Pet First Aid and Emergency Care
Dr. Mara DiGrazia
A message from Dr. DiGrazia:
These first aid guidelines are provided for you to use when faced with an injured or ill pet prior to contacting the veterinarian. Please remember that this is to be used only as a guide and not as a substitute for veterinary care. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, contact a veterinarian immediately! There are so many different types of poisons that we cannot cover the topic in a single article. So in cases of suspected poisoning, be sure to contact a local veterinarian immediately, do not try to induce vomiting until you speak with a veterinarian, and be prepared to describe as best as you can the suspected poisonous material.
Pet owners are sometimes faced with emergency situations involving their pets without the presence or guidance of their veterinarian. Animals can get sick or require care or first aid any place at any time. Murphyâ€™s Law tells us that this will most likely happen when your veterinarian is unavailable. If you as a pet owner have the knowledge of basic pet first aid, then the care, treatment and prognosis for your pet will improve significantly. The following is a list of guidelines you can use when faced with an injured or ill pet. Please remember that this is to be used as a guide prior to speaking to or visiting your veterinarian, or if you cannot get to the clinic immediately.
These occur when the top layers of skin have been scraped away as in a skinned knee. Wounds smaller than an inch in diameter can be treated at home; anything larger requires professional medical attention. With clean hands, gently clip the fur around the wound with electric clippers. Use warm water or saline to flush out the wound. Flush enough to remove all dirt and debris from the area. You can apply an antibiotic cream (Bacitracin) twice daily. If the wound becomes larger, produces purulent (pus) material or the animal is very uncomfortable, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Check to see if your animal is choking on a foreign object. If so, see â€œChoking.â€ If the animal is not breathing, lay it down on its right side. Check for a heartbeat by listening to the chest where the front leg touches the ribs. If there is no heartbeat, you can start chest compressions as well, see â€œCPR.â€ To breathe for the animal, close its mouth; place your mouth around its muzzle and blow air into the nose until the chest expands. This should be performed 12- 15 times per minute. Seek veterinary attention immediately.
Birth (Whelping and Queening):
Dogs and cats have gestation periods of approximately 58 to 64 days. After 45 days, you could have an x-ray taken to see how many puppies or kittens to expect. By this time the skeletal tissues have calcified enough to be seen on a radiograph. At the time of birth, the animal will usually nest and will seek an isolated, quiet and private area. Expect one pup every 45-60 minutes with 10-30 minutes of hard straining. If she is seen straining hard for over one hour or if she takes longer than a four-hour break and you know more pups or kittens are present, a veterinarian should be consulted. Cats tend to queen a little faster. Help clean the airways of the new puppies and kittens and place them back with their mother to start nursing. See ThePetCenter.com’s article on whelping for more information.
Seek veterinary attention immediately if:
* The mother seems in very obvious pain
* 30-60 minutes of strong contractions occur with no newborn being produced
* Greater than four hours pass between newborns and you expect more
* A fetus seems to be stuck in the birth canal
* More than 65 days of gestation (since the last breeding) have passed
Your animal may be frightened and hurt, so approach with caution. Use a muzzle if needed. Flush out the wound with saline or warm water. Topical Bacitracin can be applied. Wrap large wounds with a clean cloth or bandage material to keep clean. Apply pressure if it there is active bleeding. Bite wounds usually become infected, so it is necessary to seek veterinary attention immediately for appropriate antibiotic therapy. Often what you see at the surface, such as a few small bite punctures, will have extensive subcutaneous tissue damage that you cannot see. Be sure to have your pet examined if there has been a bite wound inflicted.
Bloat can occur rapidly; a dog can be dead within hours of the stomach distention. Death is usually due to circulatory failure and shock. The causes of bloat are still being investigated but bloating seems to be most prevalent in large breeds and seems to occur more commonly if the dog exercises after a large meal. There are different types of Bloat but any time it occurs it is very serious. If you ever notice your dog gagging and trying to vomit and shows signs of a distended abdomen… call your veterinarian immediately! This is a true emergency. The belly will appear rounded and full and be rather hard and tight when you touch it. For a short description of Bloat in the dog, look at this page and you will see some radiographs of a dog with Bloat.
To stop the bleeding, you may pack the nail with styptic powder, cornstarch, or white ivory soap. You or your veterinarian may need to trim the rest of the nail off to prevent further pain or bleeding. Occasionally a nail that breaks off very close to the nail bed may create an infection in the toe that twill require antibiotic treatment so watch for any limping that persists longer than two days. To see how to trim nails to keep them close to the quick (live part of the toenail), look here.
