First Aid for Dogs: Tips and What to Keep on Hand

January 10, 2020

First aid for dogs: tips and what to keep on hand

Over the course of your dog’s life, you are bound to run into some trouble with them. Whether your pup eats a tray of brownies, chokes on a chicken bone, or is showing signs of heatstroke, you need to be prepared! Every pet owner should take the time to learn basic first aid for dogs.

While your vet can handle the brunt of most emergencies, having an idea of how to perform some basic first aid for dogs is important for immediate care. Today, we’re going to learn about how to handle common first aid scenarios you may face with your dog, and what to have on hand in your dog first aid kit.

We’ll also discuss when you can handle things on your own and when a call or visit to the vet is necessary. It’s better to prepare before there’s an emergency situation to keep Fido as safe as possible.

Basic First Aid for Dogs

Let’s talk about the most common emergency situations your dog may be in. Hopefully, you’ll never have to perform any of this first aid, but the knowledge will be there in the back of your mind if you ever do.

Remember that first aid is exactly that, a first response that aims to treat your dog fast. But it does not replace the care of a professional vet! If your dog encounters any of the following situations, it’s important that you call your vet immediately after for follow-up instructions and possible care.

What to do if your dog is choking?

  • Signs that your dog is choking may include coughing, difficulty inhaling, or pawing at the mouth. If your pup’s airway is completely obstructed, they will be silent, and their gums and tongue may begin to turn blue (source). A dog who is choking and cannot breathe will appear panicked. It’s time to act immediately!
  • First, check inside your dog’s mouth for trapped food or an object lodged in their airway. If you can see the object, try to remove it from the airway gently with your fingers, pliers or tweezers. Take care not to push the object further down. If you cannot remove the object quickly or easily, proceed to the next step
  • If your dog is getting some air through, but you cannot remove the object, Pet MD recommends making a call to your vet and rushing them to the vet immediately to have them sedated and get the object professionally removed.
  • If your dog is not getting any air through, you cannot remove the object, and they become unconscious you’re going to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on your dog to try to dislodge the object from their airway.
    • For small dogs: lay your dog on their back and apply firm pressure just below their rib cage. The goal is to get them to make a sharp exhale of air that will dislodge the object
    • For large dogs that are standing: you will perform the Heimlich Maneuver very similarly to how you’d do it on a human. Wrap your arms around their belly making a fist just behind the rib cage. Firmly push up and forward to send a sharp exhale of air that will dislodge the object. Once the object comes out, lay them on their side
    • For large dogs that are lying on their side: place one hand on your dog’s back for support and use the other hand to squeeze their stomach, just below the rib cage, up and forward towards the spine to elicit a sharp exhale
  • Once their airway is clear, it’s important to contact your vet and have them checked out. It’s common for objects to damage the throat when they are stuck, and if your dog had any length of time without oxygen there could be complications

How to give your dog CPR

If you find your dog unconscious and they are not breathing and do not have a heartbeat, you need to perform CPR and have a bystander call your emergency vet immediately. TO check for breathing, you should see your dog’s chest moving and find a pulse.

If you are alone, the Red Cross recommends performing cycles of 2 minutes of care and checking for a heartbeat. You should contact someone to help transport you and your dog to an emergency vet while you continue CPR in route.

Let’s learn the basics of performing CPR on your dog, quoted from the Red Cross Cat & Dog CPR guidelines:

  • For cats, small dogs and deep-chested dogs: place the heel of one of your hands directly over the pet’s heart and place your other hand directly over the first hand.
  • For deep-chested dogs: place the heel of one hand over the widest part of the chest and place your other hand directly over the first hand.
  • For barrel-chested dogs: place the dog on its back, place one hand over the widest part of the sternum, and place your other hand directly over the first hand. Lock your elbows and make sure your shoulders are directly above your hands.
  • Using those guidelines for compression placement, you will give 30, fast and hard compressions at a rate of 100 compressions per minute.
  • Then, perform 2 rescue breaths by closing their mouth and breathing into their nose.
  • Continue this cycle of 30 compressions to 2 rescue breaths until they begin breathing again on their own. Ideally, you will continue performing CPR on your dog while someone else gets you to an emergency vet

What to do if your dog is poisoned

Dogs that have ingested something that may be poisonous to their system is one of the more common first aid emergencies you may encounter with your dog. Dogs can become poisoned when they ingest substances that are also poisonous to people—like cleaners, paint, pest control sprays, rat poison, etc. – but they may also be poisoned by some foods and plants that aren’t poisonous to humans, like chocolate.

If your dog is having a reaction after exposure to a poisonous product on their skin or eyes, follow the instructions on the product’s label for how you’d treat a human. For example, if you should flush the eyes or wash your skin, do this for your dog and then contact your vet for further instructions.

If your dog has ingested a known poisonous substance or is showing signs of poisoning, The American Vet Association indicates that owners should call the Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888.426.4435 for advice on how to treat your dog until you can get them to a vet.

