First aid for dogs

First aid for dogs

Would you know what to do if your dog was choking, or you thought they’d been exposed to something poisonous? Make sure you’re prepared by reading this handy guide on first aid for dogs, written by Amanda Williams, Director of Allwinds Dog First Aid. 

Despite your best efforts to keep your dog safe, at some point they will probably end up with an injury or being unwell. Knowing what to do in an emergency can prevent the situation from worsening and, in some cases, may save a dog’s life. This guide covers three common medical situations for dogs: what to do if your dog is bleeding, what to do if you suspect your dog has been poisoned and what to do if your dog is choking. 

As a first rule, make sure you always have the telephone number of your vet – including their out-of-hours contact details – should you need to contact them in an emergency. Programme the numbers into your mobile phone so you know where to find them. 

Your dog first aid kit

Be prepared with a first aid kit for your dog. This can be kept at home and taken out with you. It should include: 

  • 4 x 4 -ply gauze swabs
  • 4 x sterile cleansing wipes
  • 2 x sterile non adherent wound dressings
  • Elastic cohesive bandage
  • Open weave bandage
  • 2 x 20ml Sterile eye wash pods
  • Micropore tape/zinc oxide tape
  • Emergency blanket
  • Tick remover
  • Tweezers
  • Small blunt end scissors
  • 2 x plastic foot pouches
  • Gloves

Allwinds sells first aid kits for dogs containing these items. If you would like to order one, please contact Allwinds.

What to do if your dog is bleeding

The blood in a dog’s body travels around the circulatory system and as it does it feeds oxygen to vital organs. If this circulation is interrupted and blood no longer reaches the organs, a dog will go into shock. 

Bleeding can either be external, from an open wound, which you can see, or internal, which means there is bleeding inside your dog’s body, which you can’t see. 

External dog bleeding

External bleeding can be categorised into three groups:

  • Arterial. This is bright red (oxygenated blood) and spurts as it is under pressure from the heart. This type of bleeding needs to be controlled as soon as possible. Due to the fast flow, a dog can lose a lot of blood over a short space of time which can result in a dog going into shock.
  • Venous. This is darker in colour and tends to flow in a steady manner which makes it easier to control.
  • Capillary. This is often seen in a graze. While it may appear fast to begin with, it usually slows to an ‘ooze’.

Your safety when caring for an injured dog

It’s important that you consider your own safety when handling an injured dog, which is likely to be scared and in pain. Even your own dog may try and bite under these circumstances. Applying a temporary muzzle can help. You can make this from a bandage found in a dog first aid kit or even an item of clothing, such as a scarf.

How to stop a dog wound from bleeding

When it comes to visible external bleeding, sometimes a little can seem like a lot. Bleeding from a broken nail or cut ear flap might look scary and make an awful mess but it can be treated with the right skills.

For a minor bleed, apply a sterile dressing to the wound and then a bandage over the top. Make sure the top layer is snug but not too tight. Secure with either micropore tape/zinc oxide tape or split the end of the top bandage into two and tie.

If your dog is bleeding heavily, it’s important to get your dog to a vet as soon as possible. But the first step is to stem the flow of blood. Here’s what to: 

  • Apply a sterile dressing and then apply direct pressure. Try using a tightly coiled triangular bandage or two rolled up bandages side by side and then a dressing or bandage over the top. This needs to be slightly tighter than for a minor bleed. Secure this with either micropore tape/zinc oxide tape or split the end of the bandage into two and tie. 
  • Avoid temptation to look at the wound. It may be clotting underneath and having a sneaky peek could dislodge this. 
  • If you don’t have sterile dressings or bandages to hand then a new sanitary towel or baby’s nappy can be used with a clean towel or t–shirt over the top.
  • If blood soaks through the first layer, then apply another layer on top, don’t remove the first one. If that gets saturated too, apply another one.
  • If bleeding is accompanied with an object embedded in a wound or an open fracture (bone having broken through the skin) bandage either side of the embedded object in a figure-of-eight. This will  help to stem the flow of blood and support the embedded object. 
  • Don’t attempt to remove an embedded object. It could be stemming the flow of blood and you could cause more pain for your dog and damage to tissues by removing it.
  • Take your dog to a veterinary practice as soon as possible for treatment. 

