CANINE FIRST AID
FIRST AID IS A PRACTICAL STEP TOWARD GAINING CONTROL IN AN EMERGENCY. Judiciously used, it can spare a dog further injury and pain. More significant, first aid can help save a dog’s life.
For the most part, the following techniques are preliminary measures that owners should take before they reach their veterinarian. The telephone numbers of your veterinarian, local emergency clinic, and poison-control center should be kept nearby at all times. In an emergency, always call ahead to describe the nature of the problem and to alert the staff that you are on the way. If you are calling about poisoning, try to have whatever your dog ingested on hand.
Pain may arouse the biting instinct in even the most trustworthy animal, so muzzling is recommended. You can use panty hose, cotton bandage material, a necktie, or a piece of rope—anything strong and about two feet long. Tie a loose knot in the middle, leaving a large loop. Slip the loop over the dog’s nose and tighten the knot over the bridge of the nose. Bring the ends under the chin, tie a knot, and then draw the ends behind the ears and tie again. If the dog is short nosed, take one of the ends from behind the ears, pass it over the forehead, and slip it under the loop around the nose. Bring it back over the forehead and tie it firmly with the remaining end. Tie a muzzle firmly but not so tight that it interferes with breathing.
TRANSPORTING AN INJURED DOG
Special handling is necessary to minimize the risk of further injury. An injured dog may be transported atop a suitably sized firm surface such as a plywood board. A board is particularly useful for carrying large breeds. A blanket or large towel can serve as a stretcher for a dog of any size. Dogs weighing less than fifty pounds may be safely moved inside a sturdy box. Small dogs may also be wrapped gently in a blanket or towel and carried in your arms.
Artificial respiration helps supply oxygen to the dog that is not breathing. It requires breathing into the dog’s mouth, so be cautious—even dogs in respiratory arrest can reflexively close their jaws without warning.
Lay the dog on its side. Open the dog’s mouth and check for obstructions. Extend the tongue and look into the throat to make sure the passage is clear. Remove any mucus or blood from the mouth, then shut it and gently hold it closed.
Now inhale deeply. Completely cover the dog’s nose with your mouth and exhale gently. Carefully force air into the lungs, and watch the dog’s chest for expansion. Repeat every five to six seconds, or ten to twelve breaths a minute.
Heart massage should be performed only if the dog’s heart has stopped beating. It must be combined with artificial respiration to approximate a technique known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). When performed properly, CPR can help restore breathing and cardiac function in an emergency. A basic course in CPR will help you better understand and perform this lifesaving technique.
Lay the dog on its right side, place your hands over the heart area on the dog’s left side and press firmly about seventy times per minute. With small dogs, place one hand on either side of the chest wall near the elbows. Compress about seventy times per minute. The chest diameter should compress approximately 20 to 30 percent. Be careful not to break the ribs.
A pressure dressing is used to slow or stop external bleeding. Place several pieces of clean gauze over the wound and bandage snugly, applying pressure evenly. Watch for swelling below the pressure dressing, a sign that the bandage must be loosened or removed. If at all possible, avoid using elasticized tape or bandage material. When bandages are unavailable, you may place a pad or even a clean hand on the wound and press firmly.
Blood will spurt forcefully from a severed artery. If direct pressure fails to slow the rate of bleeding, a tourniquet may be necessary. Tourniquets must be used very carefully, or they can do more damage than good. A tourniquet may be fashioned out of a loop of rope, gauze, or cloth and should be placed on the extremity between the injury and the heart. Then, gently but firmly tighten the tourniquet until bleeding is visibly decreased at the wound site. The tourniquet must be loosened approximately every ten minutes to allow blood flow to the tissue.
Shock is a general term for a condition characterized by collapse of the cardiovascular system. It occurs most often after major trauma, such as being hit by a car. Animals in shock are weak and depressed, and their pupils may be dilated. The pulse is weak and rapid. The gums are pale, and color is slow to return after they are pressed with a finger. (The gums of a healthy dog normally regain color within one to two seconds after pressure is applied.)
If you believe a dog is in shock, it is important to respond at once. Apply pressure to any bleeding wounds and keep the animal quiet and warm. Transport the dog to an emergency facility without delay.
