We have fire drill for our human kids, take human first aid courses like CPR, and make sure that when it comes to people, we know how to handle a bad situation. What about when it involves your family dog? You never want to see you furbaby in pain but accidents happen every day. It’s much better to be prepared for any situation than to be blindsided and not know what to do. Basic first aid for your dog isn’t all that much different from that of humans and it is something you definitely want to familiarize yourself with keep both your pooch and you safe.
The first and most important aspect of first aid for your dog is being prepared. You want to have a first aid kit kept in an easily accessible area. We have a lot of animals on our farm so our “first aid” kit has become a “first aid” cupboard which is ok. It just needs to be something you can access right away. You can also set up a first aid kit for your vehicles if your pet travels with you often.
All manners of injuries can and probably will occur at some point. Honestly, there are hurt dogs and dogs waiting to get hurt. Whether it’s through playing or getting into something they shouldn’t; bites, accidental poisonings, cuts, scrapes, and even worse can creep up in an instant. The key to achieving the best outcome is staying calm for both you and your dog. Keeping a level head will allow you to assess the situation fully and keep Fido calm as well.
Table of Contents
Step One Of Dog First Aid: Stay Calm
Speaking of staying calm, your dog was just injured and, depending on the severity, obviously may be pretty panicked. Large injuries and traumatic situation such as a dog fight can undoubtbly send you dog into fight or flight mode which is a perfectly natural response. If your dog is panicking or just won’t let you near the injury and verbally soothing isn’t working, you may have to physically restrain them. This might sound cruel, but the goal is to administer care while minimizing injury to you or further injury to your dog.
First put on a leash then quickly muzzle if the dog is trying to nip or bite. If you don’t have a muzzle in your dog first aid kit you’ll want something that is at least 3 foot long like a necktie, leash, rope, or stockings that you can secure his mouth with. DO NOT use a muzzle if your dog is unconscious, has trouble breathing, or has a mouth injury. Once the risk of being bitten is nullified use your hands to maneuver his body safely or hold him down. It is always easier to have more hands so if help is available utilize it.
Your job is to make sure that the dog survives to get to the vet and receive the medical care needed to heal properly. You need to quickly assess the whole situation. How severe are the injuries? Is the dog unconscious, gum color, respiratory rate, heart rate, what is their temperature? Is the dog bleeding if he is from where? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered in almost a split second, so you know how to proceed and can inform the vet of the situation.
Normal dog temperatures rage from 100°F-102.5°F. Every dog is different so knowing your dog’s baseline temperature is important. To check this, have your dog lay on it’s side and lift their tail all while soothing them. You can use either a mercury or digital thermometer. Lubricate the tip of the thermometer and insert it in the dog’s anus with a twisting motion. You do not want to insert the thermometer any more than 3 inches.
Resting Heart Rate:
Knowing your dog’s normal resting heart rate is important for first aid treatment. When a dog is injured, stressed, or sick their heart rate can change dramatically. You don’t need specialized equipment to figure it out either. All you really need is your hand a and a clock, one preferably with the seconds hand. To check their resting heart rate have your dog lay on it’s right side. Place your hand in their left front “arm pit” and find their pulse. If your having trouble locating their pulse right away slowly move your hand around until you can feel the steady beating. Count the beats for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4. If your dog’s heart is beating less than 60 beats per minute but greater than 140 call your vet immediately.
Large Breed (dogs over 50 pounds)70-120 beats per minute
Medium Breeds (dogs 25-50 pounds) 80-120 beats per minute
Small Breeds (dogs 10-25 pounds) 90-140 beats per minute
Toy Breeds (dogs under 10 pounds) 100-160 beats per minute
Calculating their respiratory rate is as simple as counting their breaths for 15 seconds and multiplying by 4. Normally a dog’s respiration rate should be between 15-30 breaths per minute, but here’s where the tricky part comes in. You want to make sure your NOT counting pants. A dog will pant when it is warm and when they are in pain. Breeds with more pushed in faces, like Pugs, will pant more. And, yes, dog’s can even pant in their sleep. Puppies breath faster and are more prone to sleep panting.
Your dog’s gums should ALWAYS be a nice pinkish color. Pale or bluing gums are indicative of a serious issue, so in dog first aid they should be one of the first things you check. While you are examining the color of the gums check the capillary refill time as well. Capillary refill is the time it take for the capillaries to fill back after you push the blood out of them. Take your index finger and put pressure on the gum for 1 second once you relieve the pressure the gums should pinken back up in less than 2 seconds.
Dehydration can cause a lot of problems and also be a symptom of some serious conditions. To check if your pet is hydrated pinch the skin between their shoulder blades into a tight peak then release. If the skin returns to it’s normal state within 1 second they are hydrated.
