, even if the wound is a small one and the animal does not seem distressed. For example, a small puncture wound might have extensive subcutaneous tissue damage that is not visible to the naked eye.
Get professional help immediately and try to determine what and how much your pet ingested. Do not induce vomiting until you have spoken to the vet as some substances are corrosive and may do as much damage coming back up as they did going down. Familiarise yourself with the common pet poisons and their treatment.
Any vomit containing blood is an emergency and the animal requires urgent veterinary attention. However, many animals occasionally vomit (especially if they like eating grass) and this is not a cause for serious concern. A sudden change of food or mild stomach upset can also cause vomiting. In most of these cases, withholding food for 24 hours cures the problem. However, if your pet is vomiting repeatedly or seems listless or in pain, seek veterinary help immediately.
This is the biggest fear of owners of deep-chested dog breeds, such as Great Danes and Dobermanns. It can occur without warning and if left untreated, can be rapidly fatal, due to circulatory failure and shock. The stomach becomes distended due to trapped gases and then twists on itself, cutting off the blood supply. This is a real emergency – the dog must be rushed to a veterinarian immediately. Symptoms of bloat include gagging and trying to vomit, a distended abdomen that is tight and hard to the touch, drooling and heavy panting, and severe restlessness.
As in humans, flush the area continuously with cold running water for as long as possible, then apply an ice pack wrapped in a soft towel. Do not try to treat the burn yourself – seek professional help.
In most cases, this is due to a foreign object lodged at the back of the throat. If the animal is not panicking, you can try to remove it by hand or by pliers or tweezers, although beware of pushing it further down the throat and also of getting bitten. Alternatively, quick chest compressions on either side of the chest may dislodge the object if it is out of reach.
Eye injuries are serious as they can lead to blindness or permanent scarring, so they require prompt veterinary attention – in particular if the animal is squinting, hiding its eyes from the light or you can see blood in or around the eye. If you can see a foreign object embedded, use a saline flush or eye wash to try and gently remove it.
Occasional diarrhoea (with no other serious symptoms) is no cause for concern – as with vomiting, this is usually due to a sudden change in diet or a mild stomach upset and can be treated by a 24-hour fast (make sure water is available). However, bloody diarrhoea with severe straining may require an emergency trip to the veterinarian and diarrhoea along with vomiting can be a sign of serious intestinal obstruction that may even need surgery.
Fractures and Broken Bones
Move your pet as little as possible and transport it to the veterinarian as soon as possible, using a blanket or large board as a stretcher. Support the fractured limb en route by wedging it with towels and blankets – however, be careful about trying to apply a splint yourself as without proper knowledge, you may do more harm than good.
This is a serious condition that affects many dogs left by careless owners in their cars. Temperatures can rise to fatal levels in as little as a few minutes. As dogs do not have the ability to sweat, they need to inhale cool hair to regulate their body temperature and even in the shade; they may not be able to dissipate heat from their bodies. Symptoms include severe fast panting, weakness, staggering and bulging eyes. Prompt action is vital: immerse your pet in a tub of cool running water or spray with a hose, making sure that cool water comes in contact with the skin and does not just run off the coat.
While it can be extremely distressing to watch your pet suffering from convulsions, do not try to restrain them as this can lead to further injury to your pet or yourself. Simply remove hazardous objects from around the animal and make sure it is not in a dangerous location (eg, stairways). Other than this, there is little you can do aside keeping the environment quiet (no screaming children or loud music) and providing reassurance by talking softly to your pet. It is important that your veterinarian is given all the information about the seizure, such as the length and severity.
Pet First Aid Kit
A basic home first aid kit for pets should include:
- Board or blanket for use as a stretcher
- Rope or soft length of cloth for use as a muzzle
- Non-stick bandages
- Adhesive tape
- Gauze and bandage material for wrapping wounds
- Sterile saline solution for flushing wounds and eyes
- Syringe or eye-dropper for medicating
- 3% Hydrogen peroxide
- Towels or cloth to stem bleeding
- A list of emergency phone numbers
Always remember that even the friendliest pet may react aggressively out of panic and fear. Make sure you muzzle dogs before dealing with their injuries (unless they are suffering from respiratory distress or unconscious) and also be careful with cats. Even small rodents can bite quite badly in fear. In many instances, covering the animal’s head and eyes with a towel can help to calm it. An animal in pain will not be thinking clearly and may not even recognise a familiar face, so always approach with caution.