To reduce the risk of further trauma, muzzle the dog and use a board or other secure method of transportation to reach a veterinarian. Move the dog as little as possible during the journey and try to support the broken limb at all times—a rolled-up magazine, cushion, or even a hand will help. If bone fragments are visible, place clean bandage material or cloth over the area until professional care is obtained.
A small fish hook caught in a relatively inoffensive place may be removed at home. Push the hook forward through the skin until the barb emerges, then clip it off with pliers or wire cutters. The other piece should then remove easily. Do not, however, attempt to remove a deeply embedded hook or one that is located on the face or feet. You must first muzzle the dog, and it may even be necessary to sedate the dog, because pushing the hook forward will be very painful.
If the problem involves a lure with multiple hooks, the dog may work at the lure and cause further injury. Cover the lure with a cloth or towel to protect yourself and the dog from the exposed barbs, and get to a veterinarian quickly.
Never attempt to retrieve a swallowed hook by pulling on the line. This can severely damage the esophagus or stomach, and increases the difficulty of removal. Cut the line as short as possible and seek immediate veterinary help.
Heatstroke causes fast, shallow breathing and a rapid heartbeat. The dog will run a very high temperature (104 degrees or above) and may be in shock. A dangerously overheated dog will probably die without prompt treatment. Immediately spray the dog with cool water; pack ice in the groin and around the head and neck; or wrap the dog in cold, wet towels. Seek professional care at once.
Most cases of heatstroke are preventable. Never leave a dog inside a closed car or poorly ventilated kennel on a hot day, and go easy with exercise in the summer. Dogs need fresh air, sufficient shade, and access to plenty of water during hot weather. Never leave your dog outside with no shelter from the sun or without clean water.
Signs of poisoning include trembling, weakness, drooling, vomiting, and loss of bowel control. Common sources of poisons are insecticides (products intended to kill fleas or ticks, for example, or garden bug sprays) and oral worming medications. These products should always be used according to a veterinarian’s or manufacturer’s instructions, and should never be combined without first seeking advice. If your dog exhibits any abnormal signs soon after treatment for parasites, remove the product, if possible, and consult a veterinarian immediately.
Rat poison and other oral rodenticides can produce internal bleeding. If vomiting is induced within a short time (less than thirty minutes) after ingesting most rat poisons, the chance of survival improves. Veterinary help is still necessary. Strychnine-based rodenticides are rapidly absorbed into the system and can cause convulsions and death in a short time.
Acids, alkalis, and petroleum products cause special problems. Vomiting is not advised in these cases, because the substance in the vomitus can damage the dog’s esophagus. Immediately consult your veterinarian. If a veterinarian is not available, give an antacid (such as milk of magnesia or Pepto-Bismol) in case of acid poisoning— approximately two teaspoons per five pounds body weight is considered a safe dose. In case of alkali poisoning, a mixture of one part vinegar to four parts water may be given at the same dosage. Mineral or vegetable oil sometimes helps to protect the gastrointestinal tract in petroleum distillate poisoning. One tablespoon per five pounds body weight is a reasonably safe dose.
Antifreeze is another common poison. Severe kidney damage can occur after ingesting a very small quantity. Antifreeze spills should be cleaned up promptly, because they are very attractive to animals. If your dog licks even a very small amount, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Medications should always be kept out of reach of animals. Furthermore, human drugs—even common pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofin—should never be used without veterinary advice. In addition, chocolate and products with caffeine can be toxic to dogs.
BURNS AND TOPICAL IRRITANTS
Minor burns may be treated by gently clipping away the hair, washing with a mild soap, and applying a topical antibiotic steroid ointment. Extensive burns require a veterinarian’s attention. Apply ice or a cloth soaked in cold water, cover with a clean cloth, and transport the dog immediately.
Turpentine and gasoline are very irritating and potentially toxic chemical substances that should never be used to remove paint, tar, or grease from a dog’s coat. Vegetable oil works quite well for this purpose. Treatment should be followed by bathing with a mild soap.
For a discussion of the condition called hot spots, see “The Skin” in the “Common Illnesses” section.
