Many pet owners have their vet’s number right on the refrigerator for easy access. Your vet’s number might even be on your cell phone speed dial. Yet that might not be enough. Would you know what to do if you found your pet unconscious? What if they were choking? Bleeding? Had a broken bone? Ingested poison? Knowing what to do in an emergency could save your pet’s life. Then after the situation is as under control as possible, it’s time to whip out that number and call the vet.
Help! My Pet is Unconscious!
Finding your pet (or even someone else’s pet) unconscious is a scary thing. However, you need to try to remain calm so that you can think clearly about the actions you need to take. Below are eight steps (given in order) that you should take, should you find an unconscious pet:
1. Check to make sure the scene is safe before you try to help. If your cat was hit by a car, don’t run out into the street only to be hit yourself. If your dog chewed an electric cord, make sure they aren’t still hot, or you might be electrocuted as well. Reacting quickly is important, but don’t react so quickly that you leave common sense behind.
2. Make sure the animal is actually unconscious. Before you check your neighbor’s rottweiler’s head injury out, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t going to be attacked for trying to help. Touch the animal in a spot where they won’t be able to quickly attack you if they are in fact conscious and in pain. Incase the animal wakes up, you should muzzle the animal. Even if you think your pet would never bite, when they are in pain they might. Use brown gauze if you have it and start like you are going to tie your shoe over the animal’s muzzle. Next, tie behind the head as well. You can keep it loose for now and tighten after the next step. Once you tighten it, tie a bow incase you need to remove the muzzle quickly for some reason. While some animals can clamp down quite firmly, most cannot easily pry their own jaw open from the muzzle.
3. If the animal is unconscious, check to see if the airway is clear. Extend the neck, look inside the mouth for an obstruction (foreign bodies and/or vomit), and do anything you can to clear that airway if it is blocked. It is very important to have a clear airway, otherwise you will not be able to properly perform CPR. If you know the there is an object obstructing the airway, use the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge it. If the animal is small enough (and you are large enough), hang the animal upside down so that gravity is working with you. Grab your wrist and pull it towards you, right underneath their ribcage. The object should then be expelled.
4. Check to make sure the animal is breathing. If not breathing, use mouth-to-snout breathing to get oxygen into the lungs. This is the opposite of what is done for humans. For a dog or cat (or most other pets), you will want to close their mouth as best you can, and breathe into their nose. Be careful with cats, small dogs, and other small animals. Think of them as babies, as they have small lungs. You don’t want to give a full breath or you could cause harm to your pet.
5. Now you’ll want to check for a heart beat. Check the cardiac or femoral artery, whichever you can access. The cardiac artery is located right near the heart. The femoral artery is in the middle of where the leg fits into the torso on your pet. Try feeling for a heart beat now, while your pet is healthy, just to see what it feels like. If your pet is unconscious and has no heart beat, start abdominal compressions. These are done because pushing the chest in forces blood into the heart, thus moving blood. What you’re doing is decreasing chest area, not actually pushing on the heart. If you have another person available, steady pressure on the abdomen helps to prevent blood from accumulating there and also prevents the diaphragm from being displaced.
Steps 3-5 above are often referred to as the “ABCs” because they can be abbreviated as: Airway, Breathing, and Cardiovascular. If you want to remember the steps by remembering “ABC”, that’s fine, but make sure that you know what they mean.
6. Check for bleeding. If your pet is bleeding, the best treatment is pressure. Simply apply pressure to the area, preferably with something sterile if you have it (like a maxi pad). If you don’t have something sterile, even your shirt will do. You can treat an infection later, but if your pet bleeds to death, it’s gone. Don’t remove bandages that soak through, just keep putting more on top and keep the pressure continuous. You may be tempted to use a tourniquet, but in general, that’s not a good idea. However, if they have a limb that has been destroyed (for example, if they were hit by a car and got their leg very badly mangled), you can use a tourniquet because the limb will end up being removed anyway.
7. Once you’ve checked for all of the more serious emergencies, check for fractures. If there is no other immediate emergency, you can splint the fracture so that you can transport the animal without further injury. You can use bubble wrap or anything you have available to support the limb. Make sure the splint goes above by one joint and below by one joint, at minimum. Don’t make the splint too short or you could do more harm than good. Transport the animal on a board if possible, so that it will remain still.
8. Now it’s time to take your pet to the ER. Call first so that they can prepare (or tell you that they’re full and give you directions to the next closest ER).
