Every year, hundreds of dogs in the UK are involved in road accidents, suffer from heatstroke or swallow poisonous substances. Knowing what to do in an emergency could save your pet's life.
In emergency situations:
Contact the vet. Keep your vet's phone number to hand and know the name of the practice.
Always phone first, whatever the situation, as there may not always be a vet available but staff may be able to suggest immediate action you can take.
Have a pen handy in case another number is given. Treatment can usually be provided more quickly if the dog is taken to the surgery, rather than if the vet is called out.
Always bear in mind the safety of yourself and others. Keep calm and assess the situation before acting. Injured animals are frightened and in pain and may try to bite anyone who touches them.
If there is a risk of biting, put a muzzle on, or wrap tape around the nose and tie behind the ears, unless your dog has difficulty breathing. Small dogs may be restrained by putting a thick towel over their heads.
Never give human medicines to a dog - many will do more harm than good. Do not offer food or drink in case anaesthetic is needed.
Drive carefully when taking the patient to the surgery.
If you do get bitten, see your doctor.
Is it an emergency?
Sometimes, outside normal hours, it is difficult to decide whether urgent attention is needed. You can always call and ask for advice. You should phone the vet if:
Prevention is better than cure. Even a well-behaved dog should be kept on a lead anywhere near traffic, including slow moving vehicles. Do not have the collar so loose that the dog can get free.
If the worst happens, beware of other cars. Talk gently to the dog as you approach. Move slowly and avoid making sudden movements. Put a lead on if possible and, if necessary, muzzle before handling. If your dog can walk, go to the vet, even if there appears to be no pain. There may be internal injuries that are not immediately obvious.
If the dog cannot walk, small dogs can be picked up by placing one hand at the front of the chest and the other under the hindquarters. Improvise a stretcher for larger dogs with a coat or a blanket. If the dog is paralysed, there may be a spinal injury, so try to find something rigid, such as a board. Slide the patient gently on to this if possible. Cover with a blanket to reduce heat loss.
Try to find packaging from the substance swallowed and have it with you when you phone the vet. If chewing plants is suspected, try to find out the identity of the plant. Call the vet immediately. Do not make your dog sick unless the vet says to do so.
If this happens suddenly, treat it seriously, especially if the dog is a deep chested breed such as a boxer or mastiff. There may also be gulping, dribbling of saliva and attempts to vomit. It could mean there is a life-threatening twist in the stomach. Phone the vet immediately - do not delay.
Ball stuck in throat
Get to the vet quickly. Or you may be able to push the ball out by pushing on the throat/neck from the outside. If the dog is turning blue or has collapsed, try the following. You will need someone to help you. One person holds the mouth open, while the other reaches inside. Be careful not to get bitten. If you cannot pull the ball out, lay the pet on their side. Push down suddenly and sharply on the tummy just behind the last rib. The person holding the mouth should be ready to grab the ball as it reappears.
If a substance such as paint or tar has got onto the coat or paws, prevent the dog from licking, as it may be toxic. Use an Elizabethan collar if you have one. You may be able to clip off small areas of affected hair. Never use turpentine or paint removers on your dog. You can sometimes remove paint and other substances by bathing the dog in washing up liquid or swarfega, but if a large area is affected, see the vet.
If on a warm or hot day your dog is panting heavily and is distressed and especially if the dog is short nosed (eg a boxer), overweight or has been playing or exercising, think heatstroke! Put the dog somewhere cool, preferably in a draught. Wet the coat with tepid water (cold water contracts the blood vessels in the skin and slows heat loss) and phone the vet. You can offer a small amount of water.
If your dog is having a fit, do not try to hold or comfort the dog, as this provides stimulation, which may prolong the fit. Darken the room and reduce noise. Remove items, especially anything electrical, away from the dog so they cannot cause injury. Pad furniture with cushions. Call the vet.
If your dog seems shocked, dull or distressed after a fight, call the vet. Otherwise, look at the wound. Puncture wounds to the head or body mean you should consult a vet right away. Injuries to the limbs may not need immediate treatment, unless severe or very painful, but take the dog to the vet within 24 hours, as antibiotics may be required.
If the eye is bulging out of the socket, apply a wet dressing, prevent rubbing or scratching and call the vet. If chemicals have got into the eye, flush with water repeatedly (preferably from an eye drop bottle) and call the vet.
Never put yourself at risk by attempting to rescue a dog. Wipe away material from the mouth and nose. Hold the dog upside down by the hind legs until the water has drained out. Give artificial respiration if breathing has stopped. Even if your pet seems to recover, always see the vet as complications afterwards are common.
If a high voltage supply is involved (non-domestic, for example, power lines), do not approach. Call the police. In the home, turn off power first. If this is impossible, you may be able to use a dry non-metallic item, like a broom handle, to push the dog away from the power source. If breathing has stopped, give artificial respiration. Call the vet immediately.
Pull out the sting below the poison sac, then bathe the area in water or use a solution of bicarbonate of soda if available. Applying ice will help to soothe. If the sting is in the mouth or throat, contact the vet as it may swell and interfere with breathing.
Your first aid kit should include:
With thanks to the Blue Cross for supplying the above information from their 'All about Pets' information and expert advice service. All About Pets provides expert advice, information and support for pet owners. It aims to ensure the welfare of Britain's pets by promoting responsible animal care. For further information and advice on caring for your pet or horse visit www.allaboutpets.org.uk. Alternatively, you can write to us at the address below to request a list of available leaflets.
All About Pets is a service of The Blue Cross, Britain's pet charity, which provides practical support, information and advice for pet and horse owners. Through our network of animal adoption centres we rehome thousands of animals each year. Our hospitals provide veterinary care for the pets of people who cannot afford private vets' fees.
How you can help
The Blue Cross is a registered charity and receives no government funding. We rely entirely on the generosity of pet lovers to help support All About Pets and other vital animal welfare projects. Any contribution would be most welcome. For more information on how you can help call us on 01993 822651 or visit our website at www.bluecross.org.uk.
All About Pets, The Blue Cross
FREEPOST NAT4336, BURFORD OX18 4BR
Registered charity no: 224392