Many people don’t realize that first aid for pets is a real thing. There are pet first-aid kits, courses, and classes, just like there are for humans. And just like for humans, the goal is to treat any immediate medical emergencies and stabilize the patient long enough to get professional medical treatment.
While it’s no substitute for a pet first-aid course (we recommend that you take one!), we thought we would share a few pet first-aid tips in this month’s newsletter. Accidents do happen, and we want our patients’ families to be ready for anything.
The First-Aid Kit
If you live with pets, you should have a well-stocked pet first-aid kit. You can buy these or assemble one yourself, and they usually have the same basic materials and equipment:
- Emergency numbers for your veterinarian, the local pet poison control center and the local after-hours emergency veterinarian, if there is one in your area.
- Non-stick gauze bandages. These can be used to wrap wounds or as a makeshift muzzle if necessary. Make sure your bandages are sterile and nonstick. Do not use adhesive bandages!
- Surgical adhesive tape, to secure bandages.
- Milk of magnesia, 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and/or activated charcoal, which are commonly used to induce vomiting after poisoning. You should induce vomiting only after speaking to your veterinarian or poison control center!
- A “fever” digital thermometer. Make sure the temperature goes higher than normal — regular thermometers may not be suitable for furry friends.
- An eyedropper or large syringe, to irrigate wounds or give medication.
- A muzzle and leash, for trips to the vet.
- A stretcher, which could be a board, blanket or any large surface that lets you carry your furbaby easily.
Basic First-Aid Procedures
While it’s not possible to teach all the techniques and skills you would learn in a pet first-aid class on paper, here are some basic instructions on what you should do in a few of the more common first-aid situations.
Poisoning happens quickly and is more common than you would imagine. Things that are perfectly harmless to people can be deadly to furbabies, and when poisoning happens, it’s easy to panic. Stay calm and do the following:
- Call your veterinarian or your local poison control center.
- If you know what your pet has consumed, tell the operator what it is.
- If not, tell the operator the symptoms you have witnessed, which may be seizures, unconsciousness, foaming at the mouth or difficulty breathing. Also, provide your pet’s age, size, and breed.
- Follow the operator’s instructions.
- Bag up any packages or remnants of what your pet consumed, and get her to the nearest medical treatment facility as soon as possible.
If your pet has a seizure, the first thing you need to do is try to keep him away from any furniture or objects that may hurt him. Keep your hands away from his mouth if you have to move him, and watch him until the seizure is over.
Seizures usually last only a few minutes at most, although it may feel a lot longer! Once it’s over, keep him warm and quiet, and call your vet.
If your pet has a wound that is bleeding, use a thick gauze pad to apply and maintain pressure to the wound for a few minutes or until the blood begins to clot. Secure the wound with a nonstick bandage and surgical tape, and get your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Severe bleeding can be life-threatening if not treated quickly!
Burns are painful and dangerous for your pet. Treatment for burns usually starts with muzzling your furry friend (even though you’re trying to help, she might snap at you because of the pain). Use cold water to flush or cool the area, and seek emergency veterinary care as soon as possible.
Choking is more common in pets than you would think, and it’s as scary for pet owners as it is for the pet. Fortunately, the Heimlich maneuver works on dogs too! Here’s what you need to do as soon as you realize your dog is choking:
- Open your dog’s mouth and check if there is anything visible you can remove.
- If you have someone with you when this happens, have them hold your dog’s mouth open while you look for and remove the object.
- Hold small dogs upside down for 30 seconds, swaying them side to side. This may dislodge the object.
- Either lay your dog on his side with a pillow under his hindquarters to elevate him or stand behind and over your dog.
- Place your hands just beneath the rib cage, and make four or five quick, upward thrusts. Continue to thrust until the object is dislodged.
- Be cautious, as dogs will often tend to bite out of instinct once the object is dislodged!
Training and Timing Save Lives
We hope these tips will help you take appropriate action in an emergency situation. If you can find a pet first-aid course in your area, we encourage you to take it. Proper training and quick action in an emergency are often the difference between a successful outcome and a tragedy, and we want only successful outcomes for you and your furbabies.
When in doubt, call your vet. And remember: the sooner you act, the better.