Emergency First Aid for Pets

The same rules apply to pets as do for humans in emergencies, and often giving first aid will make the difference in saving a life.   Remember ACT QUICKLY, DO NOT PANIC, and USE COMMON SENSE.

The first priority should be to contact the vet practice so that any advice can be given and that preparation can be made to accept the animal – the sooner the animal receives veterinary treatment, the better the prognosis will be. 

Ensure you store the practice’s telephone number in your mobile contacts and in an obvious location at home for quick reference so that essential advice can be provided during an emergency.

In an emergency, follow these simple steps:

  1. GET HELP in order that someone can contact the practice.  In a distressing situation, the more help there is the better.
  2. Ensure that you and the animal are in a SAFE LOCATION – this may mean moving the animal, but only if it is unlikely to cause you harm.  If it is in pain, frightened or behaving aggressively then try and make the environment as safe as possible.
  3. KEEP THE SITUATION CALM – talk softly to the animal and stroke it if it is safe to do so.  Do not give anything to the animal to ear or drink but keep it warm with a blanket or coat if it is immobile.
  4. If you are advised to do so and it is safe to move the animal, TRANSPORT IT TO THE PRACTICE as soon as possible for treatment, otherwise the vet may have to attend the scene if this is not possible.  Take care in keeping an injured animal in a stable position when moving it – a blanket could be used as a sling for large dogs.
  5. To resuscitate an unconscious animal, remember ABC:-

AIRWAY – ensure that the airway is clear but be careful you don’t get bitten if you need to clear any blood/mucous/vomit/foreign material.  If the animal is unconscious, open its mouth and pull the tongue forward.

BREATHING – look for breathing movements – get down to the animal’s level to see the chest rise and fall, and listen for air movements near the nose.  If you cannot see the animal breathe, close its mouth and use your hand as a funnel to blow air into the nose.

CIRCULATION – feel for a heartbeat on the animal’s chest just behind the elbow, and a pulse high up inside a hind leg in the groin.  If the animal is totally unresponsive and you suspect there is no heartbeat, start gentle chest compressions by pressing over the heart, just behind the elbow.

Specific emergencies

All of the following conditions require urgent veterinary advice and treatment.  The following advice is to guide you on what to do until the animal can be given specific treatment by a vet, which should not be delayed if at all possible.

WOUNDS/BLEEDING

  • Apply pressure to minimise blood loss. Use any material you can find if sterile pads and bandaging materials are not available.
  • If you can see blood pumping from the wound, extra pressure is required.
  • Wounds should be cleaned with saline or antiseptic solution but few animals would allow the owner to do this and all but the smallest wounds require veterinary treatment – the ‘golden period’ for cleaning and suturing a wound is 6 hours in order for the best healing to occur.

FRACTURES

  • Broken bones are incredibly painful – pain and distress might make it difficult to handle the animal so take great care not to get bitten when handling.  Urgent veterinary attention is always needed.
  • If essential, limbs can be splinted with any rigid materials available and flexible ‘ties’ or bandaging material.
  • Take great care to keep the animal and the fracture site as immobilised as possible when moving it from one place to another.
  • If the fracture site is bleeding badly, pressure to stem the bleeding might be required but will cause a great deal of pain and may not be possible.

CHOKING/BREATHING PROBLEMS

  • It can be difficult to assess why an animal is struggling to breathe and dramatic signs can occur very quickly in many emergency situations.
  • Urgent veterinary attention is always required but in the meantime, check the colour of the animal’s gums or conjunctiva by lowering the bottom eyelid – this should be nice and pink but if it is pale white or blue, then oxygen is urgently required.
  • Check inside the animal’s mouth for an obstruction if it is safe to do so – the throat area cannot be examined unless the animal is sedated or unconscious.
  • Keep the animal as calm as possible by stroking it, talking softly and moving it gently.
  • Do not allow the animal to overheat either by wrapping it up or increasing the ambient temperature.  Allow it to get into a comfortable position on its own - often the best position is lying on its front with elbows positioned away from the body and neck outstretched.

