Most “pet parents” are very responsible and try to do all the right things to keep their dog safe and sound. Even if you do all the right things, accidents do happen. If you are far away from a clinic, you may have to take care of your dog yourself. Have your veterinarian tell you how to put together a first aid kit and show you how to use the equipment properly. (Refer to last month’s Tip of the Month for what should be included in a first aid kit.) But, do you know what to do if your dog is injured or facing a real emergency situation?
First, be prepared to get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. That means having the closest emergency veterinarian’s office number on speed dial and entered into your cell phone. If you’re out of town, have the number for emergency medical support handy. Also, ask your vet what you should do in case of emergency. Find out whether your animal hospital is open 24 hours or whether they refer emergency cases on evenings and weekends. If they refer, get the name, address, and phone number of the emergency facility they refer to.
Assess the damage. What are the injuries?–you’ll need to tell the veterinarian what injuries you’ve noticed. In the event of a canine emergency, it is important to immediately perform any life-saving measures needed to preserve the dog’s life and then stabilize the dog as quickly as possible before heading to a veterinarian. The first few moments after an emergency has occurred are the most important and your quick response could save a dog’s life.
If your dog doesn’t have a pulse, you should perform CPR. If your dog isn’t breathing, you’ll have to resuscitate him. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this properly. Ask your veterinarian about canine CPR before you have an emergency. There are also DVD’s and videos on canine CPR available. It’s always good to be prepared before an emergency arises.
Injured dogs often don’t want to be handled and may bite if approached–even the most gentle dog will bite when in pain. Injured animals have a strong instinct to leave the area of the accident and to hide in order to protect themselves. In nature, this instinct serves to keep injured animals safe from predators that may exploit an animal’s injury for their own gain. Keeping this instinct in mind, it is important to approach an injured animal slowly while talking to the animal in a calm and non-threatening voice. It may also be necessary to put a muzzle on your dog so that your dog can be attended to. In a pinch, a leash, belt, or tie can act as a temporary muzzle. Do not muzzle the dog if there is any trouble breathing or if there is a sucking chest wound.
Once an emergency has occurred, the first thing to do is to check the dog’s ABC’s: airway, breathing, and circulation. If the dog is not breathing and the airway seems obstructed, visually check for any obstruction that could be blocking the dog’s airway; if necessary, perform the canine Heimlich maneuver. If the airway is open, but the dog isn’t breathing, canine CPR should be carried out at once.
Once the dog’s ABC’s have been checked, look for any signs of bleeding, broken bones, swelling, bruising of the skin or limbs, or any objects which have hurt the dog (gunshot wound, knives, glass, and other foreign objects).
If there are obvious broken bones, try to slip something sturdy under the dog to act as a stretcher. If there isn’t something sturdy, you may be able to create a makeshift stretcher from blankets.
If the dog is bleeding, control bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound. If a foreign object has broken the dog’s skin, never remove the object–try to control bleeding around the object. Once any life-threatening bleeding is addressed, stabilize any injured areas and prepare the dog for immediate transport.
If there are no signs of injury to the dog, quickly check the dog’s temperature for any signs of heat stroke (hyperthermia) or extreme cold (hypothermia) before beginning transport. If the dog is suffering from these conditions, cool the dog down (or warm the dog up in the event of hypothermia) before beginning transport.
Keep the injured animal from moving as much as possible and try to stabilize any injuries before transport. Remember, you know your pet better than anyone else. If you notice your pet behaving in a way that’s unusual, or if something just doesn’t seem right, you may have picked up on a subtle sign of a real problem. To find out, you can call your veterinary hospital or an emergency animal hospital near you. By asking a few questions over the phone, an emergency veterinarian should be able to tell you whether you should bring your pet in right away or whether an examination during your hospital’s normal office hours is ok. Even if you find out nothing’s wrong, you’ll be glad knowing your pet isn’t in any immediate danger..