Choking First Aid
Dogs are perpetually getting into trouble because of their noses and, unlike humans, they don’t have hands to examine their findings, so EVERYTHING goes into their mouth. Early signs that your dog is choking are repetitively pawing at his mouth and making retching sounds. These can quickly progress to anxiety and panic, discolored gums, and loss of consciousness. The first thing to do is quickly open the dog’s mouth and pull out its tongue, if you have a towel, paper towel, or gauze handy this will help grip their tongue. Examine their mouth and throat by running your finger. If you find an object obstructing their air way try to remove it with your hand (if it is a bone lodged seek medical assistance immediately). If your unable to dislodge the object begin the canine Heimlich Maneuver, but be warned this can cause additional injury to their internal organs if you apply too much pressure. I strongly suggest that everyone in the home knows how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on a dog.
Read more about the Canine Heimlich Maneuver.
Cuts and Abrasions
Every Day Cuts and Bruises
The key to administering first aid to a cut dog is really determining its severity. We all get everyday scrapes and cuts, and so does your dog. Most cuts and scrapes are superficial and just need a good cleaning to heal successfully on their own. You can apply antibacterial ointment to the area. You may need a cone, or other device, to prevent your dog from licking the wound. Old t-shirts work well for injuries on the body. Some cuts, however, need immediate action.
If your pup receives a deep laceration and is continuously bleeding immediately bring the injury above heart level if able keeping pressure on the wound to slow the bleeding. Once the blood flow has slowed to the point you can examine the damaged area check to make sure the cut is clean. You need to rinse with sterile saline solution if there is any debris. If you don’t have any actual saline solution in your dog’s first aid kit you can use saline solution used to clean contacts. Apply a tourniquet if the bleeding persists you my need to use a tourniquet.
Life Threatening Cuts
A wound that is spurting bright red blood is a medical emergency and requires immediate first aid to stabilize the dog for transport. This is arterial blood and it only takes moments for your dog to fade. The blood needs to be stopped as soon as possible to avoid too much loss of blood. If a limb is injured you can apply tourniquet to block the blood flow. If the injury is on the body you will have to apply constant pressure until you reach the vet. Similarly, if the blood is oozing and a deep red color a vein may be damaged, however the treatment is the same.
1st and 2nd Degree Burns
Just like a child, your dog doesn’t know “hot” until it’s too late. Burns happen in an instant to even the most cautious dog parent. You could be taking dinner out of the oven and Fido wants to sniff. BOOM! He has a burned nose. Immediate first aid treatment can actually lessen the severity of the dog’s burn. The more painful the area actually means the less severe the burn because the burn hasn’t compromised any of the pain transmitting nerves in the skin.
Consequently, The area may be singed but the fur is still intact, and the skin may be red. First and foremost, apply ice or cold water to the affected area a quick as possible because the quicker you stop the burn and cool the area the less likely blisters will form. Keep the ice on the wound for 15 minutes retraining if necessary. Do NOT use any ointments or butters.
If the dog can lick the wound or the burn is on a large part of the body cover it with a NON-COTTON bandage and use either torn rags or other soft material to cover. A 1st or 2nd degree burn, while very painful, isn’t a medical emergency, but you do want to make an appointment with you vet as soon as able.
3rd Degree Burns
A 3rd degree burn is a definite medical EMERGANCY! Consequently, your administration of first aid to your dog immediately could be the difference between life an death. . The skin in the area is totally destroyed and the fur will fall out easily when touched.
This type of injury is severe; consequently, it can lead to nother conditon called shock. Shock is a condition where the dog’s circulatory system begins to fail. Above all the first step is to make sure that your dog is NOT in shock by checking their gum color. If their gums are a nice pink shade continue treating the burn. However, bright red or dull and white shock has most definitely set in. As a result you will want to treat the shock first by laying them down on their side, while still leaving the injury accessible, with the hind quarters raised slightly higher than their head and wrap with blankets to preserve body heat.
Finally, continue treating the wound. Apply a dry non-cotton dressing with no ointment and wrap as before. Continuously check for symptoms of shock while seeking immediate medical attention.
There are a ton of chemical that we use around the house you wouldn’t think would cause a chemical burn but will. Even laundry detergent has the potential to burn your pet. This is why it is always best to keep all cleaning products and other chemicals away from sniffing noses. Consequently, if Fido does get doused in something that has caused a chemical, but you want to immediately wash the area and remove all of the offending substance. Repeat washing as many times as necessary to make sure the area is thoroughly clean. Call your vet for further instructions.
Dog First Aid Courses
You can find numerous dog first aid courses available online through reputable sources such as The Red Cross. If your not a fan of online learning and want something more hands on check out your local SPCA or Humane Society for any upcoming events. Unlike classes online these courses are only offered periodically.
WIthout a doubt knowing how to handle the situations that are thrown at you before they’ve happened is important to staying calm in stressful situations. Definitely don’t wait until an emergency arises to become familiar with proper first aid care for your dog. Time is a commodity you cannot afford to lose when accidents occur. I really hope you’re never in the position to have to implement first aid to your dog, but nevertheless it is an extremely important skill to learn and you will be ready to help any pooch in need.