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Canine First Aid

In This Chapter

Accidents happen to all of us, including our dogs. Although you can take some safety precautions to help your dog avoid these pitfalls, you can’t guarantee that she’ll never run into trouble. And that’s where knowing first aid comes in handy. In this chapter, you get everything you need to know to care for your dog when she’s injured or ill — from bites to breaks and everything in between. Read this chapter now, while your pooch is sleeping by your side. Don’t wait until you need it.

Being Prepared for an Emergency

One of the best things you can do to help your dog in the event of an emergency is to be prepared before the emergency strikes. Administering first aid is very difficult — if not impossible — without a few essential supplies. And you can do a lot beforehand to get to know your dog so that when you’re faced with an emergency, you’re ready to do what’s required.

Assembling a canine first-aid kit

Before you’re faced with an emergency, assemble two first-aid kits for your dog — one for your car and one for home. Always keep the kits in the same place so you can get your hands on one right away in an emergency.


Your first-aid kit doesn’t need to be big or expensive to be useful.

Getting the container ready

Find a water-resistant container that’s large enough to carry everything without being cumbersome. Fishing tackle boxes work well because they have trays with dividers to keep things organized.


Put a large red cross and the words first-aid kit on each side of the container. Someone may need to locate and use it in an emergency, and labeling the kit clearly can be a big help. To the inside of the lid, tape a piece of paper with the following information in clear letters (do this for each dog):

Your name, address, e-mail, and telephone number.

The breed, name, and date of birth of the dog.

Any medical conditions your dog has and any regular medication.

Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of emergency contact people, in case you are incapacitated.

Name, address, and telephone number of your veterinarian. Be sure to provide the contact information for your after-hours emergency clinic.

Contact information for the National Animal Poison Control Center. You can reach the center at 888-426-4435, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to inquire about the toxic potential of various household products and plants your dog may have found tasty. You also can get advice about emergency care for a dog who has gotten into a toxin. The cost per case is $60, which includes follow-up (including contacting your veterinarian, if you request), and is charged to a major credit card. To have the fee charged to your telephone bill (and avoid having to track down your credit card number in an emergency), dial 900-680-0000. For more information on the service, visit

A list of the contents of your first-aid kit. For each of the drugs in the kit, have a note indicating the appropriate dose for each of your dogs. That way, you won’t have to do any calculations in your head in a time of crisis. When preparing the kit, be sure to check the doses with your veterinarian.

The information in this list can be useful at home as well as on the road. In addition to taping this list on the inside lid of your first-aid kit, include the following for the kit that you keep in your car:

Your dog’s rabies certificate: Some states require that you have a rabies certificate at all times if you are traveling with a dog.

A photograph of each dog, with her name, tattoo, and microchip number: This can help a rescuer identify each dog if you are incapacitated.


Keep these materials in a resealable plastic bag so they’re all together.

Knowing what to put in the first-aid kit

Following is a list of the components of an all-purpose first-aid kit and a brief description of what each item is used for. You can find most of these items at your local pharmacy; you can get the rest from your vet or dog supply catalog.


With time and experience, you may add other items to the kit, because you may find yourself using the kit for yourself and other humans in need. You may also find that you don’t need some of the items. Eventually, your first-aid kit will reflect you, your dogs, and your needs. But the following supplies are a good place to start:

ACE brand elastic bandage: You can use this bandage to hold an ice pack to a dog’s leg, to wrap (not too tightly!) a sprain temporarily until you can get veterinary assistance, or to secure an injured dog to a makeshift stretcher.

Adhesive tape: Use tape to secure bandages and splints. Make sure that you have a large roll, and replace it when it gets close to running out.

Alcohol swabs: Look for individually packaged swabs, which you can use to sterilize instruments or small areas of skin.

Aspirin (enteric coated): Give 5 milligrams per pound every 12 hours to temporarily relieve pain. Many dogs vomit after taking regular aspirin, so be sure to get the enteric-coated variety, which is gentler on the stomach. Or get NSAID from your vet, specially formulated for dogs.


Never substitute ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aspirin. Both of these substances can be toxic to dogs.

Bacitracin or Neosporin: Apply this or another antibiotic ointment to cleaned wounds that are likely to become infected.


Never use these ointments in the eye. Special antibacterial formulations are used for the eyes — but use them only with your veterinarian’s recommendation.

Benadryl: You can use Benadryl for insect bites or stings. Give your dog 11⁄2 milligrams per pound, every eight hours.

Cohesive bandage: Use this stretchy wrap to cover and secure gauze bandages. It clings to itself, so you don’t need adhesive tape.

Cold pack: Use a cold pack to prevent or reduce swelling after a sprain or strain, or to treat burns. Buy the kind that gets cold when you fold it in half.

– Cotton squares: You use these to clean and protect wounds. They’re better for cleaning wounds than cotton balls because they don’t shed fibers when you wipe them over sticky areas, such as where blood is drying.

