The following information is provided by the Veterinary Information Network, a private forum for veterinarians to exchange ideas on the latest and best ways to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions in companion animals.
Take a few moments a familiarize yourself with these basic response tips if you ever experience an emergency or injury with your pet.
Permanently Identify Your Pet with a Microchip and Collar
Remember to have ID on your animal; people will usually return your pet if your phone number is provided. Also, if your animal is injured and transported to a veterinarian by someone else, the doctor can reach you for medical decisions. Proper identification tags and/or microchips will help you recover your pet if he or she wanders off.
Precautions When Traveling
Dogs and cats must be contained while traveling in a car or truck. Unsecured pets become projectiles in an accident increasing the pet’s injuries. Cats jump out of cars quickly or may walk around the car and end up under he brake pedal. Cats should travel in cat carries (works for small dogs too!). Dogs can be secured by looping a seat belt through a harness (never through a collar because your dog will injure its neck in an accident). We recommend that dogs not ride in the back of trucks. In some states it is illegal for a dog to ride in the back of a pick-up truck without tethers. Besides the risk of injury from a fall, the dog may be killed in traffic. Even properly tethered dogs have little protection in the event of an accident.
Avoid Collar Injuries
Confinement created by a chain tied to a post or a cable can result in death by suffocation if the chain becomes too tightly wrapped around the post or around your pet’s neck. If dogs are tied outside, the line should be secured to a harness rather than the collar to prevent serious neck injuries should the dog suddenly run after something. Collars, especially electric fence collars that are often worn more snug, should be checked regularly to be sure they are not too tight.
What To Do If My Pet Gets an Insect Bite?
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:
- If the stinger can be found, scrape it out with a credit card or other stiff material. Alternatively, use tweezers by grasping the stinger, which is located below the venom sac. If the sting just happened, don’t put pressure on the venom sac, as that would inject more of the venom into the pet.
- Apply cool compresses to the area.
- To help neutralize some of the acidic venom, apply a paste mixture of baking soda and water to the sting area.
- Your pet should be examined immediately by a veterinarian if there is facial swelling, breathing difficulty or collapse.
What NOT to Do:
- Do not administer any medications without first contacting your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency hospital. The veterinarian may need to examine your pet before recommending medications.
Precautions with Sockets, Electric Cords and Electricity
Electric cords should be inaccessible to pets, especially puppies and kittens, who tend to chew on anything. A bite through the insulation can result in a serious burn, fluid accumulation in the lungs, or death due to electrocution. Dangling electric cords are an irresistible (but dangerous) temptation to a playful kitten or puppy. Make sure all cords are inaccessible!
A nosebleed (epistaxis) is bleeding or hemorrhage from the nose. It is important to stop a nose bleed, but is equally important to get to the bottom of why it’s happening. Stopping nose bleeds in pets is often the easy part, but finding out why a nose is bleeding may sometimes be more challenging.
Your pet should be kept calm, as excitement may cause an increase in blood pressure that will make control of the nosebleed difficult. As a pet owner, you too must remain composed; if your pet sees you getting frantic, he will become further distressed.
Place an ice-pack over the bridge and on the side of the nose to help to control bleeding as that constricts the blood vessels in this area. If possible, look in the mouth to see if there is blood or if the gums are pale. In either case, your pet should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately
What to Do
- Notice if the blood is coming from one nostril (note which one) or both.
- If your pet is sneezing, note how often.
- Attempt to keep your pet calm. Encourage your pet to lie down and relax.
- Place an ice pack (covered by one or more layers of clean cloth) or cold compress on the bridge and side of the nose.
- If the nose is bleeding profusely and/or the bleeding lasts more than 5 minutes, seek veterinary attention.
What NOT to Do
- Do not put anything up the nose, as this will likely cause your pet to sneeze. Sneezing will dislodge a clot (if one has formed), and the bleeding will resume.
A bloody nose in a cat or dog may be associated with foreign bodies (foxtail awns are common), polyps, infections, poisoning, bleeding disorders, or even cancer. It is a sign whose significance should not be underestimated, and veterinary medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.
Fever and Heatstroke
Body temperature may be elevated because of an infection (fever), but it may also increase because of hot and/or humid conditions outside. An increased body temperature caused by environmental conditions is commonly referred to as hyperthermia, heatstroke, and heat prostration.