Dogfights may erupt over territory, social hierarchy, or access to a bitch in heat. Most of these violent encounters end quickly when one dog indicates submission to the other.
Before you intervene, calmly (but rapidly) try to consider what will effectively separate the dogs without causing harm to you. This depends a great deal on the size and strength of the dogs, and on what you have on hand—a dousing with water, for example, can help stop a fight. You may have to let large dogs settle the dispute themselves. To lessen the turmoil, remove other dogs from the scene. If you decide to manually interrupt a fight between small dogs, be very careful—you may well get bitten, and even small teeth can do considerable damage.
Injuries sustained by dogs in a fight may look minor, but they can be misleading. Beneath small puncture wounds may be extensive damage to muscle and other tissues. Also, bite wounds are usually heavily contaminated with oral bacteria and are prone to infection. Flush fight wounds with water or hydrogen peroxide and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
VOMITING AND DIARRHEA
Vomiting and diarrhea are signs of a problem involving the digestive system or other body systems. An immediate concern with persistent vomiting or diarrhea is dehydration, especially in very young and old dogs. For advice on treating simple diarrhea and vomiting, refer to the section in “Common Illnesses” on problems of the digestive system. If diarrhea or vomiting continues for more than twenty-four hours or if additional signs of illness are observed, get help from a veterinarian.
A seizure can cause a dog to collapse, paddle their limbs, twitch, vocalize, urinate, or defecate. Dogs must be protected from falling down stairs or striking their head or limbs against floors, walls, or furniture. Blankets or towels may be used to move the dog or cushion the body. Be careful when handling the head, because the dog might bite reflexively. Time the duration of the seizure and relay this information to the veterinarian.
Pills. Sometimes the easiest way to administer a pill is by mixing it with food. The pill is inserted into a small amount of soft food, such as peanut butter, or is crushed and mixed with something palatable, such as yogurt or canned dog food. It’s easier if the dog is hungry, so it can be a good idea to administer pills right before a meal.
Some medications, however, should not be given with food, or they may not be scheduled to coincide with mealtimes. Also, some dogs have an uncanny way of detecting even the smallest adulteration to their food. In these cases, you must put the pill in the dog’s mouth and make sure it is swallowed. Hold the pill in your right hand and stand on the dog’s right side. Grasp the top of the muzzle with your left hand. Press the upper lips against the teeth and the dog’s mouth will usually start to open. The lips will curl inward around the points of the teeth, protecting your fingers against injury if the dog attempts to close the jaw. Tilt the dog’s head slightly upward.
Place the pill on top of the tongue, deep within the throat. Then withdraw your hand and gently hold the mouth closed. Keep the head elevated and tap the dog’s nose or stroke the throat. Watch for signs of swallowing; some dogs lick their nose. If the pill is spit out, calmly but firmly repeat the process until you are successful. Feeding a small treat right after the dog has swallowed will help make sure the pill is swallowed, too.
Liquids. Liquid medication is best administered from an eyedropper, vial, or small bottle. Spoons are usually too awkward to be useful. Have someone hold the dog’s head in a slightly elevated position. Insert two fingers inside the corner of the lips and pull outward away from the teeth. This forms a funnel-like pouch into which the medicine is poured. Most dogs will swallow the medication as it trickles between the teeth. You can also try tapping the nose or jiggling the pouch slightly.
If the dog clenches its jaw and prevents medication from entering the mouth, you can insert the handle of a spoon between the teeth. Once the dog starts swallowing, the rest of the medicine is usually taken without objection.
Eye Medication. To apply ophthalmic ointment, use your thumb or forefinger to roll the lower eyelid gently downward and squeeze the medicine into the space between the lid and eye.
For eye drops, grasp the muzzle with one hand and slightly elevate the head while holding the lower lid open. Use the other hand to hold open the upper lid and insert the medication.
Do not touch the open end of a bottle or tube to the eye. This can damage the eye and contaminate the medication.
Ear Medication. Tubes of ear ointment often have a long nozzle that can be inserted into the outer ear canal. Liquids can be administered by dropping the medication directly into the ear. Once the ear is medicated, grasp the cartilage below the opening and gently massage it up and down. A moist, sloshing sound indicates that the medication is being distributed inside the ear canal.