First-aid instructions: Photocopy the pages of this chapter that discuss first-aid treatments and store them in your first-aid kit. When you’re trying to take care of a sick or injured dog, remembering all the details can be difficult.

Gauze bandage roll: You use this wrap to bandage wounds and hold splints in place. Cut off a length of bandage and fold it up to cover a wound, or wrap the bandage around the leg to keep a cold pack in place or secure a splint.

Gloves (latex): Any time you need to keep your hands protected or clean, wear a pair of latex gloves.

Green Soap or Hibitane: You can use any gentle liquid antibacterial soap for cleaning skin and wounds. Betadine or iodine solution are good wound cleaning solutions.

Hydrogen peroxide: Give your dog 1 to 3 teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide every ten minutes to induce vomiting. Don’t give more than three doses ten minutes apart, and don’t use it to clean wounds.

Imodium A-D: Give your dog 1 milligram per 15 pounds once or twice a day to relieve diarrhea. May contain aspirin and irritate the stomach.

Lubricating jelly: Use this item to lubricate a thermometer or to prevent gauze bandages from sticking to a wound. It also comes in individual packets.

Muzzle: You can use a length of gauze bandage, a belt, or a soft rope to make an emergency muzzle. Even if your dog has never showed signs of aggression, if he is in pain or is frightened, he may snap at you or others.

Needle and thread: For emergencies only! Use a needle and thread to stitch wounds (or — better — a surgical stapler purchased from your vet) when you know you won’t be able to get veterinary help within six hours. Bear in mind that your dog will not like (or perhaps allow) you to suture him. Clean wounds before closing them.

NuSkin liquid bandage: Use for small, clean, recent wounds.

Penlight flashlight: Use a flashlight to look down your dog’s ears or throat — anywhere you need extra light. You can also use it to check whether a dog’s eyes respond to light, in case of an injury to the head.

Pepto-Bismol liquid: Give 1 teaspoon per 25 pounds every 6 hours to relieve diarrhea and vomiting. The liquid form works faster than the tablet form. May contain aspirin and irritate the stomach.

Plastic bags (resealable): These bags are handy for temporarily packaging items that are leaking, protecting open packages from drying, or collecting specimens such as fecal samples.

Razor blade (retractable) or blunt-ended scissors: Use these items for cutting bandages and tape and for trimming the hair around a wound.

Safety pins: Use pins to fasten bandages if you don’t have tape.

 Sterile saline solution: Use to rinse out the eyes or to clean wounds.

Stockinet or bootie: Put one on your dog to protect a bandage on a leg or foot.

Styptic powder: Use to stop small areas of bleeding, such as when you accidentally clip your dog’s nails too close.

Sun block: Apply to your dog’s nose or areas of light skin if your dog has a thin coat.

Syringe: Use to flush a dog’s eye with saline or to administer peroxide.

Thermometer (rectal): Use a thermometer made for dogs. A dog’s normal body temperature is between 100.5 and 102.8 degrees.

Tweezers (flat-ended): You can use tweezers to remove foreign objects, such as ticks, thorns, and foxtails, from your dog’s skin.


Keep a blanket in your car at all times. You can use it to warm a dog suffering from frostbite, to wrap a dog who is in shock, or as an emergency stretcher.


Label each item in your first-aid kit with its name and expiration date. Go through your kit before trips and every year, replacing medications that have expired or for which the labels have become hard to read, and replenishing supplies.

Knowing your dog before an emergency

Before an emergency happens, find out as much as you can about your dog’s anatomy and her inner workings so that you will be prepared to examine her and make decisions quickly, when necessary. Become familiar with these techniques now, before emergency strikes.

Taking your dog’s temperature

Know how to take your dog’s temperature quickly and without causing stress. You’ll need a rectal thermometer (a digital one is preferred), lubricating jelly, and a clean cloth:
1. If it’s not a digital thermometer, grip it tightly and shake it down until it registers below 98 degrees.
2. Dab some lubricating jelly onto the end of the thermometer.
3. With your dog standing or lying on his side, raise your dog’s tail and insert the thermometer into the rectum with a slow, twisting motion.

Talk to your dog and praise him for remaining still. The first few times you do this, you may want to have someone give him a treat while you are inserting the thermometer, to keep his mind occupied.

4. After one minute, remove the thermometer slowly, wipe it with a clean cloth, and read the temperature.

A dog’s normal temperature ranges from 100.5 to 102.8 degrees. The temperature can rise significantly after exercise, but it should return to normal within 20 minutes.

New electronic thermometers on the market allow you to take a person’s temperature by placing a plastic probe just inside the ear canal. Before you use one on your dog, ask your vet whether your model will work on dogs.

Counting your dog’s breathing rate

Become familiar with your dog’s breathing. Count how many times a minute she breathes while she’s resting and compare it to her breathing rate after she exercises. Most dogs have a resting breathing rate of 15 to 30 breaths per minute. The breathing rate may rise when a dog is in pain or has a fever.

