First Aid for Dogs: How to save your dog’s life in an emergency
While no one wants to consider the possibility of their canine companion being injured or unwell, it’s important to be prepared for the possibility. This means knowing in advance how to respond in an emergency and having the right equipment ready.
What is first aid?
First aid describes basic treatment given in an emergency in order to save a life, reduce pain and minimise future or ongoing harm. It’s important to be aware that you are only allowed to give basic treatment and only in an emergency. Only members of the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) can medically or surgically treat animals.
Preparing for emergencies
As with most things in life, preparation is key! It’s important to stay calm and in control in an emergency. This is much easier if you know in advance how to act.
A first aid kit for dogs should include:
- Bandages: some cohesive bandage (meaning it sticks to itself) and some open weave/conforming bandage
- Sterile wound dressings and/or spray on plaster
- Surgical tape – to secure dressings or bandages in place
- Saline pods – for cleaning a wound
- Antibacterial spray or cream
- Sterile eye wash – in case of dust or irritation from soap or other chemicals
- Cotton pads / swabs
- A thermometer – to check for heat stroke, fever or cold exposure/shock
- A foil blanket – to use if your dog is collapsed, in shock or too cold
- An instant cool pack – to use on bumps to prevent swelling and help the pain
- Curved round-ended scissors – to safely cut bandage material
- Latex or rubber gloves
- Tweezers – for removing splinters or bee/wasp stings
- A muzzle – for your safety
- Your vet’s phone number, including the emergency out-of-hours number.
Reading about giving CPR online and actually giving it are two very different things! There is no substitute for seeing CPR performed during a first aid course, either in person or via videos online. You may even get to practice on a dummy!
How to deal with common canine emergencies
All dog owners should be aware of potentially lifesaving measures they can take in an emergency. With any emergency the first steps should be:
Of course, it’s equally important to know what you should not do! You should never give any human drugs to your pet, including pain relief, unless instructed to do so by your vet. Some human drugs are very harmful to pets. You should also never put yourself in danger, for example by attempting to rescue a dog in trouble in the water, or by intervening in a dog fight.
While of course, this doesn’t replace an in-depth first aid course, nor your vet’s specific advice in an emergency, here’s some general advice on how to deal with some of the most common emergencies in dogs:
If it is safe to do so, you may be able to remove the object from your dog’s mouth. Be careful not to push it further in though! If the object is large, like a ball, you may be able to push inwards and forwards from the outside of the neck to dislodge it. Get to your vet as quickly as possible. If your dog cannot breathe at all, is collapsed or has blue lips, then you will try laying your dog on their side and pushing firmly in their tummy area, behind the last rib.
Move your pet to safety and run cool water on the area. Ring your vet as you continue to do so.
Check your animal is not choking. Never try to make them sick at home, as some things can be more harmful on the way back up. Call your vet immediately, with the details of what they have eaten.
In all cases, you should call your vet for advice as soon as possible, they will be able to give you specific advice tailored to your situation. It’s also important that they know you are coming so that they can prepare, saving valuable time once your dog arrives at the practice.