VETS CORNER – First Aid in Dogs

First Aid in Dogs

First aid is emergency treatment administered to an injured or sick person/animal before professional medical care is available. The idea of this article is not to give you ways to treat your animal and avoid going to a vet but rather to give you some basics so that you can make it to the vet.

Basic animal welfare like vaccinations, deworming, training, grooming, diet and discipline can go a long way towards the prevention of a medical crisis.

Preparing for a medical emergency is always best accomplished before the event takes place. The first thing that needs to be done, in any situation, is to assess the condition of the animal and the severity of the situation, which will ultimately determine your course of action in treatment. Do not panic! Also try to remember as much as you can so you can describe it to the vet.


You need to know what is normal to recognise what is not. Look at posture, breathing, activity level and general appearance.


              Normal                                                   Abnormal

  • Temp = 38.3 – 39.2oC                      – < 37.8oC or >39.4oC
  • Thermometer clean                        – bloody/tarry/black stool
  • Normal stool                                      – diarrhoea
  • Normal anus/anal glands              – anal trauma/prolapse
  • No soiling                                            – perineal soiling/swelling
  • Normal vulva                                     – vulvar discharge/swelling (other than when in season)
  • Pink mucous membranes             – discoloured membranes (pale, yellow, bright red, blue)
  • Capillary refill time (CRT) = 1-2 sec            – CRT > 3 sec. (To test this you pick up your dog’s lip and press a finger to its gum about the top row of teeth. Take away your finger and the gum goes pale, the CRT is the amount of time it takes to go pink again)


Eyes should be                                                  and not:

  • Bright, moist, clear                                                – dull, sunken
  • Centred btw eyelids                                               – one/both not centred
  • Pupils equal in size                                                -pupils unequal in size
  • White iris w/o too many blood vessels         – bloodshot, icterus, pale, discharge present
  • Responsive to light                                                   -non-responsive



Let’s look at some situations where you may need to do some basic first aid before going ot see your vet.

Any insect or spider can cause problems if they bite or sting your pet. A bite or sting can cause swelling, redness, and itching. Some animals can have an allergic reaction to a sting or bite that may result in mild hives, facial swelling, vomiting, difficulty breathing or even collapse. What to do: Remove stinger (tweezers) by grasping the stinger, below the venom sac (less venom into pet). Apply cool compresses to the area and help neutralize venom by applying a paste mixture of baking soda and water to the sting area. Contact vet, especially if there is facial swelling, breathing difficulty or collapse.

External bleeding-The first rule when dealing with an injured pet is to avoid injury to yourself, so take appropriate precautions (such as the use of a muzzle) to avoid being bitten. For all techniques below, seek veterinary attention immediately after stopping the bleeding, or on the way to the veterinary hospital.

Gently press a compress (a pad of clean cloth, feminine sanitary product or gauze) over the bleeding area, so it can absorb the blood and allow it to clot. Do not disturb blood clots after they have formed. If blood soaks through, do not remove the pad; simply add additional layers of cloth and continue the direct pressure more evenly. The compress can be bound in place using loosely applied bandage material, which frees the hands of the first provider for other emergency actions. If you don’t have a compress, you can use a bare hand or finger.

If a severely bleeding wound is on the foot or leg, gently elevate the leg so that the wound is above the level of the heart.

Elevation uses the force of gravity to help reduce blood pressure in the injured area, slowing the bleeding. Elevation is most effective in larger animals with longer limbs where greater distances from the wound to the heart are possible. Direct pressure with compresses should also be maintained to maximize the benefits of elevation.

Elevation of a limb combined with direct pressure is an effective way to stop bleeding. 


arteriesPressure on the Supplying Artery
If external bleeding continues after you have used direct pressure and elevation, use your finger or thumb to place pressure over the main artery to the wound. Apply pressure to the femoral artery in the groin (on the inside of the thigh) for severe bleeding of a rear leg; to the brachial artery in the inside part of the upper front leg for bleeding of a front leg; or to the caudal artery at the base of the tail if the wound is on the tail. Continue application of direct pressure.  Seek veterinary attention immediately.

Use of a tourniquet is potentially dangerous and it should be used only for a severe, life-threatening haemorrhage in a limb (leg or tail) not expected to be saved. If you see blood spurting or pumping from a wound, which is a rare occurrence, consider the use of a tourniquet. Use a wide (2-inch or more) piece of cloth and wrap it around the limb twice and tie it into a knot. Then tie a short stick or similar object into the knot as well. Twist the stick to tighten the tourniquet until the bleeding stops. Secure the stick in place with another piece of cloth and write down the time it was applied. Every 20 minutes loosen the tourniquet for 15 to 20 seconds. Remember this is potentially dangerous and can often result in disability or amputation.