Checking your dog’s pulse

When you check your dog’s pulse, locate the femoral artery, which lies just below the skin on the inside of the leg, between two large muscles where the leg joins the body. With your dog standing, reach around in front of the rear leg where it joins his body, and slide your fingers into the groin area. You will feel the artery pumping each time the heart contracts. When you have found the artery with your dog standing, try it with your dog lying on his side. Count how many pulses you feel in 15 seconds, and multiply by 4 to get the number of beats per minute.
Become familiar with your dog’s pulse rate and how his pulse feels when he is relaxed, as well as after exercise. Dogs normally have a pulse between 70 and 120 beats per minute. In puppies, the pulse ranges from 120 to 160 beats per minute.

Examining your dog’s gums

Lift your dog’s lip and look at the color of the gums above an upper canine tooth — the gums should be pink. Press on the gums with your finger. When you remove your finger, the gums should briefly look white but should return to their pink color within two seconds. This is the capillary refill test.


If the gums are blue, the dog lacks oxygen. If they are white, the dog has lost blood, either internally or externally. If the gums are purple or gray and there is a slow capillary refill, the dog is probably in shock. If they are bright red, she may be fighting a systemic infection or may have been exposed to a toxin. Sometimes normal dogs have black-pigmented gums, which can make assessment more difficult. For these dogs, you need to examine the pink tissue on the inside of the lower eyelid by gently pulling down the eyelid. In this case, you can only observe the color of the tissue — you can’t perform the capillary refill test — but the colors in the preceding paragraph apply.

Knowing What to Do in an Emergency

Just as you need to have a first-aid kit assembled and know how to check your dog’s vital signs, you need to be aware of what to do in the case of an emergency. The following sections cover how to help an injured dog, how to give CPR, and how to treat common injuries and problems.

Approaching an accident scene

When you come upon an accident scene in which a dog has been injured, always be sure that you are safe before you try to help the dog. Every year people are killed on roads and highways because they put their own lives at risk to assist injured dogs or other animals. If the dog is in an unsafe area, secure the area and move the dog to a safe place before assessing her.


If other people are nearby, try to organize them to be a help rather than a hindrance:

– Ask a few people to keep passersby away from the dog.

– Ask one person to call a local veterinary clinic.

– Have another person arrange to transport the dog.

– You may also have someone assist you in performing CPR and have another person apply pressure to any wounds.

Handling an injured dog

Whenever you approach an injured dog, always start by protecting yourself from being bitten. If your dog is in severe pain and is afraid, even your best friend may bite the hand that feeds him. You can make a temporary muzzle out of a length of bandage, belt, shoelace, or pantyhose. If it turns out the muzzle wasn’t necessary, your dog will forgive you for having used one. If it was necessary, you’ll be glad you had the foresight to protect yourself.


To apply a muzzle, follow these steps:

1. Approach the dog slowly, using a soothing tone of voice.
2. Bring the bandage (or other material) up under the dog’s chin about halfway between the leather of the nose and his eyes.
3. Tie the two ends in one loop on top of the dog’s nose.

4. Bring the bandage back under the dog’s chin and tie another single knot under the chin.

5. Bring the two ends of the bandage to the back of your dog’s neck behind his ears and tie them in a bow.
6. Tie the loops of the bow into another single knot to keep the muzzle securely fastened.
The muzzle should be fairly tight, enough that your dog cannot open his mouth, but not so tight that it impedes breathing.

Examining an injured dog

When your dog is injured or ill, your primary job is to remain calm and be deliberate in your actions. Try to keep your voice from revealing the fear you may feel inside. Use the A-B-C checklist outlined in the following sections whenever you come upon a scene in which a dog is seriously injured and appears to be unconscious or in shock. Even if the dog has a bleeding wound, carry out this preliminary assessment first. Respiratory and circulatory problems usually are more life threatening than wounds. When you are certain the dog is breathing and is not in circulatory collapse, you can deal with the wound.


If the dog is unconscious and has no apparent neck or back injuries (excluding bleeding wounds), tilt her head back slightly, open her mouth, and look inside for any objects that may be impeding airflow. Gently pull her tongue forward (holding the tongue is easier if you grab it with gauze or cloth) and check for objects that may be deeper down the throat. Pulling the tongue forward also opens the airway, making breathing easier.



Check for the rise and fall of the chest that indicates the dog is breathing. If the dog is not breathing and the airways are clear, begin rescue breathing immediately:

1. Cup your hands around the muzzle and seal your lips around the edge of the leathery part of the dog’s nose.
2. Breathe into the dog’s nostrils for two seconds.
3. Watch for the dog’s chest to rise, indicating that air is entering the lungs.
4. If the chest doesn’t rise, check the airway again.

Repeat for a total of three breaths.


Give gentle puffs of breath (the amount depends on the dog’s size). Your lungs are much bigger. Don’t blow as though you’re trying to inflate a balloon.


