Pet First Aid

dog with cold pack on headLike any other member of your family, you can expect your pets to get into an accident at some point or another. Dogs and cats can be curious and sometimes clumsy, which makes them prone to falls, burns, and other injuries. Any time your pet is sick or injured, they need to be taken to the veterinarian for professional care as soon as possible. But in the case of severe or sudden injuries they may require first aid care in the meantime.

How would you react if your dog or cat became suddenly injured or poisoned? Would you know how to keep them safe and secure until they got to a vet? Would you even have the number of a vet or emergency medical line easily accessible?

Performing first aid on your pets can be difficult because a hurt animal is likely frightened, and we can’t talk to them to let them know what’s happening. They might panic, and that will make you more likely to panic, especially if you’re not prepared. That’s why it’s so crucial for every pet owner to know what to do in the case of an emergency.

Basic Pet First Aid Supplies

The first step in being prepared should your dog or cat need first aid is having a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. Here are the basics that everyone should have:

  • A piece of paper or index card with your vet’s name and number, the number of veterinary emergency lines, and directions to the nearest emergency vet clinic
  • Vaccination records and other paperwork
  • A muzzle or something else to prevent biting or chewing
  • Disposable gloves
  • Gauze pads & rolls
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Rectal thermometer and lubricant
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers, scissors, & other instruments
  • Ice pack
  • Styptic powder (stops bleeding)
  • A pet carrier (For cats and smaller dogs, the carrier is also a convenient way to store the kit’s contents)
  • Any other supplies recommended by your vet

Now let’s look at what to do in a few common first aid scenarios.

First Aid if Your Pet is Poisoned

Animals, dogs and cats especially, often like to eat anything they can get to with their mouths. Sometimes it’s a harmless quirk, but sometimes this can mean they eat or drink something harmful. If your dog or cat’s skin or eyes have been exposed to something toxic, follow the instructions on the package. First aid protocol will be identical for humans and pets.

If you think or know your pet has consumed something toxic and is seizing or having difficulty breathing, contact the Animal Poison Control Center immediately (888.426.4435 – 24/7/365).

In addition to rodent killers, household cleaners, and other harmful substances, here are a few foods that are harmful to cats and dogs.

Food That's Hazardous to Dogs & Cats:

Chocolate – the darker the more dangerous. If your pet eats a significant amount of dark chocolate and is experiencing agitation, tremors, increased heart rate, or similar symptoms, induce vomiting by giving them a capful of peroxide in some milk and call a poison control center immediately.

Bread dough – Yeast in bread dough thrives in pets’ stomachs, making the dough expand rapidly and cause discomfort and swelling. Dogs or cats that are experiencing such symptoms should be closely monitored. If the abdomen is severely distended they should be taken to a vet immediately. Yeast in the gut can also produce alcohol resulting in intoxication.

Alcohol – Dogs and cats are very sensitive to alcohol, and should not be given to them in any quantity. Alcohol in pets essentially produces the same symptoms as in people – stupor, lack of coordination, disorientation. In severe cases, coma or death can occur. If a dog is so intoxicated that it cannot stand or seems to be lethargic beyond the point of stupor, they should be monitored by a vet. If a cat has as much as a tablespoon of alcohol they should be taken to the vet immediately, as they are far more sensitive than dogs and are at risk for kidney damage.

Grapes & raisins – Grapes and raisins can be eaten with no ill effects, but in some cases can cause severe kidney damage, and in some cases complete kidney failure.


First Aid if Your Pet is Having a Seizure

Do not try to restrain your pet, as this can harm them and might cause them to bite or scratch you. Time the seizure, and once it has stopped cover the animal with a blanket, keep them calm and warm, and contact an emergency veterinarian immediately.

First Aid if Your Pet is Bleeding

Muzzle your pet so the cannot bite you or themselves. Apply pressure to the wound with a clean gauze pad until the bleeding begins to stop. This should take at least three minutes. When the wound has clotted, remove the gauze, apply a bandage wrap, and get the pet to a vet as soon as possible.

First Aid if Your Pet Has Internal Bleeding

Internal bleeding can occur after your pet falls or receives a significant blow. Symptoms include bleeding from nose or mouth, coughing up blood, blood in urine, pale gums, weak pulse, lethargy, and crying. If you suspect your dog or cat is suffering from internal bleeding, cover them with a blanket, keep them calm as possible, and immediately transport them to a vet or animal emergency room.

First Aid if Your Pet Has Heatstroke

Get your dog or cat out of the sun and to a cool place. Dogs and cats are very vulnerable to sunstroke and should be treated immediately. Place a damp, cool towel over the animal’s head and shoulders. Poor cool water over their body, sweeping the water away with slow motions as the water absorbs excess body heat.

First Aid if Your Pet is Burned

For chemical burns, muzzle your dog or cat and flush the affected area with water immediately. For other burns, instead apply gauze soaked in ice water. In either case, get them to a vet as soon as possible.

First Aid if Your Pet is Choking

If you think your pet is choking on food or another object (pawing at mouth, difficulty breathing, mouth turning blue), first check to see if they can breathe at all. If so, get them to a vet immediately. If not, check the throat for foreign bodies that can be reached or removed with your hands or a pair of tweezers. If this is impossible, apply quick, firm pressure to the sides of the animal’s rib cage to try to push the object out with a sudden burst of air, similar to the Heimlich maneuver in humans. Be careful, as choking animals are more likely than usual to bite out of fear.

CPR for Pets

If your pet is not breathing, open the airway by pulling the tongue forward. If nothing is blocking the airway, hold the mouth closed with your hand, and after forming a tight seal over the muzzle with your mouth, breathe into the nose until you see the chest expand. Do this every five seconds.

If your dog or cat has no heartbeat, lay them on their right side and locate the heart, on the lower half of the left side of the chest. For dogs, press firmly about 120 times per minute, alternating with the breathing described above. For cats, compress their chest with your thumb and forefinger while swaddling them gently. Get them to a vet as soon as possible.

Image Credit: epublicist via Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

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