Anyone who has ever watched their dog wince in pain from a misstep knows the feeling of helplessness a puppy in distress can evoke. They don’t complain about much (unless, of course, dinner is late or you’re ignoring them), so when they let out a yelp, you naturally, want to help. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
While much about dogs remains a mystery even to vets, there are some injuries and small maladies that you can treat, providing your pooch with some immediate relief and comfort. The first step is to compile a good canine first aid to keep handy at all times. If your dog travels in the car frequently, you might consider creating one to keep in your trunk as well.
Injuries & Illnesses: When to See a Vet
Any type of injury that results from trauma, such as being hit by a car, requires a visit to the vet. Your dog will need to be checked for internal injuries that might not produce symptoms right away. The vet should also examine any wounds to make sure that they are not infected or worse than they appear on the surface. If your dog has trouble breathing, you should take him to the vet to determine if he has a foreign object stuck in his throat. Even if you don’t think he swallowed anything, have the vet examine him anyway. Breathing difficulties can also be caused by several illnesses or allergic reactions. Visit your vet as soon as possible if your dog has suffered an eye injury. These types of injuries require prompt veterinary attention to prevent them from becoming much worse.
If you suspect that your dog might have been exposed to a poisonous substance, call the Animal Poison Control Center right away to see if you should take your dog to the vet or watch him at home. If your dog has vomiting or diarrhea that lasts longer than 24 hours, bring him to the vet as soon as possible. Other symptoms that require immediate veterinary treatment include a distended abdomen, which could be a sign of a life-threatening condition known as bloat, trouble urinating, blood in the urine and seizures.
The Kit: Start With Current Information
Purchase a waterproof container to hold all of your dog first aid supplies. Keep the phone numbers of your veterinarian, your local emergency veterinary clinic and the Animal Poison Control Center inside for easy access. (888-426-4435/www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/) Also place updated copies of your dog’s medical record inside the kit. It should include information on any medications your dog takes and which vaccinations he has received. Your kit should also have a first aid guide that you can refer to in an emergency and CPR instructions, which you can print out online.
Keep needle-nosed tweezers, a magnifying glass, gauze, nonstick bandages, scissors and adhesive tape in your dog’s first aid kit to treat wounds or cuts. You should also have milk of magnesia or activated charcoal in your kit to give your dog if he’s been poisoned. These substances absorb poison, although you should ask your vet before giving either one to your dog. Have a bottle of three percent hydrogen peroxide in your kit as well in case your vet tells you to induce vomiting. Your kit should also include Pepto Bismol for diarrhea and vomiting, Benadryl (diphenhydramine hydrochloride with no other ingredients) for insect bites and allergic reactions, a digital thermometer for checking your dog’s rectal temperature, an eye dropper to administer oral substances, a turkey baster to clean wounds, antibiotic ointment, a towel large enough to completely wrap your dog, a muzzle and a leash.
What Can I Treat?
Thanks to their coats (short hairs included) dogs don’t get cuts and scrapes often, but it does happen. A small, not deep cut or scratch that has stopped bleeding can usually be treated by cleaning the wound, applying antibiotic cream and protecting the wound with bandages or gauze. Inspect the wound carefully using tweezers and a magnifying glass before dressing to ensure all foreign debris has been removed. Tweezers also come in handy when you need to pull out foxtails and ticks, etc.
If your pup pulls up lame, you should inspect your dog’s leg or paw to determine the origin of the injury and then, if possible, wrap it with gauze or an ace bandage for support. Restrict movement and watch your dog closely to see if he continues to limp or favor the injured leg. You can give your dog some relief by applying ice to the injury (if he’ll let you) and giving him buffered aspirin. Warning: As in humans, aspirin can cause stomach upset and even liver failure in dogs. Give only sparingly and carefully according to your dog’s weight, and only for immediate treatment of the injury, not long-term.
Just about every dog has had diarrhea at some point and every dog owner has cleaned up after it. Diarrhea is very dangerous in dogs because they can easily become dehydrated and they tend not to be big on Gatorade. Pepto Bismol at 1 mL per ten pounds (see the dispensing cup provided with the pink stuff) usually administered at the bottom of some plain yogurt works wonders. (The yogurt also provides healthy bacteria cultures to the digestive track!) Several doses spaced out over time may be necessary. It is also recommended to feed a bland diet, such as cooked boneless skinless chicken with cooked white rice. Diarrhea that lasts for more than 24 hours or contains blood should always be treated by a veterinarian.
Insect bites, allergic reactions and dermatitis can cause your dog to scratch and bite himself uncontrollably. Benadryl dispensed at 1 mg per pound can provide fast relief. Make sure you use only diphenhydramine hydrochloride with no added ingredients. Keep in mind that only about 20% of dogs get relief from Benadryl. If your dog is healthy and was bitten by an insect, it’s appropriate to give this dose and monitor for resolution of swelling around the bite. If there is no reduction in swelling or if your pup continues to eat himself alive, an alternative treatment is needed. If you notice trouble breathing, large amounts of facial swelling, or blue or white gums, take your dog to an animal emergency facility.
Dogs are such happy souls so it’s easy to not notice little symptoms until they become big problems. While it’s going to be tough to tell when your dog has a queasy feeling in his stomach, you’ll know it when he throws up on your new pumps. (It’s worse when it’s on your bare feet; trust me.) All you can do is stay aware of his behavior especially when he’s in unfamiliar surroundings where he might come in contact with new and foreign substances and be prepared with his first aid kit.
Charlotte Reeves is a freelance writer in Chicago. Visit this site to find out more about
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Want an online course which walks you through what to do in an emergency with your pet? Then take a look at Dr Katherine van Ekert Onay’s guide to ‘First Aid for Your Pets‘.