Assess circulation by checking the pulse at the femoral artery. If you haven’t practiced on your dog before, see the earlier section, “Checking your dog’s pulse.” A healthy dog’s pulse is approximately 10 to 14 beats per 10 seconds and feels strong. (Smaller dogs have a more rapid pulse.) If the pulse is there but feels weak, the dog is probably in shock.


If you have trouble feeling the pulse in the groin, place your thumb and fingers on either side of the chest wall just behind the elbows to see if the heart is beating. If you detect no pulse or heartbeat, begin CPR immediately (see following section).

Examine the dog’s gums to check circulation, too. If the gums are blue, the dog may not be getting enough oxygen. Be sure that you’ve checked the airway and cleared it of any foreign objects. If the dog has a weak or rapid pulse; shallow breathing; gray, purple, or pale gums; or glazed eyes, or if he exhibits weakness or collapses, he is in shock and you should make arrangements to get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep him quiet, cover him with a blanket, and keep his head as low as the rest of his body. If the dog is not breathing or you cannot feel a pulse, begin CPR.

Administering CPR

If your dog is not breathing or doesn’t have a pulse, follow these instructions to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR):
1. Position the dog on her side.
2. Clear the dog’s mouth of any foreign matter (see Figure 3-1).
3. Hold the muzzle closed with your hands and give mouth-to-nose respiration at 12 to 15 breaths per minute (see Figure 3-2).

Watch for the chest to rise, to be sure that the air is getting into the lungs. If the chest doesn’t rise, check again for anything that may be obstructing airflow.

 Figure 3-1: Before administering CPR, clear the dog’s mouth of any foreign matter. (Photograph courtesy of Angela Koeller.)
Figure 3-2: Hold the muzzle closed and breathe into the nose 12 to 15 times a minute. (Photograph courtesy of Angela Koeller.)

4. Begin chest compressions.
With a large dog, kneel at the dog’s back. Push the dog’s uppermost front leg forward, out of the way. Lay one hand over the other and compress the chest wall over the heart (right about where the dog’s elbow would be with the leg at rest) with the heel of your hand (see Figure 3-3). Push gently, and then let go immediately. For a very small dog (one weighing less than 30 pounds), lay the dog on her right side, place your thumb and fingers on either side of the chest, and compress from both sides.
Regardless of the size of the dog, do 60 to 80 compressions per minute (approximately one compression a second). Don’t compress the chest for more than a split second, or the heart won’t have room to beat. If you’re alone, give one breath and then five chest compressions. If you have help, one person can perform mouth-to-nose respiration while the other compresses the heart. In that case, give one breath for every three to four chest compressions.


Compress at approximately the speed of the beat from the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” or Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Figure 3-3: Place your hands over the heart and compress the chest 60 to 80 times per minute. (Photograph courtesy of Angela Koeller.)

Giving first-aid treatment

When you’re sure that an injured dog is breathing and has a pulse, you can start attending to his injuries. The following sections cover some common injuries and problems requiring first aid.


Knowing these first-aid techniques should help you in an emergency. But this is first aid — basic techniques to help you aid your dog before you can get veterinary assistance. First aid is not a substitute for the care and expertise of a veterinarian.

Allergic reactions

In addition to normal allergic reactions (like itching and sneezing), some dogs may experience more severe symptoms, including the following:

Hives or swelling of the muzzle: Some dogs respond to an allergen with swelling of the face or bumps that appear over a large part of the trunk. You may also see the dog biting or licking at herself, or she may have red, weeping eyes. Apply a cold pack to the swollen area if it is small. If the swelling continues or covers a large area, administer Benadryl (at 1 to 11⁄2 milligrams per pound) and contact your veterinarian. Check respiration periodically, because there may also be swelling of the throat, which can impair breathing.

Shock: Signs of shock include weak or rapid pulse; shallow breathing; gray, purple, or pale gums; glazed eyes; weakness; or collapse. Lay the dog on her side and cover her with a blanket. Administer CPR, if necessary. Transport the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.


Technical Stuff

Blood from an artery is bright red and sprays from the vessel in time with each beat of the heart. A dog can lose a great deal of blood quickly if an artery is cut. Blood from a vein or from small vessels under the skin is burgundy in color and pours slowly or seeps from the wound. To stop bleeding, apply pressure to the wound with a piece of gauze or cloth for several minutes. Even if the gauze is soaked with blood, don’t lift it to see if the bleeding has stopped, because the gauze actually helps clot the blood. Just add extra layers of gauze. Depending on the area of the body and the size of the wound, it may take 10 to 15 minutes for bleeding to stop.


If ice is available, place it around the area of the wound to slow blood flow. When the bleeding has stopped, you can bandage the wound (see the “Wounds” section later in this chapter) and arrange to get the dog to a veterinarian.


Only use a tourniquet in extreme emergencies, because it can cut off necessary circulation to the area. See a vet immediately after use.

