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First Aid Basics for Pets: Be Prepared for Emergencies

April is National Pet First Aid Awareness Month! As a responsible pet owner, it's essential to be prepared for emergencies and know the basics of pet first aid. Accidents and injuries can happen to our furry friends at any time, and having the knowledge and skills to address these situations can be crucial for their health and safety. 

In this blog, we'll discuss some first aid basics for pets, including building a pet first aid kit, recognizing common emergencies, and providing initial care until professional veterinary help can be obtained.

Building a Pet First Aid Kit

A pet first aid kit is a vital tool for addressing emergencies and should include the following items:

  • Gauze pads and rolls
  • Adhesive tape
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors (such as Vantage Lister Bandage Scissors)
  • Disposable gloves (such as Powder Free Latex Exam Gloves)
  • Digital thermometer
  • Sterile saline solution
  • Hydrogen peroxide (3%)
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • A blanket or towel
  • A muzzle or soft cloth (to prevent bites during emergencies)
  • A pet carrier

In addition to these items, include your veterinarian's contact information, as well as the contact information for a local emergency veterinary clinic and the number for an animal poison control center.

Non-Emergency Pet First Aid

If your pet sustains a minor wound, you may be able to treat them at home. It's essential to treat it promptly to prevent infection and promote healing. Follow these steps to safely and effectively treat minor wounds in your pets:

  1. Assess the situation: Before attempting to treat the wound, evaluate your pet's condition and the severity of the injury. If the wound is deep, bleeding profusely, or caused by an animal bite, contact your veterinarian immediately, as your pet may require professional care.
  2. Stay calm and restrain your pet: Your pet may be in pain or frightened, so approach them calmly and speak reassuringly. If necessary, gently restrain your pet using a muzzle or a soft cloth to prevent bites or sudden movements during treatment.
  3. Protect yourself: Wear disposable gloves to protect yourself from possible infections and to avoid introducing bacteria into your pet's wound.
  4. Clean the wound: Remove any debris or dirt from the wound using tweezers. Gently rinse the area with a sterile saline solution or clean water. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, as these can be too harsh and delay the healing process.
  5. Apply an antiseptic solution: After cleaning the wound, apply a pet-safe antiseptic solution to kill bacteria and reduce the risk of infection. Consult your veterinarian for recommendations on appropriate antiseptic products.
  6. Apply a topical antibiotic ointment: Apply a thin layer of a topical antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, to the wound. This will help prevent infection and promote healing. Avoid using ointments that contain pain relievers, as some ingredients may be toxic to pets.
  7. Cover the wound (if necessary): For some wounds, it may be helpful to cover the area with a clean, non-stick bandage or gauze to protect it from dirt and debris. Secure the bandage with adhesive tape, making sure not to wrap it too tightly. If your pet is prone to licking or chewing the wound, consider using an E-collar to prevent further irritation.
  8. Monitor the healing process: Keep a close eye on the wound as it heals. Watch for any signs of infection, such as increased redness, swelling, discharge, or foul odor. If you notice any of these symptoms or if the wound does not seem to be healing, contact your veterinarian for further advice.
  9. Keep the wound clean: Depending on the location and severity of the wound, you may need to clean it and reapply the antibiotic ointment daily or as directed by your veterinarian. Make sure to follow their recommendations for proper wound care.

Remember that while these steps can help you treat minor wounds at home, it's crucial to consult your veterinarian if you're unsure about your pet's condition or if the wound does not improve.

Responding To Common Pet Emergencies 

In the event of an emergency, it's important to remain calm and assess the situation. Your pet may be scared or in pain, so approach them slowly and gently to avoid getting bitten or causing additional stress. Here are some common pet emergencies along with general guidelines for providing initial care in each scenario:

  • Choking: Signs of choking include difficulty breathing, pawing at the mouth, and excessive coughing or gagging.
    • If your pet is choking, open their mouth and check for visible obstructions. Use tweezers or your fingers to carefully remove the object if possible. If the object cannot be removed, perform a modified Heimlich maneuver and seek immediate veterinary assistance.
  • Poisoning: Symptoms of poisoning can vary depending on the substance ingested but may include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, difficulty breathing, or sudden collapse.
    • If you suspect your pet has ingested a poisonous substance, contact your veterinarian or a poison control center immediately. Do not induce vomiting unless instructed to do so by a professional.
  • Heatstroke: Symptoms of heatstroke include excessive panting, drooling, reddened gums, vomiting, diarrhea, and a rapid heart rate.
    • Move your pet to a cool, shaded area, and offer them cool (not cold) water to drink. Apply cool, damp towels to their body, focusing on the head, neck, and chest. Transport your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Seizures: Seizures can manifest as involuntary muscle contractions, loss of consciousness, drooling, and chomping.
    • Do not attempt to restrain your pet during a seizure. Keep them away from potential hazards and monitor the duration of the seizure. Once the seizure has passed, keep your pet warm and quiet, and contact your veterinarian.
  • Trauma: Injuries from car accidents, falls, or fights can result in broken bones, open wounds, or internal injuries.
    • If your pet has suffered a traumatic injury, keep them as still and comfortable as possible. Use a blanket or towel to transport them to a veterinarian. For open wounds, apply pressure with a clean cloth or gauze to help control bleeding.

CPR for Dogs & Cats

If your pet is unresponsive, performing CPR could help save their life. The American Red Cross details the following steps for performing CPR on dogs and cats:

    • Step 1: Check for breathing and a heartbeat
      • Check to see if the pet is breathing and check for a heartbeat. If you do not see your pet’s chest moving and cannot find a heartbeat, begin CPR with chest compressions.
    • Step 2: Give chest compressions
      • Place your hands on your pet as follows:
        • For cats, small dogs and deep chested dogs, place the heel of one of your hands directly over the pet’s heart and place your other hand directly over the first hand.
        • For deep chested dogs, place the heel of one hand over the widest part of the chest and place your other hand directly over the first hand.
        • For barrel chested dogs, place the dog on its back, place one hand over the widest part of the sternum, and place your other hand directly over the first hand. Lock your elbows and make sure your shoulders are directly above your hands.
      • Then, push hard and push fast at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute, compressing 1/3 to 1/2 the width of your pet’s chest. Make sure the chest comes back fully (recoils) before compressing again.
      • Perform 30 chest compressions
    • Step 3: Then give rescue breaths
      • To give rescue breaths, gently close the pet’s mouth and extend the pet’s neck to open the airway. Cover your pet’s nose with your mouth and exhale until you see the pet’s chest rise. Give a second rescue breath.
    • Step 4: Continue CPR
      • Continue giving CPR with a cycle of 30 chest compressions and 2 rescue breaths until your dog or cat begins breathing again on its own.
    • Step 5: Check again for breathing and a heartbeat
      • Briefly check for breathing and a heartbeat every 2 minutes.
    • Step 6: Get help
      • Continue CPR until you reach a veterinary hospital.

    Seeking Professional Help

    After providing initial care, it's crucial to seek professional veterinary help as soon as possible. Call your veterinarian immediately or if it’s outside of normal business hours, seek help from a 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital. 

    With the proper preparation and knowledge, you will be ready to help your pet when they need it most.

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