BURNS/SCALDS

  • Do not attempt to cover or apply anything to the burned area – this will cause further pain if the covering needs to be removed when receiving the correct veterinary treatment.
  • Take care in moving the animal safely and as painlessly as possible if it has extensive burns.
  • Even if the animal appears normal, make sure it receives veterinary attention as a precaution as delayed reactions to the skin can occur.

POISONING

  • Do not give the animal anything to eat or drink and do not try to induce vomiting.
  • Keep a close eye on any abnormal signs that you notice in your pet so that you can give an accurate history when the vet asks.  If the animal has some of the toxin remaining on its skin, make sure it cannot lick or ingest any more, for example by wrapping it in a towel/sheet.
  • When you take the animal to the surgery, make sure you also take the packaging or remainder of the poison ingested, if known.

SEIZURES

  • ‘Fits’ or seizures can be very distressing both to the animal and to the owner.  Most pass by within several seconds or a few minutes.
  • Keep the animal as calm as possible – use its name and talk to it, turn lights and loud noises such as the television off.  Ensure the environment is safe and that the animal cannot hurt itself.
  • DO NOT touch the animal directly as it could bite.  There is no need to be concerned about it swallowing its tongue.
  • Often the animal becomes incontinent, thirsty and hot after a seizure has passed, and disorientation and pacing will occur – do not prevent it from moving around but try and ensure it cannot hurt itself. It may be a good idea to keep the animal cool using soaked towels for transport.

HEAT STROKE

  • This can occur quickly and without warning in warm temperatures, usually when animals are left in cars exposed to the sun, or if dogs get too excited and active during exercise.
  • Cooling the animal down is vital – use cool water/wet towels/fans/air conditioning or anything you can find, and always seek shade, but ensure the animal does not chill.  Concentrate on wetting the skin on the belly and inside the legs first.
  • Do not put anything in the dog’s mouth unless it can hold its head up and is looking for a drink, in which case offer water little and often.

HYPOTHERMIA

  • Try and warm the animal as soon as possible using blankets/clothing/heat sources, and move it to a draught free position if possible.  Stimulate the animal by rubbing and talking to it in the meantime.
  • Try to dry a wet animal as soon as possible, mainly through rubbing with a towel.
  • If the animal is able to hold its head up, offer it some food after getting advice from the vet.

STICK INJURIES

  • Throwing sticks for dogs always risks them running onto them, causing impalement or trauma.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not try and remove the embedded stick - contact the surgery and plan to take the animal there as soon as possible.
  • Keep the animal calm and warm to try and avoid shock.

INSECT BITES/STINGS

  • Most bites and stings are locally irritant and painful but will usually settle within a few hours, however some animals may have allergic reactions.
  • Particular care is required if an animal is bitten on the face, neck or in the mouth, especially if it starts to swell, due to the risk of choking.
  • Look for an embedded sting in the skin/fur and let the vet know this when the animal is examined.
  • It is important to monitor the animal for signs of breathing problems and distress – keep him/her as calm as possible until you get to the surgery.

ELECTROCUTION

  • The most important thing to remember is to isolate the electrical source – turn off the power immediately and unplug the electric device.
  • Follow the above advice on resuscitation (ABC) and burns, if required.

 

Pet First Aid Kits

Wherever you go with your pet, it is a good idea to take a First Aid Kit with you for emergencies.  This should not replace professional veterinary treatment, but can be used in first line management until the animal can be taken to a veterinary surgery.

Suggestions for items to include in a Pet First Aid Kit:

  1. 1 - 2 x Small pots of saline/sterile water
  2. 5 x sterile gauze swabs
  3. Sterile dressings to apply to the skin – 1 x medium and 1 x large
  4. Adhesive tape
  5. Foil blanket
  6. Scissors and Tweezers