Flush the injury immediately with cool running water. Gently apply an ice pack wrapped in a soft towel to the area for 15 minutes. Seek veterinary attention immediately.
Check to see if your animal is choking on a foreign object. If so, be careful not to get bitten, or push the object further down the throat. Pliers or tweezers may be used to grasp the object if the animal is calm. You may also use quick chest compressions by placing a hand on each side of the chest and gently force air from the lungs to dislodge the object if it is out of reach. Seek veterinary attention immediately.
Check to see if your animal is choking on a foreign object. If so, see â€œChoking.â€ If the animal is not breathing and the airway and mouth are free of objects, lay it down on its right side. Check for a heartbeat by listening to the chest where the elbow touches the ribs. If there is no heartbeat, you can start chest compressions with the flat of your hand as well. To breathe for the animal extend the neck so that there is a straight airway, close its mouth; place your mouth around its muzzle and blow air into the nose until the chest expands. Be sure to keep the neck out straight, not flexed. You should be able to see the chest expand with each breath… don’t over-do forcing air into the lungs. This should be performed every 5 seconds. If chest compressions are required to stimulate heart contractions, place one hand on each side of the chest in the area of the heart (behind the elbows). Compress every second, alternating with the breathing procedure after 10 heart compressions. Cats may only need compressions with the thumb and forefinger of one hand. Seek veterinary attention immediately. Unfortunately, this procedure, because the patient may already be dead, is extremely unsuccessful in animals.
Wounds smaller than a half of an inch in diameter can be treated at home; anything larger requires professional medical attention. With clean hands, gently clip the fur around the wound with electric clippers. Use warm water or saline to flush out the wound. Flush enough to remove all dirt and debris from the area. You can apply an antibiotic cream (Bacitracin) twice daily. If the wound becomes larger, produces purulent (pus) material or the animal is very uncomfortable, seek veterinary attention immediately. Most cuts will look improved within three days so if this is NOT the case, be sure to call your veterinarian.
Your judgment regarding the health status of a pet with diarrhea is critical. Bloody diarrhea with severe straining may require an emergency trip to the veterinarian; diarrhea along with vomiting can be a sign of serious intestinal obstruction that may even need surgery. A pet with diarrhea and also weakness, pain, vomiting, or agitation may be in real trouble; whereas a pet with diarrhea but few other signs of distress may sometimes be treated at home. Always inform your veterinarian about the situation and have a fecal sample checked just in case worms or other parasites such as Giardia are a factor. (To see an article on intestinal parasites, look here.) Withhold food only for 12-24 hours to give the intestines a rest. Water should still be given frequently but in small amounts. Call your veterinarian for advice on dosages on KaoPectate or Imodium if necessary. You may be required to bring your animal in for medical attention if it persists for more than 24-48 hours. Chronic or frequent episodes of loose stool may be a sign of Inflammatory Bowel Disease which often requires veterinary attention. To read an article on Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Colitis, look here.
Any injury to the eye can lead to permanent scarring or blindness. You can use any commercial saline flush to clean foreign objects from the eye and to visualize the extent of the damage. If your animal is squinting, hiding its eyes from the light, has a raised third eyelid or has any blood within or around the eye, seek veterinary attention immediately. Home treatment of eye injuries is not recommended without a veterinarian’s exam and recommendation. Even a simple scratch on the cornea from a thorn or cinder could lead to severe corneal pathology. Take a look at an injured eye here.
Your animal may be frightened and hurt, so approach with caution. Use a muzzle and look for bleeding. Apply a clean cloth or bandage material gently to bleeding areas for protection and mild pressure. Do not pull on the fractured leg. Transport your pet as quickly as possible to your veterinarian, using a board or large blanket as a stretcher. Give careful support to any fractured limbs. Simple support may be better than trying to splint a fractured limb yourself. See the SURGERY ROOM for info about broken bones.
Remove the animal from the cold source. Apply warm compresses to the affected areas. If a large area is affected, it may be submersed in warm water (102 degrees). Gently dry the areas. DO NOT RUB THE AFFECTED AREAS. Seek veterinary attention immediately. Fortunately, frostbite is uncommon in animals and usually affects the ear tips, toes and tail.