Internal dog bleeding

Internal bleeding can be very hard to detect.  If your dog has experienced a serious injury, e.g. being kicked by a farm animal or hit by a car, they may be bleeding internally. Signs to look for that could suggest your dog is bleeding internally are: 

  • Your dog’s gums appear pale to white
  • Your dog feels cool on the legs, ears or tail
  • Your dog is coughing up blood or having difficulty breathing
  • Your dog is unusually subdued; gets progressively weak and suddenly collapses
  • Your dog has a painful tummy when it is touched

The priority will be to get your dog to a vet as quickly as possible. Transport them very carefully with gentle handling. It’s best to phone ahead to the vet so they can be prepared for your arrival. If your dog has collapsed, ideally with help, place them on something sturdy that you can use to move them from the injury site to the car and then from the car to the vets. If you have a removable parcel shelf in your car, this can work well as a makeshift stretcher. Keep you dog warm using either a blanket or an emergency foil blanket. 

What to do if your dog has been poisoned

Symptoms of poisoning will vary depending on what your dog has been exposed to. These signs can range from vomiting to extreme difficulty with breathing. 

Some poisons have a cumulative effect and take time to build up in a dog’s system after repeated exposures. This means the early signs of poisoning might go undetected or you may just think your dog is feeling under the weather.  In other cases, the reaction could be immediate with your dog presenting obvious signs of distress.

Commons signs of poisoning

Common signs of poisoning can include a combination of the following:

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea which may contain blood
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Continuous scratching
  • Difficulty with breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma 

One of the most common ways that dogs are poisoned is by eating or drinking toxic substances. This can range from a small puddle of antifreeze, which has leaked from a damaged car radiator to finding your hidden stash of chocolate. Chocolate is one of several human foods that are toxic to dogs. These are some of the most common poisons found in our homes, gardens and garages, and the effect they can have if consumed by dogs:

Common Poisons

PoisonEffect
Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) very sweet to tasteDog may appear wobbly, vomit, have diarrhoea, pain in the back and kidney area, drooling, seizures, collapse, death
Slug pellets (metaldehyde)Anxiety, tremors, rapid respiration,
Rat poison Renal failure
Chocolate contains TheobromineVomiting/diarrhoea, increased thirst, panting, restlessness, seizures, heart failure
Grapes/raisinsAcute onset of vomiting/diarrhoea,weakness, abdominal pain, renal failure, death

Xylitol sweetener 
Rapid development of symptoms, vomiting, racing heart, collapse. seizures, rapid drop in blood sugar, death
Human Painkillers
Signs can vary but generally, vomiting, lethargy, weakness and if Ibuprofen has been ingested, tarry black poo

If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, you should immediately contact your vet. There is a very small window for your dog to be treated. If left untreated, your dog could die. Your vet will ask you some questions, which may include: 

  • What do you think your dog may have been exposed to? 
  • How much do you think they have eaten or drunk? 
  • When do you think your dog may have been exposed to the poison, e.g., two minutes, two hours, two days?

What not to if you suspect your dog has been poisoned

  • Don’t try and treat your dog yourself
  • Don’t give your dog human medication
  • Don’t make your dog sick
  • Don’t use salt water

If the fur or the feet on your dog has been affected, using gloves, wash carefully with a mild dog shampoo and dry. You will need to use gloves yourself as any substance that may be caustic for your dog, is highly likely to be caustic for human skin too.

Washing the affected area will reduce the immediate risk of the poison becoming an irritant and possibly burning or scalding your dog’s skin. It will also reduce the chance of your dog licking his fur or feet and ingesting the poison and damaging the inside of their mouth.

Then take your dog and the suspected poison to your vet practice straightaway. Watch for any of the above signs while on the journey to the practice. 

What to do if your dog is choking

Dogs use their mouths (as well as their other senses) as a way of exploring and investigating the world. A puppy going through the teething process will often find relief in chewing. Sometimes they may find something to chew on which could choke them.                                