Broken bones

When your dog has a fracture, the goal is to stabilize her until a veterinarian can examine her and treat the injury. A broken bone is very painful. Fractures are sometimes obvious, such as when the leg is lying in an abnormal position or a piece of bone is poking through the skin. But sometimes a fracture may be present when the leg looks only swollen. If you try to move the bones, you may feel a grinding caused by the broken ends of the bone rubbing against each other.


If veterinary care is available, do not apply a splint. Carefully place the dog on a firm, level surface and take her to the clinic. If you are far from veterinary help, the leg should carefully be splinted before your dog is moved. The best splint is something rigid but padded, such as a board wrapped in a towel. The splint should be placed against the dog’s limb, avoiding movement of the bones as much as possible. The leg and joints above and below the break should be taped or wrapped to the splint. (Do not bandage fractured ribs, spine, or pelvis.) Transport the dog to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible.

Technical Stuff

A fracture is a partial or complete break in a bone. Fractures are classified by severity, and the same classifications apply for both dogs and people:

Greenstick fracture: The least serious fracture is the greenstick fracture, in which one side of the bone is broken but the other side is just bent. The two ends of the bone are not moved from their original positions. This type of fracture is seen more often in young, growing dogs because their bones are less brittle than those of adult dogs. A dog can walk (though gingerly) on a leg with a greenstick fracture; only X-ray can diagnose this kind of fracture.

Complete fracture: A complete fracture is one in which the bone is broken through its width. Generally, the two ends of bone are moved from where they should be, because contractions of the muscle move the broken pieces of bone away from their original location. A complete fracture is more serious than a greenstick fracture; the damage to the bone is greater, and the surrounding muscles and maybe even ligaments and tendons are usually damaged. Complete fractures can be one of three types:

  • Simple, with just two pieces of bone
  • Comminuted, with many pieces of bone
  • Compound, with skin punctured by pieces of bone

No matter what kind of fracture it is, a veterinarian must return all the pieces of bone to their original location before healing can begin.


Dogs are most often burned when hot or caustic (strong acids or cleaning solutions such as lye) liquids are spilled on them. Burns may also result when a dog gets too close to a candle, a stove, or a fire. Some dogs can even get a blistering sunburn, especially on a sunny day after winter. Heating pads may cause burns.

Technical Stuff

Burns are classified by degrees, depending on their severity:

First degree: The hair is singed and the skin may be reddened.

Second degree: The hair is burned off and the skin is red and blistered.

Third degree: The skin is black, brown, or white. If the third-degree burn is extensive, the dog may go into shock.


If a caustic liquid caused the burn, wipe or rinse off the liquid before treating the burn. For all burns, follow these treatment suggestions:

Minor burns (first and second degree): If the burn occurred within the last hour, apply a cold pack for 20 to 30 minutes and then treat the burn as a superficial wound (see “Wounds” later in this chapter).

Severe burns (third degree): If your dog permits, apply a cold pack or a cold, wet cloth to the area; cover the area gently with gauze; and take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible.


Never apply ointments or butter to severe burns, and never touch the skin or rub anything on it.

Choking and the canine Heimlich maneuver

Dogs are ever curious — and second only to their noses, they use their mouths to investigate new and interesting things. Dogs can choke on just about anything, but the most common offenders are small balls such as golf and squash balls, rawhide and bones, cellophane, and plastic children’s toys. A dog who is choking makes retching motions and looks panicked, often pacing back and forth and pawing at her mouth. Her chest may be heaving, but she isn’t making any airway noises.


If you suspect that your dog is choking, first examine her mouth. Pull the tongue forward and remove the foreign object, if possible. If you can’t see the foreign object, use the canine Heimlich maneuver to try to dislodge the object:

For large dogs: Stand behind your dog and place your arms around her body. Make a fist with one hand, and place the thumb of the hand with the fist against your dog’s abdomen just where the sternum ends. With the other hand, grasp your fist and push upward and forward (toward the dog’s shoulders), suddenly and forcefully (see Figure 3-4). Do this thrusting motion four or five times. Check the dog’s airway again and clear any debris from the mouth. Repeat the chest thrusts, if necessary. If the dog is unconscious, clear the airway and perform rescue breathing.

For small dogs: Hold the dog with her head up so that her spine is against your chest. Make a fist with one hand, and place it against your dog’s abdomen just where the sternum ends (see Figure 3-5). Grasp the fist with your other hand, and give four or five rapid thrusts inward and upward. Check the dog’s airway again and clear any debris from the mouth. Repeat the chest thrusts, if necessary. If the dog is unconscious, clear the airway and perform rescue breathing.

Figure 3-4: To treat choking in a large dog, place your hands under your dog where the chest joins the abdomen and grasp your fist. Thrust upward and forward. (Photograph courtesy of Angela Koeller.)
Figure 3-5: To treat choking in a small dog, hold the dog against your chest and compress the lower ribcage with your fist several times.

