Our pets are part of our family, and just like we keep medications and first aid equipment for our human family members it is also a smart plan to have the same basics available for your pet. For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on and using Dog first aid but these techniques and treatments can be used on most animals until proper medical care can be accessed.
I have been in charge of animal life both as a pet parent and as an animal care provider. I am employed as an animal care and trainer associated with a local animal education facility after studying as a veterinary technician. I have looked after animals in multiple countries and in a variety of settings so I can tell you from experience that having the right equipment when dealing with an injured animal can truly be the difference between life and death.
The first thing that any owner should do after taking on their first pet is attend a pet first aid course. There is no replacement for having an instructor and your pet present to make sure that in the event of an emergency you can perform the potentially life-saving actions with your pet properly. This is also a wonderful thing to do with the whole family if your looking for a way to show your kids or spouse what it really takes to care for an animal an in-class first aid course is the perfect way to illustrate that pets are a responsibility.
One of the most common injuries to pets is very similar to children, cuts and scrapes. However, when you are working on a homestead these “minor” injuries can become major depending on the size, location and cleanliness of the wound, So…
How Do You Clean and Wrap a Cut?
Keeping things clean is the most important when dealing with any physical injury that will come into contact with anything other than its self. By that, I mean anything that has access to external influences, like a cut ear, paw, leg or side. Most cleaning in animal care is done with warm tap water on a clean cloth or towel, you can also use a salt water mix where you mix 1 teaspoon of salt or Epsom salt to 2 cups of water, the store bought option is to use iodine. Never use alcohol, essential oils or soap. As much as I love essential oils, but some of these cleaning alternatives are toxic to animals and people if ingested or they can delay the healing process.
To wrap a wound, we will use a leg for example here, but it is very similar for most areas of a pet’s body. After cleaning the wound gently but well, removing any visible debris and giving you a clear look at the wound. Place a non-stick pad over the wound, this can be a cotton pad, or in a pinch, piece of clean non-fraying fabric. Then wrap the cotton pad with gauze. For a foot or lower leg injury, the wrap should extend to the elbow or knee. In most wraps on animals, you want to extend the wrap to the nearest joint that is not affected by the injury. This will allow the animal to remain as mobile as possible while providing a wide secured area so they can’t shake off the bandage. After the gauze, you will wrap one more layer of a self-adhesive wrap. This is called vet wrap and I love having this stuff around! This wrap is a semi-permeable self-adhesive tape, the more you layer this wrap the more waterproof it becomes. This tape can also be used to improve grips, improve a slippery surface or in your families first aid kit for those spots that are hard to bandage. If you can’t find vet wrap in your area, look for a self-adhesive cohesive tape or bandage tape.
Have a look at this video to see how to wrap set by step!
Now that the bandage is on how can you tell if it is to tight or to lose?
Check the bandage at least twice a day to ensure that it is clean and dry and that it is neither too tight nor too loose. If the toes are exposed below the bandage, check that they are free of discharges or bad smells, that they are neither hot nor cold, and that they have not become swollen or red. Any of these signs could indicate that the bandage is too tight or that the infection is spreading. For the same reasons, also check the area above the bandage to make sure that it is not swollen, red, chafed, or otherwise irritated. Finally, make sure that the bandage has not slipped up or down. If you see signs that the bandage is to tight or you may think the infection is spreading, remove the bandage entirely (if it isn’t right after the initial wrap) to check the wound and repeat the process of wrapping starting with cleaning.
What about the eyes?
This is one of those areas that when it is injured you should seek the nearest emergency room for proper treatment. If your animal has an eye injury this is most often not covered. The eye is basically a liquid filled sac that will continue to discharge, you want this area to be able to be drained therefore it needs to be open. As with any injury, the area should be cleared of any debris, this is a special case where you are going to wipe around the eye injury with a damp clean and a warm towel until medical attention can be reached. Do not remove any debris as you may cause further injury to the eye and surrounding area.
What Should you keep in your pet first aid kit?
A pet first aid kit should be mobile and ready to grab in the event of an emergency and it should contain all of your pets medical information so that it can stay with them from the place of injury to the vet clinic.
