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Preparing for dog first aid

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Preparing for dog first aid

It was an early spring morning and Denise, a Commercial Dog Walker, was enjoying a 60 minute hike with five of her charges. Three of the dogs romped happily off-leash together until mid-way through the hike, when Denise heard a sharp yelp of pain. She turned to find one of the dogs standing awkwardly, his back arched like an angry cat. Upon closer inspection, Denise discovered a large bleeding wound spanning across the dog’s entire abdomen.

Injuries this serious don’t often happen in the life of a dog, but there will be moments when you’ll need to step up and take action. So how do you ensure you’re prepared to perform first aid?

Consider a Pet First Aid Course

Taking a Pet First Aid course is a great place to start. You’ll learn the basic skills you need to act as a First Responder, which essentially means “first to arrive and react on the scene” prior to reaching a qualified veterinarian. Topics generally include bleeding wounds, broken bones, Artificial Respiration, Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation, and more.

As your dog’s First Responder, how you react to an emergency can significantly affect the outcome of your pet’s health and ultimately, in some cases, his survival.

Pet First Aid is applicable for injuries ranging from minor wounds like a cut foot pad to more serious predicaments such as choking, being hit by a car, or a dog attack. It can also assist with environmental injuries such as heatstroke, hypothermia, frostbite, and even porcupine quills.

Build a first aid kit

A good starter kit should contain an adequate quantity of:

• Exam gloves
• Sterile gauze pads
• Gauze rolls
• Tensor rolls
• Triangular bandages
• Antiseptic wipes
• Waterproof medical tape
• Foil emergency blanket
• Instant cold pack
• A good pair of scissors
• Abdominal pad
• Band-Aids (for you!)

To this you can add some of your own supplies:

• Sanitary napkins (maxi pads) for bleeding
• Extra gauze pads and gauze rolls
• Tweezers
• Pieces of nylon stockings
• Emergency phone numbers
• Pet-safe antiseptic ointment
• Saline solution
• Hydrogen peroxide (3%)
• Pencil and paper
• Pocket emergency Pet First Aid guide

A few basic tips 

Does your dog require first aid? Here’s where to start:

1| Be prepared

• Know the name and phone number of the closest veterinarian and veterinary emergency hospital in your area. Keep the info in your cell phone or wallet.
• When you travel, compile a list of veterinarians along your travel route.
• Keep a list of basic First Aid tips readily accessible.
• Carry a Pet First Aid kit

2| Be able to monitor vital signs

Sometimes a quick check will tell you how quickly you need to get to the vet, and these stats can be valuable when you call the clinic. Check these things first:

  • Body temperature – Assess rectally using a lubricated digital thermometer while someone else holds the animal securely. Follow thermometer directions.
  • Resting heart rate – Assess by placing your fingers on the femoral pulse from the hind leg while the animal is at rest. Do not use your thumb as this can interfere with your own pulse.
  • Resting respiration rate – Assess by watching the chest rise and fall while the animal is at rest.
  • Capillary Refill Time (CRT) – CRT is the time that it takes for a pet’s gums to refill with blood after you have pressed on them with your finger. If CRT is more than 2 seconds, the animal is exhibiting signs of shock, which can be life-threatening.

3| Know what to do for bleeding wounds

Minor bleeding wounds such as cut foot pads and surface scratches can be treated by doing the following:

• Clean your hands and/or wear gloves
• Wipe the edges of the wound with an antiseptic wipe
• Place sterile gauze padding over the wound and apply pressure
• Gauze bandage around the wound

Important notes:

Always ensure that your bandage is not too tight by slipping two of your fingers into the top of the bandage when you are finished. If blood seeps through your bandaging, do not remove it – just add more.

If a foreign object is protruding from the wound DO NOT remove it, instead bandage around it and try to stabilize it.

4| Recognize major wounds and injuries:

Injuries are deemed more serious if you see any of the following:

• Spurting or pooling blood
• Blood or colourless fluid exiting the ears, nose or mouth
• The animal is unconscious or cannot get up
• The animal’s vital signs are declining

What to do:

• Assess safety. Is it safe for you to step into this situation? If not, can you make yourself safe?
• Call a veterinarian and let them know you are coming.
• Keep calm. The animal is more likely to go into shock if you are panicking outwardly.
• Keep the animal warm with a coat or blanket.
• Keep the animal still until assistance arrives, or if you must move him, do so carefully and remember to support the neck and spine.
• Do not give anything to eat or drink, nor medication without advice of a veterinarian.
• Monitor vital signs and report to veterinarian en route.

Fortunately, in Denise’s case, she responded calmly to her canine emergency, and with the help of another hiker, she managed to bandage the dog’s wound and get him safely to a veterinarian for stitches. He made a full recovery and is now happily back on the trails.

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