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April has been designated as National Pet First Aid Month, and it is important you know what to do if your pet is ill or injured and needs first aid. If you are worried for your pet, then you must call the vet to seek expert assistance but being able to help your pet in an emergency could save their life. As with all emergencies, speed is critical. Remember your pet may be frightened if they are in pain so please take extra precautions to safeguard yourself as well as your pet. Where appropriate (not in cases of choking) you may wish to consider muzzling your dog where possible as they may unintentionally bite when under stress and in pain.
Choking is typically due to a foreign object being caught in your pet’s throat or by an object being tightly wrapped around their throat. Signs of your pet choking includes: obvious distress, pawing at their mouth, excessive drooling and making choking sounds. You must call and go to your vets immediately. They will best advise on how to help your pet while on your way to them. They will probably advise that you should not muzzle your pet as this will make things worse. In the event your pet can cough up the foreign object you should still consult your vet, as there may be trauma in the mouth due to the object and/ or your pet could have suffered injury due to the oxygen restriction during the incident.
Bleeding – internal
If your pet has been showing symptoms such as, coughing up blood, bleeding from the mouth, nose, rectum, blood in their urine, or having a weak and rapid pulse, this could mean there is internal bleeding. Pale gums are also a sign of blood loss. Immediately take your pet to the vets.
Bleeding – external
If your pet has been injured and is bleeding, press a clean and thick cloth on the wound and keep pressure for up to 3 minutes. Put on a tight bandage or improvise with a clean towel. Take your pet to the vet immediately. Follow your vet’s advice concerning the temporary dressing – as applying excessive pressure for too long can cause problems.
If you suspect your pet has eaten something that is considered poisonous, you should immediately call your vet for advice and take them in if the vet deems this necessary. Read our articles here and here on the symptoms of poisoning and what to do if your pet has been poisoned.
CPR for pets
You should immediately call your vet if you find you pet unconscious and no longer breathing. You may want to start Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). It can be very distressing having to give your pet CPR and attending a course can help your confidence if this situation were to arise. CPR for your pet is similar to CPR on a human, using the ABC method: Airway, Breathing and Circulation. You can do this while on your way to the vets. If you want to learn how to perform animal CPR, speak to your vet, they should be able to recommend a training course or provide an informative leaflet.
In most cases, pets with burns need to see a vet first as the extent and type of burn will define what treatment is needed. However, in the case your pet needs urgent care, then apply a gentle continuous stream of cold water to the affected area. Do not apply ice directly to the skin or use creams on the burn, however if you have no access to water and you only have ice this can be used as long as it is wrapped in a towel and not directly on the skin without pressing too hard. If a burn is the result of a fire, then your pet will need to be checked for smoke inhalation when you get to the vets. If it is an electrical burn don’t use water. As you are cooling the area this could make your pet cold so keep other parts of their body insulated.
In the event of a seizure, move and keep objects away that may hurt your pet, and turn off anything making a sound, limit any light sources and call the vet. Under no circumstances restrain them. Make sure you time the seizure, and afterwards keep your pet as warm and quiet as possible while heading to the vets.
If your pet has been in a traffic accident, call the nearest vet and make sure it is safe for you to approach the pet. Approach the pet from the front so they can see you. If you suspect a spinal injury don’t move them unless absolutely necessary and specified to by the vet. If they can’t walk lift them carefully (use a blanket as a stretcher for bigger dogs). If the pet can walk, gently get them to come towards you, using their name.
Pets cannot sweat in order to cool down, so they pant. As they pant, they lose heat by the water evaporating out of their tongue. If your pet is not able to lose enough heat by panting, then your pet’s body temperature can rise to dangerous levels. You should never leave your pet in a hot car even if it is only for a few minutes. This can be the difference between life and death for your pet. When taking your pet for a walk make sure to do it during the cooler parts of the day. If you aren’t sure place your hand on the pavement, if you are unable to hold your hand there for more than 10 seconds then your pet should not be walking on it!
Signs of heat stroke include rapid breathing, high heart rate, drooling, reddened gums, vomiting, diarrhoea, collapse / unconsciousness, confusion and uncoordinated movement. If you think your pet may have heatstroke, move them into a cool and shady area, and pour cool or room temperature water over them, and wrap them in wet towels. If you can place them in a bathtub you could also use a shower attachment. If outside a hose could be used. You should never immerse your dog in an ice bath or freezing cold water as cooling them too quickly can do more harm than good. Your pet can drink as much water as they like, but don’t force them. Take your pet to the vet immediately.
First aid is not a solution to an emergency problem. Any first aid given must always be followed by an immediate trip to the vet. It is important to always call your vet in the first instance if there is an emergency, and always take your vets advice. If possible, it is best to take a pet first aid course to know how to properly help your pet in an emergency.