Emergency Care for Dogs
In almost every emergency situation, your goal is to first move the dog to a safe location, then immediately contact your veterinarian. To save precious time, you can begin transport and call your veterinarian while you are on your way (be sure to obey your state’s mobile phone laws). Pet owners frequently do more harm than good by attempting to treat their dog’s emergency situation themselves. If your dog is not breathing or if he is bleeding excessively, describe the emergency incident and the injury, and your veterinarian will be able to give you specific instructions about what to do next.
Emergency situations can include (but are not limited to):
Hyperthermia (heat stroke): Early signs of heat stroke include rapid, loud breathing, abundant thick saliva, bright red mucous membranes, and high rectal temperature. Later signs include unsteadiness, diarrhea, and coma. Resist the temptation to plunge the dog in ice water; the resulting constriction of peripheral blood vessels can make the situation worse.
Even after the dog seems fully recovered, do not allow him to exert himself for at least three days following the incident. Hyperthermia can cause lasting effects that can be fatal unless the dog is fully recovered.
Hypothermia: An excessively chilled dog will shiver and act sluggish. With continued chilling the body temperature may fall below 95 degrees F, the pulse and breathing rates slow, and the dog may become comatose.
Bleeding: Consider wounds to be an emergency if they bleed profusely, are extremely deep or large, or if they open to the chest cavity, abdominal cavity, or head. Do not remove impaled objects – doing so can cause more damage or blood loss.
Limb Fractures: Lameness associated with extreme pain, swelling or deformation of the affected leg, or grinding or popping sounds, could indicate a break or another serious problem. Attempts to immobilize fractures with splints tend to do more harm than good, so it’s best to simply keep the dog still and cushion the limb from further trauma, and head to your veterinarian right away.
Snakebite: Poisonous snakebites are characterized by swelling, discoloration, pain, fang marks, restlessness, nausea, and weakness. Most bites are to the head, and are difficult to treat with first aid. The best first-aid is to keep the dog quiet and take it to the veterinarian immediately. Many bites from venomous snakes can be treated with antivenin if they are attended to promptly.
Insect stings and allergic reactions: Insects often sting dogs on the face or feet. Do not pull out embedded stingers - grasping a stinger often injects more venom into the dog. Insect stings are the most common cause of extreme allergic reactions in dogs. Swelling around the nose and throat can block the airway. Other possible reactions include restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and collapse. If any of these symptoms occur, immediate veterinary attention will probably be necessary.
First-Aid Kit: Should your veterinarian advise immediate on-site treatment (which he will talk you through on the phone), it can be helpful to have a first-aid kit at the ready. Assemble a first-aid kit with the following:
- rectal thermometer
- sterile gauze dressings
- self-adhesive bandage (such as Vet-Wrap)
- instant cold compress
- anti-diarrhea medication (ask your veterinarian for a suggestion)
- ophthalmic ointment (ask your veterinarian for a suggestion)
- antiseptic skin ointment
- hydrogen peroxide
- clean sponge
- pen light
- first aid instructions
- veterinarian and emergency clinic numbers