Internal bleeding is a life-threatening condition, but it is not obvious like external bleeding. In internal bleeding, blood pools in the stomach or chest but does not result in blood in the stool or bleeding from the rectum. There are, however, some external signs of internal bleeding:

  • The pet is pale (check the gums).
  • The pet is cool on the legs, ears, or tail.
  • The pet is coughing up blood.
  • The pet is unusually subdued.
  • Puncture wounds over vital organs

If you see any of these signs, immediately transport your pet to a veterinary facility for professional help. Most cases of internal bleeding will require intensive therapy in a veterinary hospital. Remember: internal bleeding is not visible on the outside.

Bloat is a life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills with air (dilatation) and/or twists upon itself (volvulus). It’s also called GDV.

What to do: Transport to a veterinary hospital or emergency facility immediately. In all cases, this condition requires professional assistance.

What not to do:

  • Do not attempt to relieve the gas from the stomach.
  • Do not give anything by mouth.

It is imperative that this condition be recognized early. Your pet’s abdomen may not be bloated. Signs of bloat include:

  • drooling of saliva
  • frequent retching and attempts to vomit (occasionally victims may be able to regurgitate a pool of foamy saliva)
  • anxiousness, restlessness, and pacing
  • lethargy or agitation
  • depression and shock

Note: Decades ago, a diagnosis of bloat was almost always a death sentence because only 25% survived. Today the survival rate is better than 80%. Part of the reason for this is increased owner awareness. The earlier the veterinarian gets started with treatment, the better chance there is for survival. Extremely aggressive medical and surgical intervention early in the course of the disease has the most dramatic impact on overall treatment success.


Dehydration is excessive loss of water from the body (typically through vomiting and/or diarrhoea) or inappropriate intake of water into the body (decreased thirst).  The most common mistake with a vomiting pet is to encourage food and water intake while the pet is still vomiting. This actually makes matters worse by not allowing the stomach and intestinal tract time to rest, and can cause additional vomiting and water loss. Removing access to food and water for a short period of time may seem like it would make dehydration worse, but it can help your pet avoid further dehydration. Dehydration makes your pet feel lethargic, and can potentially cause severe problems with the kidneys and other internal organs if untreated.


What to do:

  • If moderate or severe dehydration, seek veterinary attention.  (See below for how to assess if dehydration is potentially severe in your pet.)
  • If dehydration is mild and the pet is not vomiting, give frequent, small amounts of water by mouth; that means in the range of 1 tsp for a cat or small dog to 1 tbsp to 1/4 cup for a medium to large dog every few hours.
  • If your pet is lethargic, in pain, or has not eaten for 24 hours, seek veterinary attention.

Do the skin turgor test (pull up the skin and then leave it). If the skin is slow to return to position, the pet may be moderately to severely dehydrated. If the skin does not return fully to its position, your pet may be severely dehydrated and may be in critical condition. Seek veterinary attention immediately. The skin turgor test is not always accurate and several factors such as age, weight loss and condition of the skin can give misleading results.
A veterinary professional can help you determine how dehydrated your pet is, what the cause may be, and the best course of treatment.


Diarrhoea and Vomiting: What to do

  • Remove all food and water rest the GIT.
  • Check for signs of dehydration.
  • If the diarrhoea and/or vomiting continues or the pet acts ill, seek veterinary attention. Diarrhoea and vomiting can quickly lead to serious fluid loss and electrolyte imbalance, especially in very young and very old animals.   This is especially important in puppies.
  • If no vomiting occurs for 6 to 8 hours, begin to frequently give small amounts of clear liquids (water, electrolyte solution). A rule of thumb is to give 2 teaspoons/kg/BW every 2 or 3 hours throughout the day and night.  If your pet does not vomit the fluid, the following day offer small frequent meals boiled chicken and rice. If your pet does not want to eat, starts to vomit, or continues to have diarrhoea, go to the veterinarian for medical care.
  • Do not administer any over-the-counter or prescription medications to your pet without talking to a veterinarian first.
  • Do not allow the pet to eat or drink anything until there has been no vomiting for 6 to 8 hours.
  • Isolate the sick pet from other pets.

