Chances are you’ll never need to call on any pet first aid knowledge for your canine companion, but it’s always best to know the basics.
Typically, accidents involving dogs tend to happen out and about so knowing the basics of canine first aid can help calm down a worrying situation.
So what do you need to know about dog first aid?
What is pet first aid?
First aid is about giving immediate help to save a life, or prevent a situation or injury worsening. It’s the same for our dogs. Therefore, you need to know some general guidelines before we move on to the specifics of different scenarios.
In the first instance, you should prioritise the safety of both you and other humans. While the instinct is to panic if our beloved dog is ill or injured, you need to calmly assess the situation first in order to give the most appropriate help.
Injured animals are often frightened and therefore volatile so you should take steps to ensure everyone’s safety.
If there is a risk of biting then take the precaution of muzzling your dog while you get them help. Do not do this if they are having difficulties breathing.
Keep the telephone number of your vet to hand, and stored in your mobile phone. If necessary, they may even be able to give you advice over the phone in an emergency.
When to phone the vet
Oftentimes the swift actions of an owner are enough to ensure your dog is now safe and on the road to recovery. However, it’s important to know when it’s time to move beyond basic canine first aid and call the vet.
If it is out of hours, then call your usual vet number. There will be an answer machine message telling you what number to call in an emergency as many practices will share on-call services.
You should phone the vet in the following situations:
- If your dog is struggling to breathe and/or have blue tongue
- If your dog is visibly distressed or clearly in severe pain.
- If your dog is notably lethargic, or reluctant or unable to get up, or struggling with their balance.
- If your dog is vomiting repeatedly with minimal abatement. Diarrhoea is generally considered less concerning.
- If your dog is unable to urinate or empty their bowels.
- If your dog is a nursing mother and shivering, shaking or in any way unwell.
Typical incidents requiring dog first aid
There are a wide variety of illnesses and injuries that may require a dog to receive canine first aid.
- Cuts and scrapes: If a dog is bleeding then bandaging should be applied tightly to the affected area. Do not use sticky plaster. If you’re bandaging a limb, include the foot so that this doesn’t swell disproportionately.
Take the dog to the vet if the bleeding is severe, doesn’t stop quickly, or shows signs of infection.
- Broken bones: Only if the bleeding is serious apply a bandage as above. Otherwise, for a suspected broken limb try to minimise their movement and get them to a vet.
Placing them in a confined car crate or cage can ensures they don’t destabilise the break.
- Road accidents: Unfortunately, many dogs are hit each year on Britain’s roads although no official data exists.
In the event that a dog is hit by a vehicle and still on the road, the primary focus should be to ensure your own safety first. Then approach the animal slowly and gently. The dog should be moved from the road by lifting them using one arm under the chest, and one under their hindquarters.
Always take a dog to a vet who has been hit. Keep them warm for the journey.
- Poisoning: Do not encourage your dog to be sick unless the vet has expressly advised you to do so. Instead, if possible, take the packaging of the poisoning substance and the dog to the vet. If it’s a plant then snap a quick photo if possible.
- Burns: As with humans, run a burn under cold water for a minimum of five minutes. Don’t apply anything without the advice of the vet and ensure they are assessed as soon as possible.
- Coat or paws contamination: If your pooch has walked in something dangerous, such as paint, then use an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from attempting to lick the affected area. If you are able to bathe the dog completely clean then do, otherwise a trip to the vets may be in order.
- Fights: If your dog has been in a fight and is injured then you will need to take them to a vet. Bites from other dogs are prone to infection and need to be properly cleaned, and there may be internal damage.
- Swollen abdomen: If a dog has a swollen abdominal area and this has appeared rapidly this is an emergency situation – you need to get to the vet immediately.
- Choking: Dogs are generally good at dislodging small items from their gullet, but if they have an item stuck in their throat and it is causing their tongue or gums to turn blue then you need to take swift action.
Have one person hold open the mouth while the other carefully removes the item. If this isn’t possible then repeat the process after pushing down swiftly and hard on the abdomen where it meets the ribs.
- Eye injuries: If the eye is sore, reddened or bulging then try flushing it with saline water or water. Then cover with a wet dressing and call the vet.
- Heat stroke: Dogs are susceptible to heat stroke. Follow our tips here on how to cool them down. If they are not improving you will need to call the vet.
- Fits: In the event of a fit, ensure the dog is in a safe open space and stand back before calling the vet.
- Stings: With summer here stings aren’t uncommon. You should gently remove the sting and use a bathing solution of water and bicarbonate of soda to alleviate the sting. If the sting is in the mouth then do call the vet.
In most instances, you can really make a difference to the outcome by knowing some basic dog first aid. It can be useful to keep a dog-friendly first aid kit at home, in the car, or on walks, should you need it. This should include:
- Rolled bandages
- Absorbent dressings
- Cotton wool
- Elizabethan collar
We hope you never need to call on your canine first aid knowledge, but if you do, you’ll be well prepared. Remember, if in doubt, call the vet.