Your First Aid Kit Should Include:
- All pet medical information – vaccinations, current medications, birth record and any adoption or birth paperwork if available
- Vet wrap or similar self-adhesive tape
- Cotton pads or equivalent
- Antibiotic ointment
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Collapsible travel food and water bowls
- Spare bag of food and treats
- Clean towel or blanket
- Rubber Gloves
Dogs can choke on just about anything that is the size of the opening to the trachea, but the most common offenders are small balls, such as golf and squash balls, rawhide and real bones, cellophane, and children’s plastic toys. A choking dog makes retching motions and will look panicked, often pacing back and forth and pawing at their mouth. Their chest may be heaving but they aren’t making any airway noises.
If you suspect your dog is choking, first examine their mouth. Pull the tongue forward and remove the foreign object if possible. If you can’t see the foreign object, use the canine Heimlich maneuver to try to dislodge the object
The Canine Heimlich
For a large dog: Stand behind your dog and place your arms around his body. Make a fist with one hand, and place the thumb of that hand against your dog’s abdomen just where the sternum ends. With the other hand, grasp your fist and push upward and forward (toward the dog’s shoulders), suddenly and forcefully. Do this thrusting motion four or five times. Check the dog’s airway again and clear any debris from the mouth. Repeat the chest thrusts if necessary. If the dog is unconscious, clear the airway and perform rescue breathing.
For a small dog: Hold the dog with her head up so that her spine is against your chest. Make a fist with one hand, and place it against your dog’s abdomen just where the sternum ends. Grasp the fist with your other hand, and give four or five rapid thrusts inward and upward.
Check the dog’s airway again and clear any debris from the mouth. Repeat the chest thrusts if necessary. If the dog is unconscious, clear the airway and perform rescue breathing.
Position Your Dog For Treatment
- Lay your dog on a stable, flat surface with their right side down.
- Straighten their head and neck as best you can to create a direct passage for their airway.
- Pull the tongue forward so that it rests against the back of their teeth and shut their mouth.
- Position yourself behind their back.
Find The Heart And Prep For Compressions
- Place both of your palms, one over the other, on top of the widest part of the rib cage, near the heart, but not directly over it.
*For smaller dogs weighing 30lbs (13.6kg) or less, cup your hands around the dog’s rib cage, placing your fingers on one side of the chest and your thumb on the other.
- Keeping both elbows straight, push down on the rib cage in firm, quick compressions. Only compress 1/4 to 1/3 of the chest width.
- Repeat compressions at a quick rate of 15 per 10 seconds.
*For smaller dogs, use your thumb and fingers to squeeze the chest to about a 1/4 or 1/3 of its width. Repeat this at a slightly quicker pace than for larger dogs, aiming for 17 compressions in 10 seconds.
Begin Artificial Respiration
If performing CPR alone, give your dog artificial respiration after each set of 15 compressions.
- Begin by sealing the dog’s lips. Place your hand over the dog’s muzzle and ensure the mouth is completely closed.
- Next, place your mouth over the dog’s nostrils and blow gently, watching for the chest to lift and expand. If the chest does not rise, blow harder into the nostrils and check that the mouth is properly sealed.
*For smaller dogs, place your mouth over their entire muzzle.
- Remove your mouth from the nose/muzzle between breaths to allow for air return.
- Administer one breath for every 15 compressions.
*If there are two people available to perform CPR, have one person do the compressions, while the other gives artificial respiration after every 5 compressions.
If you are only performing artificial respiration, follow the same procedure as above for sealing your dog’s mouth, and administer one breath every two to three seconds at a steady pace of 20 to 30 breaths per minute.
Administer An Abdominal Squeeze
- Place your left hand under your dog’s abdomen, and your right hand on top. Push down to squeeze the abdomen and assist in the circulation of blood back to the heart.
- Give one abdominal squeeze after each set of 15 compressions and one breath.
Continue CPR or artificial respiration until the dog starts to breathe on its own and has regained a steady pulse. If the dog is not breathing after 20 minutes, it’s time to consider discontinuing treatment, as it is not likely you will have success after this point.
CPR is a physically intense procedure that when performed can cause additional injury to your dog. These injuries can include broken ribs, pneumothorax (also known as a collapsed lung), and overall stress to your dog’s body. However, these injuries are treatable by a veterinarian, so it is not necessary to stop CPR for fear of harming your pet further. If you suspect that you may have broken a rib or otherwise injured your dog, simply continue with softer compressions.