First Aid for Dogs

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Although there are a lot of ways that you can help your injured or sick pet, it is important to remember that dogs are not humans. Many medicines that are safe for people can be very dangerous to our pets – a single ibuprofen tablet can easily kill a Jack Russel Terrier, so always check with a vet before using any human treatments.

Below is a list of common ailments, together with advice on what action can be taken and how urgent it is to contact the vet.

Cuts and Wounds

These most commonly occur to the foot from running on broken glass or sharp stones. If possible clean the wound with water or a very dilute disinfectant such as Hibiscrub. Cut pads and feet can often bleed profusely so if this is the case try to wrap the foot in lint or cotton wool and apply even pressure with a roller bandage – enclose the whole foot in the bandage. Never use an elastic band or similar, as these cut off the blood supply. In most cases the dog should be checked by a vet, as stitches are often necessary, and as these wounds have normally been contaminated, antibiotics are usually required. If you can not stop the bleeding the dog should be seen by the vet as an emergency.

Fractured or pulled-off claws

These are often very painful and tend to become infected very quickly. Bleeding can often be profuse initially. Dogs will often lick at them constantly, which adds to the damage. If possible try to apply a bandage or at least cover the foot with a sock to prevent self-trauma. If there is a lot of bleeding apply a tighter bandage as for a cut foot. The foot should be checked by a vet as antibiotics are almost always necessary and sometimes the claw will need to be clipped back under sedation or anaesthetic.

Dog Bites

The problem with dog bites is that they are always infected and that there can often be internal damage underneath the wound – even if only a small puncture hole is visible on top. As a result it is always best to get them checked by a vet - as an emergency if the dog is lethargic or in shock, and especially if the wounds are to the neck or body. If the dog is bright, clean the wound as for a cut and arrange an appointment with your vet.

Stings and Insect Bites

Try to remove the sting if it is still present, although normally the first sign of a sting is a dog with a swollen muzzle or paw. If the swelling is severe and around the nose, mouth or throat it can cause breathing difficulties, so you should contact a vet. Otherwise, keep the dog quiet and cool, bathe the area with ice cold compresses if possible. If you catch the sting early you can reduce the swelling by giving your dog Piriton tablets – one human 4mg tablet to a small dog, two to three to a Labrador-sized dog. Occasionally dogs can develop an ‘urticcarial’ reaction to a sting or bite. Also known as ‘nettle rash’, circular thickenings or plaques appear over the dog’s body which can be quite uncomfortable. They will often need veterinary treatment.

Lameness

A severe non-weight bearing lameness with a lot of pain could suggest a fracture – keep the dog as quiet as possible and contact a vet. In less severe cases, check the pads for thorns, embedded grit or a cut, and look for damaged nails. Normally dogs will lick at a sore foot so the problem will be higher up if they aren’t worrying at it.

Sprains, strains and arthritis are often most obvious when the dog first gets up after resting. Keeping the dog quiet with restricted exercise for a few days, can work for mild cases, otherwise get your dog examined at the vets.

Fits

A fit can be recognised by sudden uncontrolled, spasmodic movements, often with champing of the jaw and muscle twitches across the head and neck. The dog will often fall onto its side and will not be aware of its surroundings. Fits typically start while a dog is sleeping or resting. They may be aware that something is ‘not quite right’ before hand and come to you for reassurance. Most fits only last a few minutes at the most. Afterwards the dog will be drowsy, disorientated but often hungry.

If your dog is having a fit, don’t try to restrain it. You may make the fit worse and can often get bitten. Try to move or pad any furniture or hard objects on which the dog could hurt itself. Keep the room dark and quiet to reduce further stimulation.

If a fit only lasts a minute or two, and the dog is coming around ok, then keep it quite and arrange a check up at the vets. If the fit lasts more than 10 minutes or the dog keeps having attacks one after another, it should be seen as an emergency.

Strokes

Strictly speaking, dogs do not suffer strokes in the same sense as humans. However, they can get a similar condition known as Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome. This tends to occur in older, large breed dogs. Typically signs are a head tilt, characteristic flicking of the eyes from side to side and being very unsteady on their feet, often falling to the same side repeatedly. Understandably they are often disorientated and confused – some dogs panic. Vomiting can also occur.