Hyperthermia may be a life-threatening condition, and does require immediate treatment. A dog’s normal body temperature is 101.5°F plus or minus 1 degree Fahrenheit. Any time the body temperature is higher than 105°F a true emergency exists. Heatstroke generally occurs in hot summer weather when dogs are left with inadequate ventilation in hot vehicles. However, heatstroke may also occur in other conditions, including:
- When an animal is left outdoors in hot/humid conditions without adequate shade.
- When exercised in hot/humid weather.
- When left in a car on a relatively cool (70°F) day; a recent study from Stanford University Medical Center found the temperature within a vehicle may increase by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within one (!) hour regardless of outside temperature.
Other predisposing factors may be obesity and/or diseases affecting a pet’s airway. Keep in mind that prolonged seizures, poisonings, and many other conditions may cause hyperthermia. Also, brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (Bulldog, Pekingese, Pug, Boston terrier, etc.) may suffer from ineffectual panter syndrome that results in an increased body temperature that may be fatal.
Initially the pet appears distressed, and will pant excessively and become restless. As the hyperthermia progresses, the pet may drool large amounts of saliva from the nose and/or mouth. The pet may become unsteady on his feet. You may notice the gums turning blue/purple or bright red in color, which is due to inadequate oxygen.
What to Do
- Remove your pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred.
- Move your pet to shaded and cool environment, and direct a fan on her.
- If possible, determine rectal temperature and record it.
- Begin to cool the body by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, in the armpits, and in the groin region. You may also wet the ear flaps and paws with cool water. Directing a fan on these wetted areas will help to speed evaporative cooling. Transport to the closest veterinary facility immediately.
What NOT to Do
- Do not overcool the pet.
- Most pets with hyperthermia have body temperatures greater than 105°F, and a reasonable goal of cooling is to reduce your pet’s body temperature to 102.5-103°F while transporting her to the closest veterinary facility.
- Do not attempt to force water into your pet’s mouth, but you may have fresh cool water ready to offer should your pet be alert and show an interest in drinking.
- Do not leave your pet unattended for any length of time.
Rapidly cooling the pet is extremely important. Cold tap water is suitable.
Severe hyperthermia is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body. Simply lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that often accompany this disorder. A pet suffering from hyperthermia should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
A seizure is any sudden and uncontrolled movement of the animal’s body caused by abnormal brain activity. Seizures may be very severe and affect all of the body, or quite mild, affecting only a portion of the pet. The pet may or may not seem conscious or responsive, and may urinate or have a bowel movement.
Seizure activity that lasts longer than 3 to 5 minutes can cause severe side effects, such as fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or brain (cerebral edema). A dramatic rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) can also result, causing internal organ damage.
Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, toxins, low blood sugar, brain tumors and a host of other medical conditions. Your veterinarian can help you determine the cause of seizures in your pet, and if necessary can refer you to a specialist to help with the diagnosis or treatment of seizures. In general, animals less than one year of age typically have seizures due to a birth defect such as hydrocephalus (water on the brain) or a liver defect called a portosystemic shunt (among others). Animals that have their first seizure between 1 and 5 years of age typically suffer from epilepsy, while those over 5 years of age often have another medical condition causing the seizures such as a brain tumor, stroke or low blood sugar. These are general guidelines, however, and they may or may not apply to your pet.
All pets that have a seizure should have lab tests to help diagnose the underlying cause, and make sure their organs can tolerate any medications that may be needed to control seizures. Once underlying diseases are ruled out by your veterinarian, some pets require medications such as Phenobarbital, Zonisamide, or potassium bromide, among others, to control seizures. These medications may require dose adjustments and blood monitoring.
What to Do
- Protect the pet from injuring herself during or after the seizure. Keep her from falling from a height and especially keep away from water.
- Remove other pets from the area as some pets become aggressive after a seizure.
- Protect yourself from being bitten.
- Record the time the seizure begins and ends.
- If the seizure lasts over 3 minutes, see veterinary attention at once.
- If your pet has two or more seizures in a 24-hour period, seek veterinary attention.
- If your pet has one seizure that is less than 3 minutes and seems to recover completely, contact your veterinarian’s office for further instructions. A visit may or may not be recommended based on your pet’s medical history.
What NOT to Do
- Do not place your hands near the pet’s mouth. (They do not swallow their tongues.) You risk being bitten.
- Do not slap, throw water on, or otherwise try to startle your pet out of a seizure. The seizure will end when it ends, and you cannot affect it by slapping, yelling, or any other action.
