First Aid for Your Pets
In an emergency:
1. Keep calm and assess the scene for any additional threats to you or your pet. This is important for everyone’s safety.
2. Keep movement of the injured pet to a minimum to avoid further injury or pain.
3. Contact your veterinary hospital, inform them of the situation and get specific first aid advice.
Basic Tips for Handling an Injured Pet
If your pet is injured, it could be in pain and is also most likely scared and confused. You need to be careful to avoid getting hurt, bitten or scratched.
- Never assume that even the gentlest pet will not bite or scratch if injured. Pain and fear can make animals unpredictable or even dangerous.
- Don’t attempt to hug an injured pet, and always keep your face away from its mouth. Although this may be your first impulse to comfort your pet, it might only scare the animal more or cause them pain.
- Perform any examination slowly and gently. Stop if your animal becomes more agitated.
- Call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic before you move your pet so they can be ready for you when you arrive.
- If necessary and if your pet is not vomiting, place a muzzle on the pet to reduce the chances you’ll be bitten.
- Dogs may be muzzled with towels, stockings or gauze rolls.
- Cats and other small animals may be wrapped in a towel to restrain them, but make sure your pet is not wrapped in the towel too tightly and its nose is uncovered so it can breathe.
- NEVER muzzle your pet if it is vomiting.
- If possible and you are able to do so safety, rinse wounds with sterile saline.
- If possible, try to stabilize injuries before moving an injured animal by splinting or bandaging them.
- While transporting your injured pet, keep it confined in a small area to reduce the risk of additional injury. Pet carriers work well, or you can use a box or other container (but make sure your pet has enough air). For larger dogs, you can use a board, toboggan/sled, door, throw rug, blanket or something similar to act as a stretcher.
- You should always keep your pet’s medical records in a safe, easily accessible place. Bring these with you when you take your pet for emergency treatment.
- Do not give your pet any medications before speaking with a veterinary team member, as this may restrict the veterinarian from giving medications that are more suitable to the situation.
What are the signs of shock?
Shock is a complex systemic or whole body reaction to a number of emergency situations. These include severe trauma, hemorrhage or sudden loss of blood, heart failure and other causes of decreased circulation (e.g. severe and sudden allergic reaction and heat stroke). A life-threatening fall in blood pressure is a dangerous part of shock. If not treated quickly and effectively, systemic shock may cause irreversible injury to body cells, and it can be fatal.
Clinical signs of systemic shock include fast breathing and heart rate with pale mucous membranes: gums, lips or under the eyelids. The feet or ears may feel cold and your dog may vomit and shiver. As shock progresses most pets become quiet and unresponsive.
What should I do if my dog is showing signs of shock?
Keep the dog as quiet as possible and try to conserve heat by covering it with blankets, towels, or even newspapers. Follow the A, B, C’s of first aid:
C Cardiac function
Airway – Anything that obstructs the airway prevents oxygen entering the lungs. Do your best to clear the mouth and throat of any obstruction such as vomit, saliva or foreign bodies such as grass, sticks or balls. Be careful; your pet may bite you in panic.
Breathing – If the dog is unconscious and does not appear to be breathing, try gently pumping the chest with the palm of your hand, at the same time feeling just behind the elbow to detect a heartbeat or pulse. If this is unsuccessful, give the pet rescue breathing (see below). Be careful! Injured pets may bite you out of fear. If you are unsure about the health or vaccination status of the injured pet, avoid contact with bodily fluids and blood.
Cardiac function – If you are unable to detect a heartbeat or pulse, or if appears weak and slow, try pressing on the chest with your palm and elevate the lower half of the body with a stack of towels or pillows to promote blood flow to the brain. Follow the steps below, under CPR.
Cardiopulmonary cerebral resuscitation (CPCR, formerly abbreviated as CPR) is the treatment required to save an animal (or human) life when suffering cardiopulmonary arrest. The intent of CPCR is to provide sufficient blood flow and oxygen to the brain and vital organs to support life until more advanced medical therapy can be started. Unlike what we see on television, most patients who suffer from cardiac arrest are unable to be saved, even with CPCR.
CPCR consists of two parts: Rescue breathing and chest compressions.
Recent research has shown that using only chest compressions was as effective as chest compressions and rescue breathing together. As long as the airway is open, compression of the chest may cause forward flow of blood and may cause adequate movement of air-at least for the first few minutes of arrest. Therefore, if only one rescuer is available to perform CPCR, it is advisable to perform only chest compressions.
Basic CPCR: Rescue Breathing (If two people are present)
Make Certain the Animal is actually Arrested and Unconscious: Talk to the pet first. Gently touch and attempt to awaken the pet. You could be seriously injured should you attempt to perform CPCR on a pet who was only sleeping heavily and was startled awake.
Airway: Extend the head and neck and pull the tongue forward. Look in the mouth and remove any saliva or vomitus. If it is too dark to see into the mouth use a flashlight. Angle the head down and sweep your finger deep into the mouth and into the throat to remove any vomit or foreign body.