Cold exposure

Hypothermia is a lowering of the dog’s body temperature caused by cold exposure. Dogs don’t suffer from hypothermia very often because they carry their fur coats with them everywhere they go. However, if a dog is wet or he has a very thin coat, he may get cold quite easily. A dog’s first response when cold is to shiver. Later the dog may act lethargic and become unresponsive.


If you recognize that your dog has hypothermia, follow these suggestions:


Do not apply heating pads or hot water bottles directly to your dog’s skin.


If the dog begins to lick his paws or appears uncomfortable, he may have frostbite. Restrain him and place warm compresses on the affected area.


If you have a dog long enough, you’ll have to deal with diarrhea eventually. Diarrhea can be caused by a dog’s propensity to eat garbage or rotten animals, by a viral, parasitic, or bacterial infection, or sometimes just by stress.


If your dog has diarrhea, withhold food for 24 hours in adults or 12 hours in puppies (younger than 6 months). Instead of giving water, offer the dog ice cubes so that she takes in the water slowly. Some vets don’t recommend this, but you can administer Imodium A-D (1 milligram per 15 pounds once or twice a day) and/or Pepto-Bismol (1 teaspoon per 25 pounds every six hours) to help calm an upset stomach and stop diarrhea. For the next 72 hours, feed a bland diet (75 percent rice, 25 percent low-fat protein such as skinless chicken) in small but increasing amounts. Then shift to the dog’s regular diet over the next two days.


If your dog has bloody diarrhea, is depressed and dull, or continues to have diarrhea for 24 hours while you are withholding food, take her to a veterinarian.


Most dogs are excellent swimmers. Occasionally, however, a dog drowns because he gets caught in something underwater or gets overwhelmed by an undertow. Sometimes a dog who is an experienced swimmer drowns inexplicably. Some breeds have trouble swimming and may drown in shallow, safe water. Bulldogs, Pugs, and Pekingeses all have bodies that can make swimming difficult.


The first thing to do when you have brought the dog ashore is to empty the lungs of water. If the dog is small, elevate his rear end and water will drain out of the dog’s mouth. If necessary, you can hold the dog upside down and swing him gently until the water is expelled. Pumping the chest and opening the mouth periodically may be helpful as well. If the dog is large, try to sling him over your shoulder so that the head, front legs, and chest hang down in front of you and the rear legs hang down your back. When the water is expelled, start rescue breathing. When the dog is breathing on his own, wrap him in a blanket and transport him to a veterinarian immediately.

Ear infections

Chronic ear infections are extremely uncomfortable to dogs and can ultimately affect hearing and balance. If your dog has ever had an ear infection, check her ears weekly and keep them clean — this is the best way to prevent infections and to recognize them quickly when they do occur.


To clean the ears, moisten a cotton swab with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide and clean the outer ear, making sure to clean around all the bumps inside the ear and down into the ear canal. Don’t go farther into the canal than you can see — you don’t want to risk breaking the eardrum. There are ear-cleaning solutions designed to break up wax and dry the ear canal. If the ear is truly infected it probably needs topical medicine to treat the specific type of infection — yeast or bacteria. If your dog has hair in her ear canal, pluck it to help with air circulation.

Electric shock

Occasionally, a dog (usually a puppy) bites down on an electric cord and suffers an electrical shock, often accompanied by burns. The dog may be unconscious and have burns around his mouth and on his tongue.


If you find your dog unconscious near an electrical cord, turn off the power to the socket before touching your dog. Examine the dog, using the A-B-C protocol described earlier in this chapter. Administer CPR if the dog is in shock or unconscious. When the dog is conscious, give first aid for burns and get him to your vet immediately.


The eyes are very delicate and easily injured, especially in dogs who love to play in the great outdoors.


Dogs who run through fields may get dust or grasses in their eyes. The best solution is to wash the eye with sterile saline. Hold your dog’s eye open and gently pour the saline over the surface of the eye. Using a penlight flashlight, examine the insides of the lids to be sure that you removed the offending particles. If repeated flushing doesn’t help, get your dog to a veterinarian.


If a foreign body is penetrating the eye or the skin near the eye, do not touch it. Stop the dog from pawing at the eye by taping her hind legs together or using an Elizabethan collar (the “lampshade” — a wide cone-shaped collar that prevents the dog from being able to scratch her head). You can make a temporary collar by cutting a head-size hole in the bottom of a bucket and placing the bucket over her head, fastening it to the dog’s collar. Then get your dog to a vet immediately.


Every now and then, a dog playing near a fishing pond gets stuck with a fishhook left by a careless fisherman. As you can imagine, a fishhook can be very painful, particularly if the hook is in the foot and the dog has come running to you or tried to remove it with his mouth.


Start by calming the dog with gentle words and quiet motions. Getting your veterinarian to remove the hook is best, but if you have no access to a veterinarian, you can push the hook through the skin until the tip and barb come back out. Then cut off the hook and barb and back the rest of the hook out the way it came. Treat the hole as a wound (see “Wounds” later in this chapter).


