Despite all our best efforts to keep them safe, pets may still become involved in accidents which can have serious consequences. However, with a bit of forward planning and preparation, you can hopefully minimise any damage or injuries and ensure the best chances of survival and recovery for your pet.
Always have a pet first aid kit prepared. These are commercially available but you can also make one up easily by collecting the essential items and storing them in a waterproof box. Keep this box easily accessible in the home or in the car when travelling. A basic pet first aid kit should include:
- A soft length of cloth or rope for use as a muzzle
- Gauze and bandage material for wrapping wounds
- Bandages & adhesive tape
- Towels or cloth to stem bleeding
- Sterile saline solution for eyes and flushing wounds
- 3% Hydrogen peroxide
- Syringe or eye-dropper for medicating
- Blanket or large towel for covering the animal in shock or to use as a stretcher
- A list of emergency phone numbers, e.g., vet, animal shelter
Always restrain the animal before dealing with its injuries. Even the gentlest, friendliest pet may lash out when it is frightened or in pain so always make sure that it is either muzzled or securely restrained so that you will not get bitten. (Note: you should not muzzle dogs that are unconscious, vomiting or suffering from respiratory distress). Remember also that an animal in pain will be confused and unable to think clearly and may not even recognise a familiar face, so always approach your pet with caution.
Stay calm and move slowly, even if the situation is an emergency – not only will you be able to think more clearly but the animal will also remain calmer and easier to manage. Animals will pick up easily on your fear and this may make them struggle even more, possibly causing further injury or even escaping and getting lost. A towel to cove the animals head and eyes can help to calm it, as well as keeping it in a dark, quiet place.
Have all the essential veterinary contact information ready so that you have them easily to hand in an emergency. There is nothing worse than frantically looking for something when you are flustered and panicking. The information should include:
your own name, address and contact numbers
an alternative emergency contact person in case you are not available
your normal vet’s contact details and opening times
contact details for the nearest emergency animal hospital and poison control centre
your pet’s name, breed, age, sex and any identification, such as micro-chips.
a copy of vaccination records and any health conditions your pet may have.
a recent photo of your pet for ID purposes
Don’t give your pet any human medication – things which seem harmless to humans may be extremely toxic, even fatal, to pets. Cats, in particular, should NEVER be given aspirin or acetaminophen as these are extremely poisonous to cats. Similarly, dogs should NEVER be given ibuprofen as this can cause kidney failure.
If you suspect that your pet is suffering spinal injuries, be very careful about moving it. Secure your pet first to a stiff board with masking tape (which will not hurt skin or fur). If you don’t have a board handy, use a blanket. Don’t transport your dog loose in a crate or carrier if you think it might have a spinal injury. Transport it with as little movement as possible and call ahead to inform the vet so that they can prepare for your arrival.
If you’re going away and leaving your pets with neighbours, friends or even boarding kennels, make sure that they have a copy of all the emergency contact information, including where to reach you while you are away; where you keep the pet first aid kit; an alternative person to contact if they cannot reach you in an emergency; the details of your vet and nearest emergency animal hospital and any vaccination/health condition records.
Despite what is commonly shown in movies, applying a tourniquet to stop bleeding should be a last resort. Complications from incorrect tourniquet use can result in severe tissue damage and even amputation. Therefore they should only be used when there is no other way to stop bleeding. It is better to try and stem blood flow by applying firm, direct pressure to the wound, until the bleeding stops. Serious bleeding may require you to hold the pressure for at least 10 minutes – constantly releasing the pressure to check the wound may hamper any clotting that has formed.
While the general advice is to induce vomiting if you believe your pet has swallowed something toxic or potentially harmful, DO NOT induce vomiting if your pet is convulsing, lethargic or in shock. Also, if you think your pet may have swallowed an acid or alkaline substance (e.g., household cleaners), do not try to induce vomiting as these substance are extremely corrosive and may severely burn the throat on the way back up. Similarly with sharp objects or petroleum products.
Even if an animal does not show any external injuries, it may have internal injuries or bleeding and be in shock. Shock is a collapse of the circulatory system and can be rapidly fatal. Symptoms include a weak, rapid pulse, rapid, shallow breathing, dilated pupils or the animal may be unconscious. This is a medical emergency – make sure the animal is gently restrained, cover it with a blanket or towel, elevate the lower body so that the head is lower than the body and then rush the animal to the nearest veterinarian.