Breathing: Sometimes an animal will begin to breathe spontaneously when the head is put in the position discussed above (head and neck extended, tongue pulled forward). Watch for the rise and fall of the chest while listening closely for sounds of breathing. If no breathing is evident in 10 seconds, begin rescue breathing. Rescue breathing is performed by covering the pet’s nose with your mouth and forcefully blowing your breath into the lungs. In cats and small dogs, you must hold the corners of the mouth tightly closed while you force the air in.
In larger dogs, the dog’s tongue should be pulled forward and the mouth and lips held shut using both hands cupped around the muzzle. Force air into the lungs until you see the chest expand. Take your mouth away when the chest has fully expended. The lungs will deflate without help. Air should be forced into the lungs until you see the chest expand.
After several breaths are given, stop for a few seconds to recheck for breathing and heart function. If the pet is still not breathing, continue rescue breathing 20 to 25 times per minute in cats or small dogs, or 12 to 20 times per minute in medium or large dogs. Push down on the stomach area every few seconds to help expel the air that may have blown into the stomach. If the stomach is allowed to distend with air, the pressure will make the rescue breathing efforts less effective. Try to coordinate breaths with chest compressions for 2-person CPCR.
If Breathing is Shallow or Non-existent: If you find that breathing is either shallow or non-existent and the pet is still unconscious, continue rescue breathing 10 to 15 times per minute and transport the pet to the nearest veterinary facility.
Basic CPCR: Chest Compressions (If one or two people are present)
After Ensuring an Open Airway, Check for a Pulse: If no pulse is detectable, begin chest compressions.
In Small Dogs or Cats: Squeeze the chest using one or both hands around the chest. Depress the rib cage circumferentially (see illustration). Do this 100 to 150 times per minute.
In Large Dogs: Compress the chest wall with one or both hands, 1/3rd of the total chest volume. With the pet on their side, place your hand(s) on the side of the chest wall where it is widest. Use a quick motion so as if to produce a “cough”. Do this 80 to 120 times per minute. Stop compressions for 2 seconds every 1 – 2 minutes to assess if breathing and return of heart beat.
Coordinate Rescue Breathing and Chest Compressions: If possible, give breaths during the compressions. If it is not possible, give two breaths after every 12 compressions.
Continue CPCR until:
- Breathing and heart beat return.
- You become exhausted and can’t continue.
- You get the animal transported to a veterinary facility and professionals can take over.
- The pulse is palpable or heartbeats are felt and they are strong and regular.
In the vast majority of cases, artificial ventilations will continue to be required for a period of time, even though heart function has returned. This is due to the nervous system depression that occurs as a result of the arrest. All resuscitated animals should be transported to a veterinary facility for further examination and care!
We use bandages for several reasons: to protect wounds from the environment, protect the environment from wounds, and to discourage a pet from licking or irritating a wound. Bandages may be applied as support for strains or sprains or to prevent motion. Proper application is important – an improperly applied or too-tight bandage can cause decreased blood flow and potential loss of the limb.
Cleaning the Wound: The process of bandaging begins with careful cleaning of the wound. All dried blood, dirt, and debris should be washed away using mild soap and lots of water. Hair should be clipped away so that it cannot lie in the wound. If possible, the area should be patted dry.
Materials Needed: In an ideal setting, a bandage should have a contact layer, an absorbent layer, and an outer layer. Antibiotic ointment, Telfa Non-Adherent Pad, cotton wrap, gauze wrap, and Vetrap
The Contact Layer: After cleaning the wound, apply antibiotic ointment to the contact layer and use it first. Ideally, this layer should:
- Be sterile and inert.
- Stay in close contact with, but not stick to, the wound.
- Be very absorbent.
- Be free of particles or fibers that might shed into the wound.
- Conform to all shapes.
- Allow drainage to pass to the next layer without becoming wet.
- Minimize pain.
A Telfa Non-Adherent Pad, available at most pharmacies, comes closest to meeting these requirements.
It is desirable to apply an antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, to the pad but this is not absolutely necessary. Frequent bandage changes are more important. After cleaning the wound, place a new contact layer over the wound.
The Absorbent Layer: After the contact layer is in place, apply the second (absorbent) layer to hold the contact layer snugly, but not tightly, over the wound. This layer is usually a cotton or Dacron material that comes in various widths. Generally, 1-inch rolls are used for small limbs and the tail; 2-inch rolls are for medium-sized legs; and the 3- and 4-inch rolls are for large legs and the body. It is important to use the proper size. Materials that are too narrow often cause a tourniquet effect, especially if the wound causes swelling.
If materials are too wide, they are difficult to apply smoothly. Any wrinkles or ridges may cause the bandage to become uncomfortable for your pet. Uneven pressure may cause necrosis (tissue death) of the underlying tissues.
Begin with just enough of an absorbent layer to hold the contact layer in place. If the wound is on a leg or the tail, wrap from the toes or the tip of the tail towards the body. If you begin at the top of the leg or the tail, the bandage is more likely to restrict blood flow and cause swelling, which may cause tissue damage. Apply several layers of absorbent material, which will soak up the fluid from the wound and increase the patient’s comfort by cushioning the wound.