When Common Sense Isn’t Enough
Common sense is a good thing to have in an emergency, but there are a couple things that go against common sense. Below are some examples, but there are many more as well:
1. If there is a puncture wound to the chest and the stick (or other object) is still in the wound, you do NOT want to remove it.
2. If there is an injury on the side of the animal and you are transporting them on a board, you want to place the animal injured side down (unless the injury is a stick coming out of their side, making this impossible). Logically, you want to put the injured side facing up, but this is actually going to be more painful. To see why this is, try laying down on your side. When you breathe, which side has more motion? The side facing up is moving more. So if you had a broken rib on one side, you wouldn’t want that side moving more than the non-injured side.
3. When treating hyperthermia (heat stroke), you may want to immerse the animal in ice water to cool them more quickly. However, this is not a good idea. Let’s say you found a dog left in a hot car. The owner runs out, not realizing that the car had gotten very hot inside. The dog has a temperature of 106 degrees, which might have cooked the brain, and more specifically, injured the hindbrain (which regulates temperature). If you immerse the animal in ice water, they may actually die of hypothermia because they will be unable to regulate their temperature, so the temperature will keep dropping. Instead, use cool water to cool them initially. Then rush them to the vet where they will be wrapped in blankets and have their temperature regulated to prevent hypothermia if they have a low reading.
Treating a Pet That Has Ingested Poison
You might be very careful about where you store chemicals, but your pet may still someday get into something that it shouldn’t have. It’s important to know what to do if your pet should ever ingest a poison. Before you learn what to do if your pet should ever be poisoned however, you’ll first need to know what the common poisons are. Below are some of the most common poisons ingested by dogs (although, many are also toxic to other pets as well):
3. Grapes and raisins
4. Macadamia nuts
5. Onions and garlic
6. Sugarfree foods containing xylitol
8. Ethylene glycol (antifreeze)
9. Snail bait
10. Rat poison (Warfarin)
Some of the poisons are more serious than others, but lethal doses vary by the size of the animal (among other factors). If you caught your dog ingesting a poison (or found out about it within 2 hours of ingestion), you should induce vomiting (providing that the poison is not also a corrosive substance). Use 5 mL of 3% hydrogen peroxide per 10 pounds of animal to induce vomiting (or if you’re in a pinch and don’t have time for such calculations, just pull up 10 mLs of hydrogen peroxide and syringe it into the back of their mouth). Make sure that you use 3% hydrogen peroxide and not 6%, which is too strong. Once the animal has vomited, collect the vomit if you are unsure of what your pet ingested, so that you can have it analyzed. Remember that some pets don’t have the gag reflex, so do not try to induce vomiting in such animals. Examples of pets that lack a gag reflex are: rabbits, rodents, and horses.
While we’re on the topic of induced vomiting, let’s talk about non-induced vomiting. Dogs and cats can vomit and it might be no big deal. Perhaps they got into the garbage or something. If your pet vomits a few times, take away their food and water for 4 hours. Then slowly reintroduce water and then bland food. However, vomiting may also indicate an emergency (as can attempting to vomit). Gastric volvulus, also known as gastric torsion or bloat, is commonly identified by non-productive retching and abdominal distension on the left side. This is an extreme emergency and you will want to get your pet to the vet immediately.
A Urinary Tract Emergency to Watch Out For
Read this section especially if you have a male pet. While male cats seem to be most susceptible to this problem, other species of both genders are also affected (for example, guinea pigs). If you notice your pet straining to urinate, spending a long time in the litterbox (for cats and rabbits), licking their penis, or if they should signs of pain when you palpate the bladder, get to the vet immediately. Males especially have a small urethra, which could become blocked (with say, a bladder stone that trys to journey out of the bladder). If left untreated, the bladder could actually rupture, which would result in the death of your pet.
If you live in an area where snakes are common, you should learn what to do incase of a snake bite. You’ll want to first wash the bite with soap and water (if available), then keep the area that was bitten lower than the heart. Do not apply a tourniquet, or the tissue in the area will die faster. Do not try to suck the poison out, it’s already in there. You want to keep the animal calm so that an increased heartbeat doesn’t help the poison to circulate more quickly. Remove their collar incase of swelling. There are vaccines available for snake bites, but their effectiveness is questionable. The best thing you can do, is to remain calm and get to the vet as soon as possible.
While this first aid guide does not by any means include all possible situations you may run into, it should work as a helpful guide for you. Do not substitute first aid for a visit to the vet, but first aid may help save your pet while you’re on your way to the vet. Hopefully, you will never need any of this information. Incase you do however, it is important to learn it before an emergency occurs.