A fracture refers to a break or crack in a bone. There are several different types of fractures, and each type has different complications and methods of repair. Your veterinarian can help you decide how best to fix the fracture and if referral to a specialist is in your pet’s best interest. Although splinting will allow a small number of fractures to heal, most will require surgery to ensure the best outcome. A fracture, dislocation or severe sprain may be suspected when the animal suddenly appears lame on a leg, or picks up a leg and won’t use it. These may also be suspected following any major fall or blunt injury. Obvious findings of a bone sticking out from (protruding) a wound are rare. What is more common is the unusual angle or deformation of the fractured area, and swelling. Accurate diagnosis requires the use of x-rays, which usually must be taken with sedation or anesthesia to get the most accurate results.
What to Do
- Before treatment, precautions should be taken to prevent biting injury to the first aid provider. Muzzle your pet.
- Stop bleeding with direct pressure.
- Open fractures should be covered with a sterile gauze dressing if possible. If this is not available, use a clean cloth or feminine pad applied over the opening and bone.
- If possible, the pet should be immobilized on a large board for transport.
- If the pet can still use three legs, support the rear legs with a towel under the abdomen (with the ends held together above the back) used as a sling.
- Splinting the fracture at home without pain medication greatly increases the risk of being bitten, and may actually make the fracture worse. Some fractures, such as thigh or femur fractures, cannot be splinted. The best advice is to keep the pet quiet and calm, protect yourself and head directly to a veterinary hospital.
What NOT to Do
- Do not flush the wound with saline or water as this only risks driving contaminants deeper into the wound.
- Never attempt to set or reduce a fracture or try to push a protruding bone back into position.
- Do not give any over-the-counter or prescription medications to your pet unless directed to do so by a veterinarian
Transporting the Injured Pet
The first aid provider must not only identify and treat injury or illness, but must also safely transport the patient to the veterinary facility for further treatment. Improper technique when transporting a patient can result in further injury or complications, and risks a bite injury to the person transporting the injured pet. Although we cannot fully prepare you for all specific examples, we can provide the following general recommendations.
- Handle the Pet as Little as Possible
Try to make the pet comfortable by encouraging him or her to lie down and stay. Smaller dogs and cats can most effectively be transported in commercially available carriers or in a cardboard box with a lid.
- Handle the Pet Gently
Rough handling may cause further internal bleeding, more damage to the soft tissues around a fracture, and many other complications.
- Lie the Pet on its Side if Possible
If the pet seems to resent this or has more difficulty breathing on its side, it may indicate the pet has an injury to the chest or lungs. In this case, it is better to leave the pet in a comfortable position of his choosing.
- Minimize Movement
If possible, gently tie or tape the pet to a flat surface such as a large board or piece of plywood. This is imperative when handling an unconscious patient or the patient with a suspected back injury to ensure that they do not thrash about – this could potentially make any internal or spinal injuries worse.
- Do Not Put Pressure on the Stomach
This is most important for the pet who is having difficulty breathing, has been vomiting, or has pain in the abdomen.
- Use a Backboard
If the pet seems paralyzed or unable to get up, a spinal injury is suspect and the pet must be firmly immobilized to prevent further damage to the nerves. Get a firm, flat support (an ironing board, a piece of plywood, a collapsed cardboard box, a table leaf — think of one in your house before you need it). Grasp the skin over the back of the neck and over the small of the back and gently slide the pet on to the support. Try to keep the back and neck straight. Gently tie or tape the pet to the support. As stated above, if this causes the pet to struggle, you will need to find another method of transport, such as a large blanket to use as a stretcher.
- Position the Head
If the pet is unconscious, position the head in normal alignment with the body. It should not flex abnormally downward nor extend excessively upward. Improper flexing or extending can cause decreased blood drainage from the brain and cause serious damage. If the pet has vomited or appears likely to vomit, put the head down below the level of the heart. This will allow the vomitus to run out of the mouth and not down into the windpipe and the lungs. Be aware that pets with severe head injuries are likely to vomit, even while they are unconscious.
- Cover the Patient with a Blanket
Covering an injured pet has a calming effect. More importantly, it prevents heat loss. A blanket can also be used as a transport device. In this case, the animal can be gently lifted with the blanket. Gently slide the pet into the center of the blanket. Roll the edges of the blanket to provide a better grip. Gently lift the blanket and the pet into the transport vehicle. This is usually a two-person procedure.
- Know the Route to the Veterinary Facility and Call Ahead. Drive Carefully!
Get precise directions and drive directly to the facility. This will result in the fastest delivery of the pet for professional care. Call them to let them know you are on the way.