Poisoning- Acute poisoning requires accurate assessment. The threat is not only related to the potency of the poison, but also to the quantity consumed, the duration of exposure and to the presence of other active ingredients, such as adjuvants and solvents. Be prepared – prior knowledge of symptoms; recognising poisoning;  diagnosis;  immediate actions required; phone vet. The difference between immediate appropriate action and delayed response is the difference between life and death.



Numerous household items can be highly toxic to pets

  • Pesticides (especially rat poison)
  • Weed-killers/plant insecticides/snail-bait
  • Ammonia/bleach/drain-cleaners
  • Anti-freeze
  • Indoor- and outdoor plants (e.g. oleander/azalea, etc.)
  • Medication (Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Co-Tylenol/Indomethacin)
  • Fertilizers
  • Children’s toys with lead-based paint

The absolute minimum in first-aid supplies to treat poisoning should include:

  • 3 % Hydrogen peroxide (or Sodium Bicarbonate/Salt or Mustard)
  • Activated charcoal
  • Vegetable oil

Some Typical Symptoms of Poisonings

  • Aspirin- Restlessness, hyperventilation, rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting, hyperthermia,                            pulmonary oedema, renal failure, stupor, coma
  • Rodenticides- Vomiting, abdominal pain, bloody stool, lethargy, inflamed and “blood-                            spotted” mucous membranes
  • Bufo Toads Frothy, foamy salivation, difficult breathing, convulsions, paralysis, vomiting,              hallucinations
  • Carbamates-              Disorientated, pupils constricted, paralysed
  • Ethylene Glycol (Anti-freeze) -Staggering, excessive thirst and urination, nausea, vomiting
  • Metaldehyde            Increased salivation, abdominal cramps, vomiting, generalised tremours or seizures
  • Organophosphates-               Constricted pupils, salivation, rapid pulse, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscular weakness, convulsions, respiratory failure and coma

What to do:

  • Firstly, don’t panic!  Attempt to identify the potential cause
  • If you suspect poisoning, call your vet for advice immediately
  • Check the dog’s vital signs (airway/breathing/ heartbeat/bleeding/ temperature)
  • Check for signs of shock (pale gums/listless/weak pulse)
  • Administer First Aid as required
  • Keep the dog warm (in a blanket or similar)
  • Flush the area with large volumes of water repetitively (e.g. in the eye or on the skin)
  • If it was in powder form, you may need to brush or vacuum (don’t freak the animal out!!!!)  the poison off the coat first
  • Get the dog to a vet for follow-up treatment for shock and further supportive therapy
  • If available take a sample of the poison with to the vet
  • Most poisons are ingested, therefore the more rapid the treatment, the better the prognosis
  • Immediate First Aid generally falls into two protocols:
  • Corrosives (caustics) : DO NOT induce vomiting;  give 1 – 2 tablespoons of vegetable (or mineral) oil or if unavailable, provide milk to neutralise the substance
  • Non-corrosives : Induce vomiting by giving 3 % Hydrogen peroxide:   1 – 2 teaspoons (5 – 10 ml) by mouth every 15 minutes until vomiting occurs.  Sodium Bicarbonate or a strong salt or mustard solution (1 teaspoon) in the back of the mouth can also be used to induce vomiting.  Some washing powder mixed with a little water and pushed into the dogs mouth will also do the trick



It is possible to buy pet first-aid kits but if you want to make one up yourself, here are suggestions:


  • Surgical Forceps/Tweezers
  • Dressing Forceps (Plastic)
  • Scissors
  • Digital Thermometer
  • Savlon (75ml)
  • Kyron Eye-wash
  • Cotton wool
  • Gauze swabs (100mm x 100mm)
  • Gauze roll (50mm)
  • Elastoplast Tape (25mm)
  • Vetflex (50mm)
  • Vetflex (100mm)
  • Chlorhexidine
  • Sterile gauze dressing (x2)
  • Examination gloves (x2)
  • 5ml Syringe
  • Syringes
  • Razor & Blades
  • Allergex
  • Activated Charcoal
  • Darrows Solution
  • Pro-Kolin
  • Super Glue
  • Mepyrimal Cream (antihistamine)
  • Burn Gel
  • Brush for dry chemicals



Bactroban antibacterial ointment

If in doubt always contact your vet!


Article by Dr Carolyn Chelchinskey and Dr Mats Abatzidis







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