Signs of heat stroke are severe, rapid panting, wide eyes, staggering and weakness. If suspected and you can take the animal’s temperature rectally, any temperature above 106 degrees is dangerous. The longer the temperature remains at or above 106 degrees the more serious the situation; heatstroke can be fatal in minutes! Place your pet in a tub of cool running water or spray with a hose being sure the cool water contacts the skin and doesn’t simply run off the coat. Thoroughly wet the belly and inside the legs. Take a rectal temperature if possible to know when to stop cooling. A safe temperature is about 103 degrees. Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Pets left in cars are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to being able to dissipate heat from their bodies. Even in the shade, and especially in humid conditions, dogs need to inhale air cooler than their normal body temperature of 102 degrees. In fact, even 80 degree air temperatures can be dangerous. Always be careful about leaving pets in cars during warm days… even a few minutes can be critical. Read a full article about Heat Stroke here.
Hit by car:
Your animal may be frightened and hurt, so approach with caution. Use a muzzle if needed to prevent being bitten by an anxious and injured pet. Check for breathing and a heartbeat. Check for obvious fractures and bleeding. Check the gums to see if they are pink and well oxygenated… or pale which might indicate internal bleeding or a shock condition where the patient’s blood pressure falls. If there is active bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean cloth or bandage material. If your animal cannot walk, carefully transport it immediately to the veterinarian using a board or a large blanket as a stretcher. Give careful support to any fractured limbs. A veterinarian should examine any pet after a vehicle accident in case there is internal bleeding.
Also called Moist Eczema these suddenly appearing, wet, circular patches of infection on the skin create intense itching and irritation. A result of a tick or insect bite, or even from a mild abrasion or moisture contacting the skin, Hot Spots can spread very rapidly across the skin surface and beneath the fur so they may be difficult to see. It is best to trim the fur around the affected area to allow air to assist in drying. Daily cleaning of the Hot Spot with hydrogen peroxide or sterile saline, even every two hours for the first day or two, will speed up the healing. Also, any topical anti-bacterial ointment such as Bacitracin, will arrest the growth of the bacteria. These skin lesions can take a week to finally dry and look like they are going to heal. Once they are no longer oozing, simply keeping the Hot Spot area clean will be all that’s needed. The fur begins to grow back (sometimes a different color!) within two weeks. For a good look at treating Hot Spots, see this page.
A swollen paw or muzzle may result from the bite of an insect. You can call your veterinarian about advice for an over-the-counter antihistamine to reduce the allergic response. Cortisone cream can be applied to any insect bite area to help provide relief. Some insect stings will create numerous swollen areas about the head and neck and the face may even swell. Be sure to call your veterinarian regarding home treatment or an office call to assist the patient. A life-threatening reaction to an insect sting is very rare in animals but it can happen.
Wounds smaller than a half of an inch in diameter can be treated at home; anything larger requires professional medical attention. With clean hands, gently clip the fur around the wound with electric clippers. Use warm water or saline to flush out the wound. Flush enough to remove all dirt and debris from the area. You can apply an antibiotic cream such as Bacitracin twice daily. If the wound becomes larger, produces purulent (pus) material or the animal is very uncomfortable, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Your dog or cat may be frightened and hurt, so approach with caution. Use a muzzle if needed. Flush out the wound with saline or warm water. Wrap large wounds with a clean cloth or bandage material to protect the wound. Apply pressure if it is actively bleeding. Puncture wounds often become infected and Tetanus, although rare in the dog and cat, does affect animals; therefore, veterinary attention is required. Oral antibiotics may be needed.
Record what and how much your pet ingested. It is always helpful to bring the wrapper or container with you to the vet. Call your veterinarian or poison control center immediately. (Click to access numbers.) They may give you instructions on how to induce vomiting if it is safe to do so. Hydrogen peroxide and syrup of ipecac are common emetics used and it may be a good idea to keep these two items in a child-safe medicine cabinet. Seek veterinary attention immediately. Take a look at a number of articles about Pet Poisonings here.
Keep the animal safe by removing it from stairways or dangerous objects (table corners, decks). Use a blanket for padding and protection around the animal. DO NOT ATTEMPT RESTRAINT… this may lead to injury of your pet or yourself. Convulsions/seizures are very troubling to witness and you should let your veterinarian know about any seizures your pet has. Time the seizure and make note of the severity. If the seizure lasts for more than 3 minutes, or there are clusters of 5 or more, seek veterinary attention immediately. There really is nothing you can do to stop the seizure other than to provide a quiet environment (keep fearful or screaming children or loud music away from the dog) and softly talk to the dog for reassurance. Any dog or cat that experiences a seizure should be examined and blood chemistry studies should be done. For more information, read this article about Epilepsy.
