First aid for pets
Would you know what to do if your cat collided with a car, your dog cut his foot, or your bunny got stung by a bee? With a little medical know-how, you’ll be prepared, not panicked.
No matter how vigilant we are as caring owners, our pets can get themselves into all kinds of scrapes – some of them serious. That’s why a little pet first aid knowledge can be a life saver – literally.
Sophie Flux has run Animal Aiders,a company providing veterinary-led first aid courses for pet owners, since 2006. Animal Aiders holds courses across the country to help pet owners become better prepared in the event of a medical emergency.
Here, Sophie answers some useful questions about the dos and don’ts of first aid for pets…
Why should pet owners learn first aid?
As a responsible owner you should know how to cope with a first aid situation, and have the right kit (see Get The Kit, right). Whether it’s a minor or major situation, having practical first aid knowledge will give you the confidence to act. The least you could do is optimise an animal’s recovery – at the most, you could even save their life.
What are the most common reasons why a pet might need first aid?
Dogs and cats can suffer from minor cuts and grazes, with cats often getting bites and scratches from fighting. Rabbits are less likely to have wounds, but on our courses we regularly hear of house bunnies who have chewed through wires and been electrocuted.
What things can an owner tackle themselves and what should be left to the experts?
All good veterinary surgeries will be happy to give you first aid advice over the telephone, so always call them if you’re worried. Get to know your pet’s basic health signs and their behaviour, so if they do begin to feel unwell, you can spot the change quickly – such as an increase in heart rate, respiration or temperature.
If your pet has sustained a serious injury – for example, a broken limb in a traffic accident – then obviously they’ll need urgent professional treatment, and time is of the essence here. Wrap your pet in a foil blanket or towel to provide warmth, reduce shock and protect the injured limb, and take them straight to the vet.
What are the most important things to do in a first aid situation?
If you’ve seen an accident happen, don’t rush in – always think before you act. You don’t want to become a casualty yourself, and if you get hurt too you won’t be able to help your pet. This is especially true for a road traffic accident, electrocution or poisoning. Also, bear in mind that a pet in pain may well act out of character and possibly be aggressive. Handle them very carefully, don’t push it if they’re becoming defensive or stressed, and keep your voice gentle and reassuring.
What difference can knowing first aid make?
Generally, the first hour of an injury is the most crucial. Having first aid knowledge will help give you the confidence to act quickly and sensibly. In turn, this will improve the welfare of your pet and potentially the time needed for any treatment they may need.
But remember, if you’re in any doubt, call your vet. Even if you believe you’ve dealt with your pet’s injury successfully, it’s best to have them checked over.
How to treat a graze on a dog
- Look to see if your pet has any other injuries in the area that need treating. If he’s bleeding heavily or seems to be in a great deal of pain, then take him to your vet to be checked out.
- If necessary, carefully cut away any hair around the wound using blunt-ended scissors.
- Wash the area with saline solution, then blot away moisture with a swab.
- Apply a hydrogel (water in gel form that provides a moist environment to help wounds heal) to the area.
- Check the graze daily and keep applying the hydrogel if needed. Call your vet if the area looks infected (red, swollen or seeping liquid).
How to extract a grass seed from a paw
- Grass seeds have the potential to penetrate through fur and into the skin, so if you suspect one is stuck in your pet’s paw, soak it in salt solution.
- For the solution, use one teaspoon of salt to one pint of cooled boiled water.
- Place the paw in the solution for up to 10 minutes to see if this dislodges the seed. Some pets will tolerate this better than others – don’t force them to comply if they’re unhappy.
- If the seed is visible above the skin, you can use tweezers to remove it (not sharp-ended ones, though). Ensure you remove all the seed and its hair.
- If you can’t extract it, or if the area becomes infected, contact your vet immediately. It’s easier to resolve grass seed injuries with early intervention.
How to deal with suspected electrocution of a rabbit
- Assess the situation – if it’s too dangerous to do anything, don’t!
- Make the area safe by turning off the source of electricity.
- Once it’s safe, you can assess the condition of the casualty.
- Check for blood, breakages, burns and listen to their breathing.
- Contact your vet immediately with all the information you can give them.
Essential tips for keeping pets safer
- Prevention is better than cure, so walk your dog on a lead near roads, no matter how well trained he is. Also make sure dogs and cats are as visible as possible when out in the dark – light-reflective collars will help.
- Ensure hazardous substances in the home are kept well away from pets. If you suspect they’ve eaten something toxic, don’t try to make them sick as this can be more dangerous. Take your pet – along with any packaging, tablets or plant material that you think he might have swallowed – to your vet as soon as possible.
- Keep your first aid kit in a place you can grab it quickly. If you have a dog, put some basic first aid items in your car as well, in case he gets injured while out and about. And store your vet’s contact details in your mobile phone.
- In an emergency, always call your vet practice first, because many will have out-of-hours clinics. Have a pen at the ready to take down an alternative telephone number if necessary.
- If you suspect your pet has broken a bone, don’t attempt to apply a splint. Not only is this very painful for your pet, but it can cause the bone to break through the skin and cause more problems.
- Never give human medicines to a pet.