Make sure the material you use as the absorbent layer is the proper width, and wrap from the toes or tail tip up towards the body.
Gauze wrap can be applied next to hold the cotton wrap in place and to add extra support. This step can be skipped for small wounds or for temporary bandages.
The Outer Layer: Finally, apply the outer (third) layer, usually made up of porous adhesive tape or elastic tape (i.e., Elastikon, Vetrap). Wrapped from the toes up towards the body, this layer should also be smooth and snug. Do not stretch elastic tapes to their limits as this will interfere with circulation and result in bandage failure. It helps to unwrap the Vetrap or Elastikon first and then rewind it to remove the tension from the wrap before placing.
The tape should be in contact with the skin (hair) at the bandage margins, anchoring the bandage so it will not slip.The outer layer of a bandage should be applied smoothly and snugly, but not tight enough to cut off blood circulation.
Bandage Changes: Bandages should be checked frequently for any signs of swelling, skin discoloration or coolness, odor, or saturation of the bandage material. The bandage should be changed whenever any of the above are noticed or any time it appears to be uncomfortable for the pet. Wounds that are draining heavily may require bandage changes every 1 or 2 hours. Bandages over wounds with little or no drainage should be changed every 24 hours.
Bee Stings / Insect Bites
Any insect or spider can cause problems if they bite or sting your pet. A bite or sting can cause swelling, redness, and itching. Some animals can have an allergic reaction to a sting or bite that may result in mild hives, facial swelling, vomiting, difficulty breathing or even collapse. What to do:
- If the stinger can be found, scrape it out with a credit card or other stiff material. Alternatively, use tweezers by grasping the stinger, which is located below the venom sac. If the sting just happened, don’t put pressure on the venom sac, as that would inject more of the venom into the pet.
- Apply cool compresses to the area.
- To help neutralize some of the acidic venom, apply a paste mixture of baking soda and water to the sting area.
- Your pet should be examined immediately by a veterinarian if there is facial swelling, breathing difficulty or collapse.
- Do not administer any medications without first contacting your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency hospital. The veterinarian may need to examine your pet before recommending medications.
Bleeding and Blood Loss
Pets often suffer blood loss as a result of trauma. Some bleeding is visible, and is a result of a cut or laceration, while internal bleeding occurs inside the body (such as in the chest or abdomen) and is not be visible to the naked eye. If bleeding is severe or continuous, the pet may lose enough blood to cause shock; loss of as little as 2 teaspoons per pound of body weight may cause shock, which doctors usually detect as a high heart rate and low blood pressure. Emergencies may arise that require you to control the bleeding, even if it is just during transportation to the veterinary facility.
Techniques to Stop External Bleeding: The following techniques are listed in order of preference. The first rule when dealing with an injured pet is to avoid injury to yourself, so take appropriate precautions (such as the use of a muzzle) to avoid being bitten. For all techniques below, seek veterinary attention immediately after stopping the bleeding, or on the way to the veterinary hospital.
Gently press a compress (a pad of clean cloth, feminine sanitary product or gauze) over the bleeding area, so it can absorb the blood and allow it to clot. Do not disturb blood clots after they have formed, by rubbing the wound or removing the bandage. If blood soaks through, do not remove the pad; simply add additional layers of cloth and continue the direct pressure more evenly. The compress can be bound in place using loosely applied bandage material, which frees the hands of the first provider for other emergency actions. If you don’t have a compress, you can use a bare hand or finger. Direct pressure on a wound is the most preferable way to stop bleeding.
If a severely bleeding wound is on the foot or leg, gently elevate the leg so that the wound is above the level of the heart. Elevation uses the force of gravity to help reduce blood pressure in the injured area, slowing the bleeding. Elevation is most effective in larger animals with longer limbs where greater distances from the wound to the heart are possible. Direct pressure with compresses should also be maintained to maximize the benefits of elevation. Elevation of a limb combined with direct pressure is an effective way to stop bleeding.
Use of a tourniquet is potentially dangerous and it should be used only for a severe, life-threatening hemorrhage in a limb (leg or tail) not expected to be saved. If you see blood spurting or pumping from a wound, which is a rare occurrence, consider the use of a tourniquet. Use a wide (2-inch or more) piece of cloth and wrap it around the limb twice and tie it into a knot. Every 20 minutes loosen the tourniquet for 15 to 20 seconds. Remember this is potentially dangerous and can often result in disability or amputation.
A tourniquet should only be used as a last-resort, life-saving measure!
Internal bleeding occurs inside the body and will not be seen. There are, however, some external signs of internal bleeding:
- The pet is pale (check the gums).
- The pet is cool on the legs, ears, or tail.
- The pet is coughing up blood.
- The pet is unusually subdued.
- The abdomen is swollen or swelling.
- Difficulty breathing
If you see any of these signs, immediately transport your pet to a veterinary facility for professional help. Most cases of internal bleeding will require intensive therapy in a veterinary hospital.
Burns and Scalds
A burn is any injury of tissue caused by heat, flame, chemicals, or electricity. Burn classification determines the severity of the wound based on the depth of the tissue injury.