Choking in dogs is very common. The first step is to determine whether your dog is actually choking or just coughing. This can be difficult to determine  as there are some medical conditions, such as Kennel Cough, which may make a dog sound like they are choking but in fact are coughing.                                      

A dog that is choking or feels like it is suffocating will panic. They may begin by pawing at their mouth, rub their face along the floor, make retching noises and drool excessively. 

An object can become stuck in the mouth or throat but your dog may still be able to breathe. However, something like a tennis ball can totally obstruct the back of the throat and your dog will not be able to breathe.

Removing the obstruction

If you suspect that your dog is choking, you need to act swiftly. Get someone to help you if possible. 

  • If you think you will be able to look into your dog’s mouth without getting bitten, carefully open their mouth. You can do this by placing one hand over the nose, then, using your thumb on one side and fingers on the other, gently press the lips into the gums. Once your dog has opened their mouth a little, use your thumb on your other hand to pull down on the lower jaw from the front. Hold the top teeth open with your other fingers.
  • Check to see if you can see the obstruction. You may be able to carefully use tweezers (or something similar) to remove or break the obstruction.

If you are unable to grab the object or you can’t see a foreign object in your dog’s mouth, try the following:

  1. If your dog is small (less than 15 pounds), try holding them upside down by holding firmly to the back legs, using the other hand to support the chest. Just gravity alone can sometimes help remove the foreign object.
  2. If your dog is large, keeping the front feet on the ground, raise the back feet in the air as though you are performing the ‘wheelbarrow’.
  3. With both small and larger dogs, you can also perform three back slaps to try and dislodge the obstruction.

Performing an abdominal thrust on a dog

If you haven’t been able to dislodge the obstruction in your dog’s throat, you may need to perform an abdominal thrust (sometimes referred to as a heimlich maneuver) on your dog. Here’s how: 

For small dogs: Hold your dogs back against your stomach with its head up and its legs down and find the soft hollow under the ribs. Place your hands in a closed fist which should fit into this spot. Pull up and in two or three times, toward your own tummy, using a thrusting motion.

For a larger do (lying on its side): Kneel on the floor with your dogs back against your knees. Place one hand on your dog’s shoulder and using the heel of your other hand, find the soft hollow under the ribs and thrust in an upward direction three or four times. 

For a larger dog (in a standing position):  Stand behind your dog and wrap your arms around their tummy. Again, you are feeling for the soft hollow under the ribs. Place your hands in a closed fist and thrust quickly and firmly in an upward direction three or four times.

Getting your dog to the vet

Even if you have managed to clear the obstruction from your dog’s throat, they will still need to be seen by a vet. This is because the obstruction is likely to have injured the inside of your dog’s mouth or throat. This can take many days to heal and may involve making changes to your dog’s regular diet.

Performing CPR on a dog

In the worst case scenario that you have not been able to clear the obstruction and your dog has collapsed and is unresponsive, you may have to perform CPR and rescue breaths. These are specific skills which are best learnt by taking part in dog first aid course.

Attending a dog first aid course

The first 10-15 minutes of first aid given to a dog is the most important and has the potential to save their life. By participating in a first aid course you will learn the skills and gain confidence to cope in an emergency situation – until you are able to get your dog to a vet. Find out how more about attending one of Allwinds Dog First Aid courses, where you will learn: 

  • How to be prepared for emergencies
  • Knowing what is healthy, what isn’t
  • Dealing with fractures 
  • Caring for a bleeding dog
  • Bandaging techniques
  • What to do if your dog is drowning
  • What to do if your dog is choking
  • How to deal with a road traffic accident involving a dog
  • How to perform CPR skills

Remember that any first aid you provide for a dog is not a substitute for veterinary treatment. In any emergency, you should always seek the advice of a vet as soon as possible.

Amanda Williams is a qualified veterinary nurse with many years’ experience of working at a mixed animal practice. Her love of dogs combined with her veterinary nursing experience was the driving force for establishing Allwinds, to help dog owners and carers gain the skills and confidence to cope in an emergency until veterinary support is available.

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