Signs that your dog may be having a reaction to a poisonous substance:

  • Seizure
  • Lack of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shaking
  • Panting
  • Increased thirst or urination
  • A general change in demeanor acting “weird”

Related Reading: Keeping your Dog Safe during the Holidays, Healthy People Foods for Dogs

Seizures in dogs

My late Golden Retriever developed epilepsy, the most common cause of repeated seizures in dogs, during the last 3 years of his life. While it was largely controlled with medication, skipping a single dose resulted in a full blow seizure, and they never stopped feeling scary.

The thing is, experts say that seizures aren’t painful for your dog, and as long as the seizure ends within 5 minutes and aren’t occurring more frequently than once per month, they won’t have any lasting effect (source). After a seizure, your dog will be disoriented and scared but will recover.

Here’s what you need to know about seizures in dogs:

  • Right before a seizure occurs, your dog will exhibit changes in behavior. They may act nervous, hide, be restless, or look for comfort from their owner. This can last for a few seconds to a few hours. Dogs seem to sense when a seizure is going to happen
  • Next, is the actual seizure itself. Some seizures are mild and include limited shaking, a glazed look, or licking lips. More intense seizures, known as grand mal seizures, include a complete lack of consciousness, muscle spasms, dog falling to their side, and often defecation and urination occur.
  • While your dog is experiencing a seizure there is no need to touch them. It is a myth that your dog could swallow their tongue during a seizure. The best thing to do is move objects around them to keep them safe while they are seizing and track the duration of the seizure as accurately as possible to report to your vet
  • When the seizure ends, your dog will likely be confused, disoriented, scared, and experience increased thirst

After the seizure occurs, you will want to schedule an appointment with your vet to figure out the cause of the seizure. It may be in response to ingesting a poisonous substance or response to trauma. In other cases, your dog may develop epilepsy or have seizures associated with another issue like kidney disease, liver disease, or brain tumors.

Usually, after one seizure your vet will not start your dog on medication for seizures, but if the events begin to happen more frequently you will discuss treatment options.

Dog bleeding wounds

  • If your dog has a cut or laceration that is actively bleeding, apply pressure on the wound with clean gauze for at least three minutes to allow bleeding to stop. Continue applying pressure at 3-minute intervals until the wound stops actively bleeding
  • Clean the wound and surrounding area using a warm water and salt solution, then wrap the wound with clean gauze and medical tape
  • Trim hair around the wound to help prevent infection and to get a better sense of the size of the cut, puncture, or laceration
  • If it is a minor cut, continue keeping it clean, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a bandage until it heals
  • If your dog won’t leave the bandage alone, you may need to use a cone around their collar to prevent them from licking or chewing at it
  • If you suspect an infection, the wound is from road rash or an animal bite, the wound is large enough to possibly require stitches, or you’re concerned for any other reason-- get them checked out by a vet

Heatstroke in dogs

Heatstroke in dogs occurs when your dog’s core temperature goes above 104 degrees. This can occur if your dog is exercising in hot weather for too long, is left in a hot car, or left outside without access to water or shade on very hot days. True heatstroke in a very serious condition that can result in organ systems failing and leads to death.

Before heatstroke develops you will first see the warning signs of heat stress and/or heat exhaustion which include (source):

  • Slowed pace or lethargy
  • Seeking shade and rest
  • Looking to drink any source of water available
  • Excessive and persistent panting
  • Labored breathing
  • Rapid Pulse
  • Wide and stressed-looking eyes

If you notice these symptoms while or after your dog was in extreme heat, take care to get to a cool place, let them rest, and give them access to cold water. As long as there temperature is below 104 when taken rectally, they will return to normal.

Signs that your dog is experiencing heat stroke include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive, thick drool
  • Staggering
  • Collapse
  • Seizure
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Rectal temperature at or above 104

If you see these symptoms, get them to a cool place and give small amounts of water while you contact your vet. You’ll most likely need to have them seen immediately.

Related Reading: Tips to Keep Your Dog Cool in the Summertime

First Aid Kit for Dogs

Having a first aid kit for dogs on hand is a smart move for every canine owner. This way if you find your dog is in need of care, you’ll have the supplies you need at the ready. You can buy a dog first aid kit that’s fully stocked and ready to go or compile your own.

According to the ASPCA, here’s what you need:

  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • Ice pack
  • Disposable gloves
  • Tweezers
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Oral syringe
  • Scissors
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Dog nail clippers
  • Contact info for your vet, closest emergency vet, and animal poison control

Now you’re prepared to give your dog first aid

With this overview of first aid basics and checklist of supplies to have on hand, you’ll be ready to help your dog if they find themselves in trouble.

Caring for dogs is no easy task because as you already know, they can’t tell us what’s wrong. For that reason, anytime your dog is acting weird, showing symptoms, or signs of discomfort it’s always a good idea to check in with your vet.

Don’t stop your canine first aid learning here! Check out these other articles related to your dog’s health and care:



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