First-degree burns are limited to redness and minor pain at the site of injury. These burns only involve the top layer of skin and heal quickly.
Second-degree burns have superficial blistering of the skin, and can involve deeper layers of the skin.
Third-degree burns occur when the top layer of skin is lost with damage to the deeper layers. Burns exhibit charring and extreme damage. Third-degree burns result in scarring and may require skin grafting.
What to do:
- Extinguish all flames.
- Use appropriate measures to avoid being bitten (muzzle your pet).
- Avoid touching any pet that has been electrocuted until the power has been turned off.
- For thermal or electrical burns, immediately apply cool water compresses with a clean cloth to the site of the injury, changing them frequently as necessary to keep the site cool and wet. Continue this for at least 30 minutes.
- Transport your pet to a veterinary facility as soon as possible for further care. Burns can become worse before they get better, and may require several weeks of therapy, multiple surgeries and possibly skin grafting.
- Do not apply ointments or butter.
- Do not delay seeking veterinary attention.
- Do not attempt to remove burned hair or skin yourself.
Chemical injuries to tissue are caused by contact with harmful chemicals such as lye, acids, and strong cleaning supplies. Also called chemical burns, they can be similar to thermal (heat) burns and treatment can be complex and last many weeks. Prompt removal of the chemical agent and rapid veterinary medical attention can help minimize the injury and speed healing. What to Do:
- Wash the contaminated area with large volumes of tepid flowing water for at least 15 minutes.
- In the case of dry chemicals, brush them away carefully, taking care to protect the eyes, nose, and mouth of both you and your pet.
- If the chemical is in the eye, flush the eye with large volumes of water or contact lens saline for 15 minutes.
- Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
- Avoid being bitten by using a muzzle on your pet if your think there is a risk of being bitten.
- Make sure the area is well ventilated as some chemicals can release strong fumes.
- Do not apply neutralizing agents to the skin or eyes. They can cause a chemical reaction that produces heat and cause further injury to tissues.
- Do not immerse your pet in non-flowing water if a dry chemical has spilled on him or her. These dry chemicals are usually activated by water. The water must be flowing in order to rinse the chemical away.
Choking is interference with breathing caused by foreign material in, or compression on, the trachea (windpipe). Thankfully, true choking is a very rare occurrence. Many pet owners will seek veterinary care because they believe their pet has something stuck in its throat, and this is rarely the case. It is far more likely that your pet has something mild and infectious such as tracheobronchitis (commonly called kennel cough) and is coughing rather than choking.
Frequently, coughing is confused with choking. Both cause the pet to forcefully exhale. With choking, the pet has difficulty inhaling. When coughing, the pet can inhale almost normally. Be careful to distinguish the two: attempting to give first aid to a pet who is merely coughing can cause injury.
If you are in any doubt, have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian. To evaluate the throat, your pet may require sedation or x-rays to look for foreign material.
If the Pet is Unconscious
Perform a Finger Sweep
Open your pet’s mouth and do a finger sweep by placing your finger along the inside of the mouth, sliding it down toward the center of the throat over the base of the tongue, and gently “sweeping” toward the center to remove any foreign material. Warning: there is a structure deep in the throat (the Adam’s apple) that feels like a smooth bone. Do not attempt to pull it out! You may need a flashlight.
Begin Rescue Breathing
After you have checked for and removed any foreign material. Rescue breathing is described above “CPCR”. If air is not entering the lungs, slap the chest wall firmly or perform the Heimlich maneuver by putting the pet on his back, placing your hands over the abdomen near the bottom of his rib cage, and gently but firmly thrusting toward the spine. Perform a finger sweep and begin rescue breathing. Repeat until the foreign body is clear and the lungs can be inflated. Transport to the veterinarian.
If the Pet is Conscious
Stay calm and try to keep the pet calm. If the pet is overheated, cool them with cool (not cold) water applied to their extremities (ears and feet) and belly, and transport them to the nearest veterinarian. Perform a finger sweep only if it will not excite the pet. Do not perform a finger sweep if you believe your pet will bite you.
Drowning (Near Drowning)
Suffocation by drowning is caused by lungs filling with water or other fluid. Some pets can seemingly recover from a near drowning incident, only to succumb to a collection of fluid in the lungs (known as pulmonary edema) hours later. This phenomenon is known as ‘dry drowning’ and can be fatal. For this reason, all pets that have fallen into a pool or other body of water should be evaluated by a veterinarian and observed for complications. What to do:
- Remove your pet from the water.
- Place your pet on their side with the head and neck extended. It’s preferable to have the head slightly lower than the body to promote drainage of water from the lungs and to avoid inhalation of stomach contents (aspiration).
- To expel water from the lungs and stomach, pull the tongue forward and gently push on the chest wall and stomach. Take care to avoid being bitten.
- Begin CPCR
- Cover the pet with a blanket to avoid further heat loss.
- Seek veterinary help as soon as possible.
- Do not fail to seek veterinary help just because your resuscitation is successful and your pet seems to be recovering. Numerous secondary complications (i.e., electrolyte imbalance, hypothermia, pneumonia, fluid in the lungs) can occur.
