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National Pet First Aid Awareness Month - April 2022

April is National Pet First Aid Awareness Month.  

Knowledge of pet first aid is not a replacement for veterinary care, but it can help you handle emergency situations by identifying problems early and to act on them quickly.

Being equipped, even with just the basics, can help any pet owner identify signs of health issues in their dogs or cats. As with humans, first aid knowledge can help save a pet’s life, reduce the potential for increased injury and promote fast recovery.

Here are some basic pet first aid tips for pet owners thanks to Dr Lachlan Campbell Head Veterinarian at Your Pet PA.

Every year, hundreds of dogs in Australia are involved in emergency situations which require first aid. The emergencies come in all forms: automobile accidents, bite wounds, burns, heatstroke, poisoning, seizures, and more. Knowing what to do in an emergency and/or a course in pet first aid could save your pet's life!

Recognising an Emergency

Your pet needs to see a vet as an emergency if they:

✔️ Aren’t breathing or are having difficulty breathing

✔️ Are unresponsive

✔️ May have broken bones

✔️ Are having a fit/seizure that is not stopping

✔️ Have collapsed, have difficulty moving or coordinating movements

✔️ May have eaten something toxic

✔️ Appear to be in severe pain or discomfort

✔️ Try to urinate or defaecate and are unable to

✔️ Are repeatedly vomiting or have diarrhoea which is severe or bloody

What to do in an Emergency

First and foremost, protect yourself! If you become injured, it will be harder to help. Injured dogs often become defensive and may become aggressive.

  • Approach the dog slowly and talk in a calm, soothing voice.
  •  Always muzzle a dog in pain or have someone restrain the head before examining an injured area. A muzzle can be improvised with gauze or cloth if you do not have one available. This is important even with your own pet as all dogs can be unpredictable when in pain. Do not place a muzzle on an animal that is having difficulty breathing or vomiting.
  • If you do get bitten, see your doctor. Dog bite wounds commonly become infected and can cause serious issues if not treated appropriately
  • Call your vet and follow their direction. Explain what’s happened and let them know that you’re on the way and when you’ll arrive. If it’s an evening or weekend, you might get a message giving you details of your local out-of-hours vet
  • Drive safely when taking the patient to the surgery
  • Do not give your pet any medications without checking with your veterinarian first. Many human drugs are toxic to animals and could interfere with medications that a veterinarian would use to help your pet.
  • Do not offer food or drink in case anaesthetic is needed

The Must-Haves in your Pet First Aid Kit

A good pet first aid kit will contain all the things you’ll need to give simple first aid for small injuries at home. Even if you can treat your pet using your first aid kit, you should take them to your vet for a check-up as soon as possible.

1. Important phone numbers (veterinarian, emergency clinic)
2. Tweezers
3. Blunt ended scissors
4. Muzzle, spare collar and leash
5. Rectal thermometer
6. Adhesive bandage/tape
7. Latex gloves
8. Towel or blanket
9. Sterile saline
10. Gauze roll and gauze sponges
11. Wound dressings
12. Antiseptic wipes
13. Tick tweezers

If your dog has been hit by a car

Prevention is better than cure. Even a well-behaved dog should be kept on a lead anywhere near traffic, including slow moving vehicles. Do not have the collar so loose that the dog can get free. 

If your pet is hit by a car, the best thing to do is keep calm and don’t panic:
  • What’s the danger to you and others? Always make sure it’s safe to intervene
  • Direct the traffic around the accident if you can
  • Get someone to phone the nearest vet
  • Talk gently to the dog and approach from the front so they can see you
  • Move slowly and avoid any sudden movements
  • Put a lead on if possible and, if necessary, muzzle before handling. If your dog can walk, gently coax them into a car and go to the vet immediately, even if there appears to be no pain. There may be internal injuries that are not immediately obvious
  • If the dog cannot walk, small dogs can be picked up by placing one hand at the front of the chest and the other under the hindquarters. Improvise a stretcher for larger dogs with a coat or a blanket. As you move them, make sure their breathing isn’t obstructed
  • If the dog is paralysed, there may be a spinal injury so try to find something rigid, such as a board. Slide the patient gently on to this if possible
  • Cover with a blanket to reduce heat loss

If your dog has a heatstroke

Pets can quickly overheat in hot weather. Avoid heatstroke by:

✔️ Not exercising your pet during the hottest part of the day.

✔️ Never leaving your pet in a car.

✔️ Provide them with enough shade, plenty of cool drinking water and limit excessive exercise.

✔️ If you think your pet has heatstroke, it’s an emergency. It very important to gradually lower their body temperature so they can recover.

✔️ If you cannot immediately get your pet to a veterinarian, move him/her to a shaded area and out of direct sunlight.

