- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
The text came the day after Thanksgiving. In less than 48-hours, Einstein’s parents should have been on a plane to Mexico and I should have been coming over to sit for my favorite senior dog. But fate intervened.
That evening, while Einstein’s parents chatted with guests in the kitchen, the 13-year-old Australian Shepherd went out to do his business in the twilight. The pavement was still wet from an earlier storm, but Einstein knew the backyard route around the pool to his potty-spot. No one thought twice about the potential danger he was in. His dad looked out the window just in time to watch Einstein’s head slip beneath the water.
This story has a happy ending. Ultimately, after being put in a medical coma and placed on a respirator, Einstein pulled through. But that week was one of the scariest of his parents’ lives. When his dad jumped into the pool to save him, Einstein had already aspirated enough water to kill him, and the water in his lungs led to pneumonia. If he had just known canine first aid, maybe some pain and uncertainty of the days that followed could have been avoided.
In this article, I use my experience as a certified dog trainer to break down a few of the most common dangers and offer tips on how to help your dog in a health emergency.
Pet first aid
Animal emergencies are no joke. If your dog is choking or goes into shock, time is of the essence. While most large towns and cities have 24-hour emergency vet services, by the time you get across town, it may be too late. A good knowledge of pet first aid can make all the difference in whether your pup survives an emergency.
Besides keeping the phone number and address for your dog’s regular vet and the closest emergency vet handy (be sure to have them posted somewhere obvious for the whole family to easily find, not just entered in your phone), put together a first aid kit that includes these essentials:
- Gauze pads (3-4 inches square), gauze rolls (2-3 inches wide), and adhesive tape
- Scissors and tweezers or needle-nose pliers
- Digital thermometer and petroleum jelly (for lubrication)
- Antibiotic ointment, antihistamine gel caps, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar or baking soda for neutralizing acid burns
- Extra leash, collar and muzzle
- Latex gloves, plastic bags (for collecting samples)
- A clean towel or blanket
How to help your dog in a health emergency
If your dog experiences any of these problems, they must be taken to the vet immediately following your emergency response.
An object (usually a piece of food, toy or rawhide) is obstructing your dog’s trachea.
What are the symptoms: If the dog is conscious, expect violent pawing at the face, gasping or gulping for air, or wheezing.
How to respond: If the dog is conscious and can cough or gag, they may be able to loosen the object themselves. Monitor closely for several minutes. If there is no change, perform chest thrusts by placing your hands on either side of the dog’s chest and pushing sharply inward and upward towards the head. If there is no change, your dog may fall unconscious and need CPR (see below).
A dog may stop breathing for a variety of reasons, including inhaling water or choking.
What are the symptoms: The dog is unresponsive
How to respond: First pull the tongue past the canines and look into the throat with a flashlight. Reach in and pull out any obstruction you see with tweezers or pliers.
Wrap your hands around the muzzle to form a funnel then blow air into your dog’s mouth slowly. If the breath fills the lungs, release another slow breath. If there is no pulse or the breath doesn’t make the chest rise, begin chest compressions. With your dog on their side, push down on the chest with both flat hands together forming an “X” (for a dog under 15 lbs, use one hand around the chest like a taco shell and squeeze the thumb and fingers together). Give 15 compressions followed by two slow breaths.
Check to make sure there is no new obstruction in the trachea before beginning the breaths. Repeat the compression and breathing while transporting the dog to the vet.
Your dog’s body temperature has risen to dangerous levels.
What are the symptoms: Extreme panting, rapid heart rate, a bright red tongue that can change to blue or gray, foaming at the mouth, lethargy, vomiting
How to respond: Your dog needs to cool off immediately. Bathe or hose them down with cool water, wrap them in a wet sheet and/or use cold compresses on the groin, armpits and neck. Wipe paws and skin with rubbing alcohol. Use a digital thermometer to make sure the core temperature is decreasing.
Your dog has opened up a vein or artery.
What are the symptoms: Non-stop bleeding, blood spurting from the wound, a foreign object lodged in the body.
How to respond: First restrain and muzzle your dog—in severe pain and fear, any dog can bite. Elevate the extremity (if possible) and hold a clean cloth or gauze to the wound, applying lots of pressure. If there is no change in three minutes, also firmly apply pressure above the wound to the artery supplying the blood. If the bleeding decreases, bandage the gauze or cloth firmly in place and get to the vet immediately.
Insect Bite or Sting
A bite or sting from an ant, bee, wasp, spider or another insect.
What are the symptoms: Pain, redness, swelling at the site. A dog that is allergic to the insect may go into anaphylactic shock with symptoms that include extreme swelling, trouble breathing, vomiting, seizure, and unconsciousness.
How to respond: Remove the stinger (if possible) by flicking it out with the hard edge of a credit card or key—do not use tweezers. Apply a topical antihistamine to the sting or bite. Consult with your vet about using an oral antihistamine like Benadryl.
Your dog has ingested a dangerous plant, food or household product such as aspirin, paint, tobacco, poinsettias, rhubarb or chocolate.
What are the symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, excessive drooling, seizures.
How to respond: Contact Animal Poison Control immediately at 888-426-4435. In some cases poison control may recommend inducing vomiting, which can be done using hydrogen peroxide. Vomiting should not be induced if your dog has ingested a petroleum-based, alkaline or acidic substance. If the poison is on your dog’s coat or skin, immediately brush it off then flush with lots of water, taking care not to get the chemical onto other parts of the body.
Pet First Aid Certification
While these tips can help to reduce danger in an emergency, becoming certified in Pet First Aid is the best way to ensure you’re doing all you can for your pup at their scariest moments. These organizations offer online and in-person courses:
- Red Cross: Cat & Dog First Aid Online Course
- PetTech: Complete PetSaver Training
- PetTech: CPR & First Aid for Your Pets
- Walks n Wags Pet First Aid