If your dog swallows a fishhook, cut off most of the remaining fishing line, leaving approximately 12 inches dangling. Do not attempt to dislodge the fishhook by pulling on the line. Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately. Do not allow your dog to eat in the meantime.


Foxtail plants grow by roadsides and in fields throughout much of the United States. Dogs sometimes inhale or swallow their seeds in their exuberance outdoors. Foxtail seeds have a long, barbed appendage so that they can stick in the hair and even penetrate unbroken skin. When the seed is in your dog’s body, it travels from place to place, damaging tissues and causing infections. If you live in an area with foxtails, always examine your dog’s susceptible parts (nose, throat, armpits, and between the toes) thoroughly after she has been outdoors. Use tweezers to gently remove any foxtail seeds you find.


The temperature doesn’t have to be very high for a dog to suffer heatstroke. Working sled dogs in Alaska begin to suffer from the heat at 20 degrees because of their level of physical activity. Dogs are descended from wolves, animals who evolved in northern climes and, thus, have not developed natural mechanisms to fight the heat. As a result, they, like their wolf ancestors, don’t have very good heat-control mechanisms. Breeds with flat faces, such as Bulldogs and Pugs, can suffer heatstroke even on mild days. Puppies also are more susceptible to heatstroke.
More dogs die of heatstroke in cars than any other way. Even on a mild day, the temperature in a car in the sun can rise to over 100 degrees in a matter of minutes. Every year, thousands of dogs die of heatstroke after being left in cars for “just a minute.”


Never leave your dog in the car in the summer, even with the windows down. And never leave your dog in a yard without shade in the summer.

A dog suffering from heatstroke pants heavily and salivates excessively. His eyes may be glazed and he staggers or acts listless. The dog’s pulse also feels rapid and weak.


If you suspect that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, you must act quickly. Move the dog to a cool area indoors, or at least to the shade. Submerge him in cool water (not ice water) and apply cold compresses to his head. Take his temperature to monitor his body’s cooling. Keep him wet until his temperature reaches 103 degrees, and then remove him from the water and dry him off. Encourage but do not force him to drink water. Get him to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Hot spots

Hot spots are localized areas of skin infection that are usually round, red, and warm to the touch. They can start very quickly and grow to several inches in diameter in a day or two. The infection is exacerbated by the dog’s scratching or chewing.


The first thing to do if you identify a hot spot is to clip the hair away from the area, if possible. This is the best way to prevent the infection from spreading. Once or twice a day, wash the area thoroughly with liquid soap and apply an astringent. The best astringent is tea (green or black). Wet a tea bag and apply it to the area. Keep applying the astringent several times a day until the area is dry and covered with a scab — usually 24 to 36 hours. After the area is scabbed, let it heal, but watch it carefully, in case the infection begins to spread again. Keep the dog from scratching or biting at the area while it is healing; you may need to use an Elizabethan collar (see the “Eyes” section earlier in this chapter for more information). If you cannot get the hot spot under control in 36 hours, see your veterinarian, who may prescribe oral antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatory agents to treat it.

Insect bites

Many insects bite or sting, so becoming familiar with the ones that live in your area is a good idea. That way, you may be able to prevent your dog from exposure to these bugs.


Usually an insect bite appears as an area of swelling. If the bite is from a bee or a wasp, remove the stinger. If it is from a tick that is still attached, use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull gently until it lets go (see Chapter The Scoop on Dog Food for more information on removing ticks). Apply a cold pack if the swelling is severe.


Many poisons lurk in houses, yards, and the environment, and their treatments can differ greatly.


If you suspect that your dog has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian immediately for instructions. If you cannot reach your veterinarian, call the National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for help.

If you know that your dog ingested the poison within the last hour, induce vomiting by pouring 1 to 3 teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide into his mouth between the cheek and the back teeth (or by squirting it with the first-aid syringe in your first-aid kit). If the dog hasn’t vomited within ten minutes, repeat. Do not use hydrogen peroxide more than three times at ten-minute intervals.


Do not induce vomiting if the poison is unknown, corrosive, or a petroleum product, or if the animal is not completely conscious.

Wash the skin if the toxin can be absorbed through the skin.

Porcupine quills

Porcupines roam the woods on sunny days in the winter — and some curious canines just can’t mind their own business. The result is usually a face full of painful porcupine quills. If you find your dog in this kind of a fix, first calm the dog as best you can (porcupine quills are very painful, and dogs tend to scratch and paw at their faces) and transport her to your veterinarian as soon as possible. The vet will anesthetize your dog and remove the quills while she is in Dreamland. If veterinary assistance is not available, muzzle the dog and have someone hold her while you pull the quills quickly straight out, not at an angle. Feel the skin for deeply embedded quills and look in the mouth for quills, too — a veterinarian should remove these quills.