- Do not leave the pet unattended as they may be confused and wander back to the water.
Almost all cats and dogs instinctively know how to swim. Unfortunately, they also instinctively swim to the nearest edge of a pool to get out. Usually that is not the right decision. Most animals are unable to get out of a swimming pool at the edge and must swim to a step. If your pet has access to a swimming pool, you must teach them where the steps are. If your pets have access to a swimming pool, you must teach them where the steps are located. Life jackets are strongly recommended for all pets, regardless of their ability to swim.
In order to avoid injury to yourself, it is imperative that you do not touch the pet until the electrical source has been turned off or moved. Electricity can flow through your pet and affect you as well. Electrocution can cause severe tissue damage (like a thermal or heat burn can) and can also lead to serious internal complications like pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). Immediate veterinary care is needed, but several things you can do at home can minimize the extent of the injury and promote healing. What to do:
- Unplug the electrical cord or shut off the electricity.
- If this is not possible, use a dry wooden broom or other non-conductive object to move the pet away from the source of the electricity.
- Check for breathing and pulse. Begin CPCR if necessary.
- If the pet is breathing, check the mouth for burns if this can be done safely. Apply cool compresses to burns.
- Cover the pet with a blanket to prevent heat loss.
- Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. Do not fail to get the pet examined even though he or she seems perfectly normal after being separated from the source of electricity.
- Do not give any medications or liquids unless instructed to by a veterinarian.
Any animal that has suffered electrocution should be taken to a veterinarian, even if there are no apparent complications. Electrocution is a life-threatening emergency. It may cause abnormal electrical activity of the heart or a build-up of fluid in the lungs that could be fatal hours after the shock. Most patients are observed for several hours or overnight to make sure the lungs are normal, and chest x-rays may be recommended.
If you notice any of the following:
- Your pet squinting or protecting an eye
- Any suspected trauma to the eye
- Abnormal appearance of the eyeball
- Excessive redness to the white part of the eye (sclera)
- Any time the eyelid cannot cover the eyeball
You should seek veterinary attention immediately as these signs can indicate potentially serious eye problems that can risk your pet’s vision.
Conditions like trauma, glaucoma, perforation of the cornea (the clear membrane in the front of the eye), serious infections, foreign bodies and autoimmune diseases can all affect your pet’s eye and may need medical care.
Take care not to get bitten when treating your pet, and use a muzzle when needed to stay safe.
- If an eye has been dislocated from the socket (proptosis) or the lids cannot close over the eyeball, keep the eyeball moist with contact lens wetting solution, K-Y jelly, water, or moist compresses.
- If an irritating chemical or other product accidentally gets into the eye, flush it with running water or contact lens saline for a minimum of 15 minutes.
- Always seek veterinary attention immediately. Eyes are quite fragile and just a few minutes could mean the difference between sight and blindness. Referral to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) may be needed for more severe cases.
- Do not attempt to treat the eyes, or remove a foreign object, yourself.
- Do not try to push a proptosed eyeball back into the socket. This must be done under anesthesia so as not to cause damage to the eyeball’s interior.
Fainting is the sudden loss of consciousness or a sudden and marked weakness. It may be associated with numerous medical conditions and can be caused by anything from low blood sugar and neurological diseases to severe heart disease. What to Do:
- Immediately position the pet with the head down and the hind quarters elevated. This will improve brain blood flow.
- Cover the pet with a blanket to preserve body heat.
- If the pet vomits, make sure he or she does not inhale any of the vomitus into his lungs by keeping the head down.
- Seek veterinary attention.
- Do not administer anything by mouth. It can be aspirated into the lungs and cause serious problems.
- Do not slap the pet or douse him with cold water trying to shock him into consciousness.
- Do not fail to seek veterinary attention just because the animal recovered quickly and seems fine now. Several of the conditions that cause fainting or dizziness are extremely serious and require diagnostic tests in order to determine the cause and prevent future episodes.
A fracture refers to a break or crack in a bone. There are several different types of fractures, and each type has different complications and methods of repair. Your veterinarian can help you decide how best to fix the fracture and if referral to a specialist is in your pet’s best interest. Although splinting will allow a small number of fractures to heal, most will require surgery to ensure the best outcome. Contact your veterinarian. If the pet can still use three legs, support the rear legs with a towel under the abdomen (with the ends held together above the back) used as a sling. The best advice is to keep the pet quiet and calm, protect yourself and head directly to a veterinary hospital.
Do not flush the wound with saline or water as this only risks driving contaminants deeper into the wound.
Never attempt to set or reduce a fracture or try to push a protruding bone back into position.
Do not give any over-the-counter or prescription medications to your pet unless directed to do so by a veterinarian
A fracture, dislocation or severe sprain may be suspected when the animal suddenly appears lame on a leg, or picks up a leg and won’t use it. These may also be suspected following any major fall or blunt injury. Obvious findings of a bone sticking out from (protruding) a wound are rare. What is more common is the unusual angle or deformation of the fractured area, and swelling. Accurate diagnosis requires the use of x-rays, which usually must be taken with sedation or anesthesia to get the most accurate results.
Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke)
This most commonly occurs in hot weather when dogs are left in cars on hot or humid days, even with the car windows open. Body temperature rises dramatically. Initial clinical signs include excessive panting and obvious distress, but can quickly progress to coma and death within minutes. Reduce the pet’s body temperature as quickly as possible using cool water and keep the dog wet during transport to the veterinarian. Keep the car windows open. Evaporation will help reduce body temperature. Avoid using ice or ice water because this may drop the temperature too quickly and cause additional complications.
Body temperature may be elevated because of an infection (fever) or pain. A veterinarian can determine the cause and most appropriate treatment.
Normal body temperature is approximately 38 to 39 degrees for both dogs and cats. The temperature is most accurately taken with a rectal digital electronic thermometer; these usually give results in less than one minute. Lubricate the thermometer with a water-based lubricant (such as K-Y jelly, baby oil or soap), and then insert the thermometer about 1-2 cm (about 1/2 to 1 inch). Take and record the rectal temperature if you pet feels ill or warm. If it is above 39.5 degrees, contact your veterinarian.
Turn on your air conditioner or lower the windows in your car as you transport them to the veterinary hospital. Heatstroke generally occurs in hot summer weather when dogs are left with inadequate ventilation in hot vehicles. Heatstroke may also occur in other conditions, including: When an animal is left outdoors in hot/humid conditions without adequate shade. When exercised in hot/humid weather. When left in a car on a relatively cool day; temperatures within a vehicle may increase drastically within minutes regardless of outside temperature. Other predisposing factors may be obesity and/or diseases affecting a pet’s airway. Keep in mind that prolonged seizures, eclampsia (milk fever), poisonings, and many other conditions may cause hyperthermia. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (Pekingese, Pug, Lhasa apso, Boston terrier, etc.), elderly and ill pets are more susceptible to hyperthermia.
Initially the pet appears distressed, and will pant excessively and become restless. As the hyperthermia progresses, the pet may drool large amounts of saliva from the nose and/or mouth. The pet may become unsteady on his feet. You may notice the gums turning blue/purple or bright red in color, which is due to inadequate oxygen.
Rapidly cooling the pet is extremely important. While ice or cold water may seem logical, its use is not advised. Cooling the innermost structures of the body will actually be delayed, as ice or cold water will cause blood vessels close to shrink, effectively forming an insulating layer of tissue to hold the heat inside. Tap water is more suitable for effective cooling.
Severe hyperthermia is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body. Simply lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that often accompany this disorder. A pet suffering from hyperthermia should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature goes below 37.5°C. Normal body temperature is approximately 38 to 39 degrees for both dogs and cats. The temperature is most accurately taken with a rectal digital electronic thermometer; these usually give results in less than one minute. Lubricate the thermometer with a water-based lubricant (such as K-Y jelly, baby oil or soap), and then insert the thermometer about 1-2 cm (about 1/2 to 1 inch). If the rectal temperature of a dog or cat is 37.5°F, the pet is suffering from hypothermia. Usually the pet is lethargic and doesn’t have much of an appetite. The cause may be environmental, such as being exposed to cold air, or metabolic, such as kidney or heart failure. Regardless of the cause, the low temperature indicates that the pet is in need of urgent veterinary attention.
What to do:
- Move the pet to a warm environment.
- Bundle the pet in warm blankets. You can warm the blankets by putting them in a clothes dryer.
- Put a hot water bottle in the blankets to add heat.
- Do not risk causing burns by using blankets, heating pads, water, etc., that are too hot; that may damage the skin.
- Do not allow the pet to lie directly on a heating pad – use several layers of towels and make sure it is set on LOW.
- Seek veterinary attention.
Impalement and Penetrating Injuries
Impalement and penetrating injuries involve a foreign body stuck in an animal, usually in a body cavity like the abdomen or chest, or deep wounds where the skin is broken. A common example is a dog that gets impaled by a stick when running through the woods. Dogs frequently carry sticks in their mouths and suffer mouth or neck injuries when the end of the stick jams into the ground.
A veterinarian should be seen as soon as possible. Impalement injuries can lead to serious internal damage.
Sedation and/or general anesthesia are often needed to determine where the impalement occurred and how much internal or hidden damage has occurred. Some foreign bodies, such as wood, do not show up on routine X-rays, so more advanced tests (such as ultrasound or MRI) may need to be used. Occasionally, parts of the foreign body will become lodged in the pet’s skin or tissues, even after most of it has been removed. These can migrate to different parts of the body and cause problems weeks later.
Some injuries inflicted by others dogs can appear minor at first, but may actually have severe damage to deeper tissue; we call these ‘tip of the iceberg’ injuries. Dog fight injuries can sometimes become worse before they become better due to the crushing forces involved in the bite injury and death of the overlying skin (necrosis). Sometimes a pocket of infection (abscess) may form that requires placement of a tube to drain accumulated fluid. What to do:
- Calm and blanket the pet.
- Muzzle the pet so you avoid getting bitten.
- Attempt to immobilize both the foreign body (if it’s still there) and the pet. Severe and continuing damage is done whenever the foreign body is allowed to flail about the inside of the pet.