✔️ Place a cool or cold, wet towel around your pet’s neck and head (do not cover your pet’s eyes, nose, or mouth). Remove the towel, wring it out, then rewet and rewrap it every few minutes.

✔️ Offer small amounts of cool water to drink.

✔️ Pour or use a hose to keep cool water running over the animal’s body (especially the abdomen and between the hind legs). Then, use your hands to sweep the water away as it absorbs the body heat. Keep pouring water over them until their breathing starts to settle. Don’t cool them down so much they start to shiver.

Once they’ve cooled down, take them to the vet as an emergency.

If your dog is bleeding

✔️ Apply direct pressure with a clean towel or cloth for at least 3 minutes before checking to see if the bleeding has stopped.

✔️ Put on a tight bandage. Improvise with a towel or some clothing if necessary. If blood is seeping through, apply another tight layer.

✔️ Only use a tourniquet as a last resort. For places you cannot bandage, press a pad firmly onto the wound and hold it in place.

Severe bleeding can quickly be life-threatening. Get your animal to a veterinarian immediately if this occurs.

If your dog is burnt or scalded

✔️ Run cold water over the area for at least five minutes.

✔️ Do not apply ointments or creams but if there is going to be a delay getting to the vet, you can apply saline soaked dressing to the area.

✔️ Seek immediate veterinary care.

If your dog is bitten by a snake

Pets are usually bitten on or around the head, neck, and front legs.

✔️ Keep your pet calm and quiet, movement helps the venom spread around the lymphatic system, so the less they move, the more time you have.

✔️ Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage, if possible (similar first aid techniques as recommended for people), but do not use a tourniquet or restrict blood flow.

✔️ Do not try to look for a bite mark or clean the bite site with anything.

✔️ Try to identify the snake if it can be done without risk; do not attempt to capture or kill the snake. Do not bring the snake into the veterinarian – a photograph will do

✔️ Transport your pet to a vet immediately, and if possible, call the clinic to let them know you are on the way. They may also provide additional instructions.

If your dog is poisoned

If you know or suspect your pet has consumed something that may be harmful, call your veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic. You could also call the Animal Poisons Helpline (ph 1300 869 738) which is a free poisons information helpline for pet owners.

Try to find packaging from the substance swallowed and have it with you when you phone. If chewing plants is suspected, try to find out the identity of the plant

Do not try to induce vomiting or give any medication to your pet unless directed to do so by the Animal Poisons Helpline or your veterinarian.

If your dog is not breathing

✔️ Check that breathing has definitely stopped (hold a wisp of fur to the nostrils and look for movement).

✔️ Open your pet’s airway by gently grasping its tongue and pulling it forward (out of the mouth) until it is flat. Check the throat to see if there is anything blocking the airway. Be careful not to get bitten.

✔️ Perform rescue breathing by extending the head (nose pointing forwards). Hold the mouth closed and blow into the nose until you see the chest expand. Once the chest expands, continue administering one rescue breath every 4-5 seconds.

If your pet has no heartbeat

✔️ Place your pet on their right side on a firm, flat surface. Dogs with barrel-shaped chests need to be lying on their backs and CPR compressions are done at the midpoint of the chest

    o For small dogs, use one hand, but for large dogs, use both hands interlocked.

✔️ The heart is located on the left side in the lower half of the chest, just behind the elbow of the front left leg

✔️ Press down with quick, firm pressure to depress the chest. Each compression should depress the chest by a half to two thirds. The chest should be allowed to return to the normal position after each compression. Perform two chest compressions per second at the widest part of the chest

✔️ Keep your arms straight and if you have someone with you, swap regularly as the process is very tiring

✔️ After 15 compressions, extend their neck, close the mouth, and perform two rescue breaths (described above)

✔️ Check for a heartbeat

✔️ If your dog is still not breathing and there is no heartbeat, repeat the process until veterinary help arrives or until the heartbeat and breathing return,

For more information on first aid in dogs including emergency care, CPR, videos, and hundreds of educational resources written by trusted veterinarians all FREE, download the Your Pet PA App today!

About the Author

Dr Lachlan Campbell
BVSc(hons) BScApp(hons) BSc Dip.Mgt MANZCVS(Surgery)
 is the Head Veterinarian at Your Pet PA and lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland with his young family and his three dogs Edna, Euka and Pip.

Lachlan has over 13 years’ experience and has a keen interest in all aspects of veterinary medicine including ultrasonography, preventative medicine, wellness care and advice. 

He has worked in small animal general and emergency practices in both Australia and internationally. Lachlan has advanced surgical qualifications and has been admitted, through examination, to be a member of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists.

For more information, please visit
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