Straining and crying while posturing to urinate without the production of urine is very serious. Especially in male cats there can be an obstruction of the urethra from minerals or small bladder stones. Without appropriate treatment, your pet can die. If you believe your dog or cat is unable to urinate, do not delay… seek veterinary attention immediately. To see how bladderstones are removed from dogs and cats, look here.
Your judgment regarding the seriousness of the vomiting is critical. If the vomit contains any blood at all, call the veterinarian immediately. If your pet seems alert, active and seems unconcerned about the vomiting, then you may try cautious observation at home. Withhold food for 12-24 hours. After the vomiting has ceased for 4 hours, you may give ice chips or small amounts of water for 12 hours. If vomiting has not resumed, slowly increase the amount of water and food again over the next 24 hours. If the animal is not interested in food or vomits repeatedly, seek veterinary attention immediately. (Any pet that eats grass will probably vomit the grass and stomach contents… this is generally of no consequence.)
FIRST AID KIT FOR DOGS CONTAINS:
VSI Sport Dog First Aid Kit
Contains the most recommended items by Veterinarians and dog lovers to treat your dog in emergencies. Treats broken bones, bee stings, gun shots, cuts, insect bites, wounds and more. VSI Sport Kit is “The Kit That’s Demanded for Hunting, Field Trials and Even Law Enforcement.”
One 4″x 4 yd. Stretch Gauze
Two 5″ x 9″ Trauma Pads
Two 3″ x 3″ Sterile Pads
Two 2″ x 2″ Sterile Pads
One 4″ x 5 yd. Vet Wrap
One 4 oz. Eye & Skin Wash
One Pair Scissors
Three Cotton Swabs
One 1/2 fl. oz. Liquid Styptic
Two Insect Sting Swabs
Two .9 gr. Hydrocortisone Cream Two 1 gr. Triple Antibiotic Ointment
Two Green Soap Towlette
Two Antiseptic Wipes
One 1″ x 2 1/2 yd. Adhesive Tape
One 1 oz. PVP Iodine
One 4″ Plastic Forceps
One Pair Latex Gloves
One Care Card
One Gunshot Wound Card
FIRST AID KIT FOR CATS CONTAINS:
VSI Feline First Aid Kit
When 9 lives aren’t enough, you need the VSI First Aid Kit. The comprehensive kit contents target the unique needs of felines. If you own a cat or work with cat lovers, this is the first aid kit you and your pets deserve.
1 – Bottle Powdered Styptic
1 – Oral Feeding Syringe
1 – Pair Latex Gloves
1 – 1″ x 6 yd. Sterile Gauze Bandage
1 – 1 oz. Bottle of Eye & Skin Wash
1 – Pair Plastic Forceps
2 – Pkgs of Hydrocortisone Cream
2 – PVP Iodine Swabs
2 – Insect Sting Swabs
1 – Roll 1/2″ x 2.5 yd. Adhesive Tape
1 – 5″ x 5″ x 2 12″ Poly Container
1 – Feline CPR Instruction Card 2 – Packages 2″ x 2″ Gauze Pad
2 – Packages 3″ x 3″ Gauze Pad
1 – 1 Pair Scissors
1 – Hand Wipe
2 – Antiseptic Towelettes
5 – Cotton Swab
2 – Green Soap Towelettes
1 – Feline Care Card (detailed first aid instructions)
1 – Emergency Information/Content Card
2 – Pkgs of Triple Antibiotic Oint.
A SIMPLE HOME FIRST AID KIT SHOULD INCLUDE
Board or blanket to use as a stretcher
Gauze and bandage material for wrapping wounds
Rope or soft cloth to use as a muzzle (do not use if vomiting) Adhesive tape
Nonstick bandages (Ace bandage)
Saline eye flush
3% Hydrogen peroxide
Syringe or eyedropper for medicating
Towels or cloth to control bleeding
List of Emergency Phone Numbers
Important Emergency numbers
My veterinarian: ___________________________________________
Second Choice veterinarian_________________________________
Local Emergency clinic: ____________________________________
ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435
ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center: 1-900-680-0000
National Pet Care Information Line: 1-888-252-7387
Click on the link at the beginning of this article…
“The Internet Animal Hospital”