- Never try to remove the foreign body yourself.
- Do not allow the pet to move.
- Do not move the foreign body while cutting it.
- If the foreign body can easily be cut, shorten it, leaving only 3 to 6 inches sticking out of the pet.
- Do not avoid seeking veterinary attention, just because a wound seems minor – there can be extensive hidden damage that needs medical attention.
A nosebleed (epistaxis) is bleeding or hemorrhage from the nose. It is important to stop a nose bleed, but is equally important to get to the bottom of why it’s happening. Stopping nose bleeds in pets is often the easy part, but finding out why a nose is bleeding may sometimes be more challenging.
Your pet should be kept calm, as excitement may cause an increase in blood pressure that will make control of the nosebleed difficult. As a pet owner, you too must remain composed; if your pet sees you getting frantic, he will become further distressed.
Place an ice-pack over the bridge and on the side of the nose to help to control bleeding as that constricts the blood vessels in this area. If possible, look in the mouth to see if there is blood or if the gums are pale. In either case, your pet should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. Attempt to keep your pet calm as you make your way to the veterinary clinic. Do not put anything up the nose, as this will likely cause your pet to sneeze. Sneezing will dislodge a clot (if one has formed), and the bleeding will resume.
A bloody nose in a cat or dog may be associated with foreign bodies (foxtail awns are common), polyps, infections, poisoning, bleeding disorders, or even cancer. It is a sign whose significance should not be underestimated, and veterinary medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.
Paralysis is the inability to voluntarily move a part or parts of the body. The paralyzed part (legs, neck, etc.) may be rigid or stiff or, more commonly, relaxed and flaccid. Severe pain can often accompany paralysis, and treating for pain is an important part of the overall therapy, regardless of cause. For some cases of paralysis, you may need a referral to a specialist in neurology or surgery to maximize the chance that your pet will walk again. What to do:
- Calm the pet. If necessary, cover with a blanket.
- Muzzle the pet in order to transport her to the veterinary hospital.
- Transport the pet using one of the techniques described on page 2 “Handling an Injured Pet”
- Do not assume they won’t bite.
- Do not medicate the pet with over-the-counter or prescription medications unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
- Do not delay evaluation by a veterinarian. This is an emergency.
The inability to walk can develop suddenly (with or without a history of injury) in dogs due to the rupture of an inter-vertebral disc, especially in certain breeds like the Dachshund. The ruptured disk causes swelling and inflammation of the spinal cord and severe cases often need surgery immediately. Paralysis of this type should be considered an emergency and your veterinarian or an emergency facility should be consulted immediately.
Paralysis can also be associated with traumatic episodes such as falls, being struck by a motor vehicle, spinal cord tumors, or fights with other animals. When paralysis is associated with trauma, fractures or instability of the spine should be suspected. It is extremely important to immobilize the spine before and during transportation.
Paralysis is a serious matter but many patients can hope to walk again with the right treatment. A considerable investment on the part of the pet owner in terms of time, effort and money may be required. Many patients will need help with physical therapy, walking and bodily functions (such as urination) for several weeks after the injury. Your veterinarian or specialists can help you make decisions on the right treatment plan to get your pet back to health as soon as possible.
Poisoning / Toxic Substance Ingestion
Poisoning is a condition that results from the ingestion, inhalation, absorption, injection, or application of a topical substance that causes structural damage or functional disturbance of body tissues. The poison can be a plant, food item, a medication given in excess, a cleaning product, moldy material, or other household chemicals. Contact your veterinarian immediately. If the pet vomits, save a sample of the vomitus for later inspection by the veterinarian. You can carry it in a ziplock bag. If you know what your pet has gotten into bring the container or label into the veterinary clinic if possible.
Seizures / Convulsions
A seizure is any sudden and uncontrolled movement of the animal’s body caused by abnormal brain activity. Seizures may be very severe and affect all of the body, or quite mild, affecting only a portion of the pet. The pet may or may not seem conscious or responsive, and may urinate or have a bowel movement. Seizure activity that lasts longer than 3 to 5 minutes can cause severe side effects, such as fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or brain (cerebral edema). A dramatic rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) can also result, causing internal organ damage.
Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, toxins, low blood sugar, brain tumors and a host of other medical conditions. Your veterinarian can help you determine the cause of seizures in your pet, and if necessary can refer you to a specialist to help with the diagnosis or treatment of seizures.
All pets that have a seizure should have lab tests to help diagnose the underlying cause, and make sure their organs can tolerate any medications that may be needed to control seizures. Once underlying diseases are ruled out by your veterinarian, some pets require medications to control seizures. These medications may require frequent dose adjustments and monitoring of blood level.
During a seizure:
- Protect the pet from injuring herself during or after the seizure. Move lamps or other furniture that may fall onto your pet or that they may bang into. Keep her from falling from a height and especially keep away from water.
- You may try to put a pillow under your pets head, be very careful as they may bite.
- Do not try to hold your pet down or grab their tongue. They will not choke on it.
- Remove other pets from the area as some pets become aggressive after a seizure.
