First Aid for Your Dog

By Elizabeth Racine, DVM   

If your dog becomes sick or injured, your goal should be to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Still, in some cases, you may need to intervene quickly and provide care en route to the veterinary hospital. 

Learning how to provide basic first aid for common illnesses and injuries is a great way to make sure you're prepared to handle any scrapes your dog may get himself into!

Make a first aid kit for your dog

You can be prepared for most common household emergencies by keeping a first aid kit for your dog in an easily accessible place. Your first aid kit should include essential items such as gauze, an ice pack, alcohol wipes, your veterinarian’s contact information, and an emergency supply of your dog’s prescription medications. You can either purchase a pre-made pet first aid kit or make your own using these tips from the ASPCA. It’s also a good idea to have copies of your dog’s medical records handy, because you may need to visit an emergency hospital that does not know his history.

Managing common dog emergencies

When an emergency happens, don’t panic! Your dog will likely be scared, and seeing your fear will only make him more anxious. Instead, take a deep breath and calmly assess the situation. In most cases, a few simple steps will keep your dog comfortable while you transport him to the veterinary clinic.

Heatstroke

Studies have shown improved survival rates in dogs with heatstroke when cooling is initiated in the field before transporting the dog to the veterinary clinic. You can do this by soaking your dog in cool water. You can also wrap an ice pack in a towel and place it against his groin or armpits to speed cooling. Do not cover your dog with a wet blanket or towel, because this can actually hold the heat in and make the problem worse.

Wounds

If your dog is bleeding, use clean gauze or paper towels to apply firm, steady pressure to the area. Depending on the location and severity of the bleeding, you may need to keep constant pressure on the area for several minutes. Keep the area lightly covered until you reach the veterinary hospital. Avoid bandaging the wound at home without guidance from your veterinarian — improperly applied bandages can cause infection, poor blood flow, necrosis, loss of the limb, and even death.

Insect Bites or Stings

Applying an ice pack to the area of the bite can help reduce localized swelling and pain. If your dog exhibits significant facial swelling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, or pale gums, get him to a veterinary clinic immediately as these can be signs of an anaphylactic reaction. Avoid giving over the counter medications or anything intended for humans without consulting with your veterinarian first — many human medications can be toxic for your pet.

Accidental Ingestion

Call ASPCA Poison Control or your local veterinarian. Depending on the product ingested and the amount of time that has passed, your veterinarian may recommend making your dog vomit. However, some products — such as caustic chemicals or items with sharp edges — can actually do more damage when vomited, so only induce vomiting under your veterinarian’s guidance. 

Now you know

Illnesses and injuries can be scary, but knowing how to handle them can make the situation much less stressful for both you and your dog! Remember that first aid is not a substitute for appropriate veterinary care, but it can help keep your dog comfortable and safe until you reach professional help.