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Dog First Aid and Preparing for Emergencies

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Emergencies can strike at any time. Being prepared with a dog first aid kit and an emergency plan can help you respond to unexpected injuries, accidents, or natural disasters. In some cases, it may even be lifesaving.

How to make a dog first aid kit

Many of the items commonly found in a family first aid kit can be used for dogs, too. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, your dog first aid kit should include:

  • A list of important phone numbers (including your dog’s veterinarian, your local emergency clinic, and poison control)
  • A copy of your dog’s medical record
  • Digital thermometer
  • Muzzle to prevent bites (do not muzzle your dog if they are vomiting)
  • Spare leash and collar
  • Gauze for wrapping wounds
  • Clean towels
  • Nonstick bandages or strips of clean cloth
  • Self-adhering tape
  • Eye dropper (or syringe without a needle), to give medicine or flush wounds
  • Milk of magnesia or activated charcoal to absorb poison (use this only if your veterinarian or a poison control center instructs you to do so)
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide (never use hydrogen peroxide on wounds, and only use hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting if your veterinarian or a poison control center instructs you to do so)
  • Saline solution for cleaning wounds (saline meant for contact lenses works well)
  • Pet carrier (for small dogs)

Remember that first aid can help protect your dog’s life until they can see a veterinarian, but it is not a substitute for veterinary care. Any first aid you administer to your dog should be followed by veterinary care.

What to do in case of an emergency

These guidelines can help you prepare for common accidents and medical emergencies.

Cuts and scrapes

If your dog is bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean towel or cloth for at least three minutes, before checking to see if the bleeding has stopped. In the case of severe bleeding, add towels directly on top of the wound, but don’t remove them, as that can disturb clot formation. Severe bleeding can be life-threatening, so take your dog to the veterinarian immediately if this occurs.

Heatstroke

If you and your dog spend a lot of time outside under the hot sun, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which can escalate quickly. Signs of heat exhaustion can include panting, drooling, vomiting, dry or red gums, diarrhea, wobbly legs, or elevated temperature.

If your dog shows signs of overheating, move them to a shaded area out of direct sunlight. Place a cool, wet towel around their neck and head, without covering their eyes, nose, or mouth. Rewet and rewrap the towel every few minutes. You can also pour cool water over their body and use your hands to sweep the water away as it absorbs their body heat. Take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Choking

Signs your dog might be choking include difficulty breathing, pawing excessively at their mouth, and making choking sounds when breathing or coughing. If your dog can still breathe, keep them calm and seek immediate veterinary care.

Look into your dog’s mouth to see if an object is visible. You can try to remove it gently with pliers or tweezers, but be careful not to push the object further down. If the object isn’t easy to reach, take your dog to the veterinarian immediately.

If you can’t reach the object, or if your dog collapses, place both hands on the side of your dog’s rib cage and apply firm quick pressure, or lay your pet on his/her side and strike the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand 3–4 times to sharply push air out of their lungs and push the object out from behind. Repeat this process until you either dislodge the object or arrive at the veterinarian’s office.

Snake bites or poisoning

If a snake bites your dog, assume the snake is poisonous and seek veterinary attention immediately. Try to identify the snake or take a photo if you can do so safely, but don’t try to capture it.

If you know or suspect your dog has ingested a poisonous substance, contact your veterinarian, an emergency clinic, or a poison control center immediately. You can reach the 24-hour ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. (Note that pet poison control helplines charge a consultation fee.) Don’t try to induce vomiting unless you’re instructed to do so. 

Collect any material your dog may have vomited or chewed, place it in a resealable plastic bag, and bring it with you when you take your dog in for treatment. It’s also a good idea to bring any packaging from that item, if you have it. That will help the veterinarian identify any poisonous ingredients and determine if your dog ate a toxic dose of a dangerous substance.

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Preparing for emergencies

In the event of extreme weather or a natural disaster, do you know what you would do to protect your dog?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you:

  • Always bring pets indoors at the first sign of a storm.
  • Make sure your dog has a tag or collar with up-to-date contact information and identification.
  • Microchip your dog. Microchipping is one of the best ways to ensure that you and your dog are reunited.
  • Make a disaster kit containing your dog’s medical records, water, food, medication, and dog first aid supplies.
  • Create an evacuation plan, including where you will stay if you and your dog need to leave your home.
  • Keep a leash or pet carrier near the exit.
  • Use the buddy system and designate a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member who can check on your pets and evacuate them if you’re not home.

Hopefully, you and your dog won’t encounter any of these situations, but you can rest assured knowing that you’re prepared for emergencies.

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She has over a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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