- Protect yourself from being bitten.
- Record the time the seizure begins and ends, and if it started with a certain body part (such as twitching of an eye).
- If the seizure or convulsion lasts over 3 minutes, cool the pet with cool (not cold) water on the ears, belly and feet, and seek veterinary attention at once.
- If the pet loses consciousness and is not breathing, begin CPCR.
- Do not place your hands near the pet’s mouth. (They do not swallow their tongues.) You risk being bitten.
- Do not slap, throw water on, or otherwise try to startle your pet out of a seizure. The seizure will end when it ends, and you cannot affect it by slapping, yelling, or any other action.
Special instructions for toy breeds and diabetic pets on insulin: If your pet is a toy breed, such as a Yorkshire terrier or Maltese, or a diabetic, the seizure may be due to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). If the pet is able to stand, is not vomiting and acts normally, offer a small meal. If the pet is non-responsive, vomiting or actively seizing, rub some honey or pancake syrup on the gums – take care not to get bitten – and proceed immediately to your veterinarian or local emergency center. Prolonged low blood sugar can cause irreversible brain injury.
If your pet gets sprayed by a skunk, you first want to make sure that they are physically fine. If there is a scratch or puncture it is best to see your veterinarian to avoid infection and to make sure your pet is up to date on their rabies vaccination. Check your pet’s eyes and nose well; if the pet has been sprayed in the face the eyes should be thoroughly rinsed. Your pet should be examined by a veterinarian as being sprayed in the eyes by a skunk can cause uveitis (internal eye inflammation).
There are many ways to get the smell out of your pet’s fur, for example:
- 1 Litre of white vinegar
- ¼ cup of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of liquid dish soap.
Always shield your pet’s eyes to prevent the mixture from getting in and irritating them further. Use an open bucket and mix all the ingredients together. Rub the mixture well into the fur. Leave it on 5-10 minutes, then rinse well. Repeat this procedure if your pet got badly hit. Your pet will likely need several baths and smell of skunk for 1 or more months.
Sunburn is damage to the tissues caused by exposure to the sun’s rays and ultraviolet radiation. Animals are usually covered by hair, fur, or pigmented skin that protects them from the harmful rays of the sun. Any circumstance that removes this natural protection may allow the pet to receive enough ultraviolet radiation to burn.
If your pet has a shaved or non-pigmented area, you may apply a sunscreen that contains PABA as the active ingredient. Some sunscreens contain other drugs (such as zinc) that may be harmful if ingested.
Prevention is much better than treatment. Keep your pets out of direct sunlight. If your pet must be in the sun, apply sunscreen containing PABA as you would for yourself, and prevent your pet from licking it off by using an elizabethan collar.
If your pet has burned, apply liberal quantities of an aloe vera preparation and seek veterinary attention. Do not apply any other form of medication without first discussing it with your veterinarian.
Porcupine quills have very tiny one-way barbs along the shaft of each quill. This makes it easy for quills to keep moving inwards. If your pet has been injured by quills, do not cut them off, keep your pet calm and minimize movement. Contact your veterinarian. Most pets will require sedation or a general anesthetic to remove the quills, as it can be quite painful or they can become quite scared.
If you are in a remote area, the quills are not located on the face or in the mouth and there are only a few quills, you can try to pull them out on your own. Be sure to wear gloves to prevent yourself from getting pricked. Speak softly and quietly to your pet; they are generally frightened at this stage. Be very careful not to get bitten, frightened or painful pet may bite without warning. Using a pair of pliers and grab the quill firmly as close to the pet’s skin as possible. Pull gently and slowly so as to be sure you get the whole quill. You may need to give your pet a break between quills, so be patient. As soon as you are able see your veterinarian for a recheck.
Quills that are left in an animal can migrate through the body and cause serious problems. Do not clip the quills short as this makes them harder for your veterinarian to remove. Quills are painful and hard to remove completely, so whenever possible have your veterinarian do the procedure with sedation or anaesthetic.
A Final Note
Many other types of emergencies can, and do, occur. If you have questions concerning symptoms your pet is exhibiting, seek advice from a veterinarian. Do not administer any prescription or over-the-counter medication without first discussing your pet’s condition with a veterinarian.
Know your clinic’s hours and if they provide after hours emergency care. Determine before an emergency where you are supposed to go in the event one does occur. Post the phone numbers of where you are supposed to go so that you don’t waste time looking for it, and enter them into your cell phone. Emergency and critical care centers (where after-hours and 24-hour care is provided), and specialists in veterinary emergency medicine are becoming more prevalent. Know the location and hours of operation of the closest facility. There may not be time for you to call first in some very critical emergencies, but in most cases a phone call to the emergency facility is a good idea.
If there are any questions concerning your pet’s health, call your veterinarian or the emergency facility. As a general rule, if you are worried enough to call for advice, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Veterinary care in general, and emergency and critical care specifically, can place a high financial burden on families – make sure you openly discuss finances with your pet’s caregivers and plan ahead for the unexpected. Pet health insurance is widely available and can help you make decisions on what is medically the best option, not just the most affordable one.