Try to keep the dog quiet and calm. You may need to give them some support to move around. The dog should be checked by a vet as there is some treatment that can help and most dogs will make a full recovery. If your dog is very distressed it should be seen by a vet as an emergency so sedation can be used to calm it.

Sore Ears

If a dog suddenly develops a very sore ear on or after a walk, a grass seed will often be the culprit. If the problem comes on more gradually, an infection is more likely. In either case, try to stop the dog scratching at the ear and making things worse – an Elizabethan collar is most useful. Arrange to get the dog examined at the vets, as an emergency if you suspect a grass seed is the cause.

Sore Eyes

These can be due to conjunctivitis, grass seeds or thorns in the eye, scratches to the eye or ulcers. The main thing is to stop the dog rubbing the eye or the problem will quickly worsen. If you are concerned that something like dust or bleach has got in the eye, try to flush the eye out with lukewarm water. In general, a sore eye should be seen by a vet, and as an emergency if the eye is very painful, weeping profusely or getting worse rapidly.

Vomiting and Diarrhoea

The golden rule for a dog with an upset stomach is to starve the dog for 12 hours, only offering water or dioralyte to drink. Most cases are caused by eating something that hasn’t agreed with them so starving, followed by a light diet of something like boiled white fish, or chicken mixed about 50:50 with white boiled rice, will settle the problem. Initially give very small quantities of food 4-5 times daily for 3-4 days then gradually change back on to normal food.

If the problem is not settling with starving, if there are repeated bouts of vomiting, or the dog is depressed, lethargic or not drinking then it should be examined by a vet.

Heat Stroke

We see this problem a lot in the summer, particularly with long-haired dogs, or those with narrow airways, such as bulldogs, cavaliers and boxers. It typically happens when dogs charge around on hot days getting very excited. Initially they will just be panting excessively, though it can progress to collapse, breathing difficulties and even seizures. Get the dog out of the sun, keep it calm, give it a cold bath or wrap it in cold, wet towels, and ideally, provide a breeze, naturally or with a fan. Try to get them to drink small amounts of cold water. If your dog won’t calm down, is having breathing problems or fitting, then it should be seen as an emergency, to be sedated and cooled down.

Collapsed Dogs

These dogs tend to fall into one of two categories – either collapsed from leg and joint problems – typically older, large breed dogs with arthritis, or from shock due to severe internal disease, such as a ruptured spleen, vomiting and diarrhoea or heart, liver and kidney problems. The former will still be bright, often still eating, and are interested in what is going on around them. The latter are very miserable and off their food. Whatever the cause, a collapsed dog should be seen by a vet, especially if it is going downhill, has pale gums or is in pain – contact the vet immediately.
Although it can be an effort to transport these dogs, they are always best seen at the veterinary surgery where more equipment is available to do a full examination, and intensive treatment can be given if necessary. If the dog is in pain and trying to bite then use a bandage, neck tie, dog lead or belt to make a muzzle. Tie it firmly under their jaw, then tie the loose ends behind the dog’s neck. A blanket can be used to make a soft stretcher to transport the dog to the car.

Poisoning

Unfortunately many dogs like nothing better than to eat toxic substances, such as rat poison, slug bait, plain chocolate or human tablets like Neurofen in nice shiny foil. In most cases it is best to make the dog vomit as soon as possible. Most poisons take a few hours to be fully absorbed from the stomach so inducing vomiting is useful up to 2 hours after ingestion. The best way to do this is to place a small crystal of washing soda (not washing powder, nor caustic soda) on the back of the dog's tongue and hold his mouth shut until he swallows it or starts retching. You may need to do it 2 or 3 times before anything happens. If no washing soda is available, then you can try very salty water or mustard instead, however, these latter methods are less reliable.

The only exception is if the dog has swallowed something that is caustic e.g. bleach, as this could damage the throat again on the way back up. In all cases, contact the vet with details of the poison and in what quantity it has been eaten.