I hope you will never need to administer first aid to your pets, but if an emergency should occur, it’s important to be mentally prepared. These first aid tips are intended to get you and your pet safely to a veterinarian for medical care.
When a dog or cat is in pain, they may fight or try to bite. I have seen the sweetest animals become aggressive and bite the people they love when they are scared and injured. So it is very important to be cautious, especially around the mouth, with a dog or cat that is hurt. You can create a muzzle with a necktie, stockings, or rolled gauze. Never muzzle an animal that is vomiting. You can create a kitty burrito by wrapping a cat up tightly in a blanket or towel.
How do I deal with the following emergencies?
Bleeding – If your pet has a wound that is bleeding excessively, apply direct pressure. Don’t worry about cleaning it or treating it with antibiotic ointment, the first step is to stop the bleeding. Apply a clean thick gauze pad to the wound and either hold the pad in place with manual pressure or use a bandage to secure it in place. It may take 3 to 5 minutes or longer to get the bleeding to stop, so once the pressure has been applied, leave it there and don’t peek.
Broken bones – If you think your pet has a broken bone the goal is to get your pet to the veterinarian with as little movement as possible. A poorly placed splint can cause more harm than good, so if the fracture is not bleeding externally, it is best not to touch the broken area. For cats and small dogs use a small padded carrier for transport. For large dogs use a heavy blanket or bedspread as a sling, put the dog in the center of the blanket and with two people pick up the corners to lift the dog into the car and to the veterinarian.
If you think your pet has neck or spinal trauma, place them on their side on a firm surface (for small animals try a cookie sheet or box lid) and secure them so they cannot move. Use a calm voice to be reassuring as you drive to the closest veterinary hospital.
Choking – If your pet is still breathing and he is not choking, try and let him get the object out himself. Signs of choking are that your dog or cat is unable to breathe, is pawing at his mouth, or is turning blue. When an animal is choking and conscious they are more likely to bite. Look in the mouth; if you see something pull it out with pliers or tweezers (not your fingers). If your pet collapses because they cannot breathe, aim their head towards the floor by picking up their back legs and sway them back and forth to let gravity pull the object out. If that doesn’t work thump their back with the palm of your hand several times, still aiming their head towards the ground. If this doesn’t work, try a Heimlich maneuver by holding your pet with his back to your chest, make a fist in the soft spot below the ribs and push in and up with both hands. Be very gentle doing this on small dogs and cats.
Heatstroke – If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, hose him off with cool water, especially in the groin and armpits. Do not submerge them in ice cold water as this can make the situation worse. Offer cool water to drink. Cover him with wet towels, changing them out for cool ones every few minutes as you drive to the veterinarian with the air conditioning on.
Seizure – If your dog or cat has a seizure you won’t be able to make it stop, so don’t try. You simply need to wait it out and make sure they don’t get hurt. Move them away from sharp objects and prevent them from falling off furniture. If possible, turn their head towards the ground so they do not inhale vomit or saliva. Finally, use a stopwatch to time how long the seizure lasts. It will feel like an eternity, but chances are it lasts less than a minute.
Not breathing – If your pet is not breathing and unconscious, open their mouth, pull their tongue out and check for something stuck in their throat. If their airway is clear, hold their mouth closed and breathe into their nose until you see the ribcage gently rise. Continue to administer breaths every 4 to 5 seconds while someone drives you and your pet to the closest veterinarian.
Toxins – If you pet gets a toxin on his coat or hair, wash him off using warm water and dish soap. If a toxin gets in the eyes, flush them with sterile saline. If your pet ingests something that may be toxic call animal poison control (888) 426-4435 as you head to the veterinarian. The veterinarian will need to know what it is that your pet ate and how much, so bring the packaging with you.
Hopefully these tips help you to be prepared for an emergency. In many communities you can take a pet first aid class to practice some of these skills. Remember to stay calm and to use a soothing voice to reassure your pet in an emergency.
Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM). She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007. She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email firstname.lastname@example.org