Never remove quills from the eye. If your dog has a quill in her eye, calm her down (it is very painful) and tie her legs together to prevent her from pawing at the eye. Protect the eye until you can get her to a veterinarian.


Seizures in dogs have many causes, from trauma, to tumors, to poisoning. In some dogs, seizures occur periodically for unknown reasons (in a condition called idiopathic epilepsy). Take action when a seizure occurs:

– Sit with your dog during the seizure, talking soothingly to him.

– Restrain him only if necessary to keep him from hurting himself. During the seizure, he will have uncontrollable movements and may defecate or urinate.

– Keep your dog quiet for 30 minutes after the seizure.

– If the seizure lasts longer than five minutes or recurs within two hours, take your dog to a veterinarian.


Do not attempt to pull the dog’s tongue out or in any way get near the mouth, because severe bites can occur.


If your dog has a seizure, take him to a vet or (better yet) a veterinary neurologist for evaluation.

Snake bites

The most common poisonous snakes in North America are the rattlesnake, the cottonmouth, the coral snake, and the water moccasin. If poisonous snakes live near you, find how to identify them and stay away from them. Consider taking your dog to a snake-proofing session, where she will be taught to stay away from snakes. You can obtain information from your local dog club.


If your dog is bitten by a poisonous snake, do this: 

1. Restrain and calm your dog, to slow uptake of the venom.

Arrange for the dog to get to a veterinarian immediately.

2. Allow the snake bite to bleed freely for 30 to 60 seconds, and then cleanse and disinfect the area.
3. Place gauze over the wound and apply pressure.

If the wound is on a leg, leave gauze over the wound and wrap the leg with cohesive bandage tightly, but not tight enough to cut off circulation.

4. Take the dog to a veterinarian immediately.


Do not cut into the wound caused by a snakebite. Do not apply suction to the wound. And do not apply a tourniquet.

If you and your dog hike frequently in snake-infested areas, talk to your veterinarian about whether you should carry an antivenin with you.

Spinal injury


If you suspect that your dog has suffered a spinal or neck injury, be very cautious about moving him, or you could further damage the spinal cord and cause permanent paralysis or even death.

Muzzle your dog and slide him gradually onto a flat surface such as a board or a piece of heavy cardboard. Secure the dog to the makeshift stretcher with wide strips of tape or an ACE brand bandage, and transport him to the veterinarian immediately.

Sprains and strains

Technical Stuff

sprain is a stretched or torn ligament and a strain is a torn or overused tendon, but the results of both are swelling and inflammation in the area of damage.

The key to treating these injuries is to get ice onto the affected area immediately. Apply the ice for 20 minutes, remove the ice for 20 minutes, and then apply ice again for 20 minutes. The ice helps reduce the swelling and keeps further damage to a minimum.


Try bandaging the ice onto the affected area if your dog doesn’t want to let you hold the ice on her body for that long.

Take your dog to a veterinarian if you suspect a fracture or if your dog doesn’t bear some weight on the leg within an hour or two. The dog should rest for at least 48 hours after the injury — no running or playing, just short walks on a leash to go potty. If the dog is still limping after 48 hours, she should be seen by a veterinarian.


In their enthusiastic love of life, dogs can get themselves into some fixes. They may run into tree branches or rub against sharp objects. They may even get in an occasional fight and end up a little worse for the wear. So knowing what to do for your walking wounded canine is important.
Wounds fall into two main categories: shallow and deep. Shallow wounds involve just the skin; deep wounds penetrate to the muscles and other tissues below the skin.

Shallow wounds


To treat a shallow wound, follow these steps:

1. Wash your hands thoroughly.
2. Use cotton pads and mild antibacterial liquid soap to clean the wound thoroughly.
3. Rinse the wound with sterile saline solution.
4. Apply antibacterial ointment to the wound.
5. Cover the wound with gauze, wrap it with a bandage, and cover it with a cohesive bandage (but not so tight that you cut off circulation).

You can slip a stockinet or bootie over a foot and secure it with tape for extra protection.

6. Periodically feel your dog’s toes.

If they become swollen or cool to the touch, remove the bandage and reapply it after the swelling has diminished.


If the wound is small and clean, you can use NuSkin to glue the ends of the wound together. It works just like sutures.


Cuts that may require sutures should be examined by a veterinarian immediately. If a cut is more than about six hours old, it should not be sutured closed because it almost certainly is contaminated with bacteria from the environment. Suturing the wound closed would just trap the bacteria within the wound, resulting in infection and increased scarring. An older cut should be thoroughly cleaned and allowed to heal gradually as an open wound. If the wound is large, it may be partially sutured and a drain left in to help the infection escape. 

Deep wounds


To treat a deep wound, do this:

1. Stop the bleeding by applying pressure.
2. When the bleeding has stopped, bandage the wound and seek immediate veterinary treatment.

If your dog becomes lost

First of all, you should have your dog “chipped” at the vet. An ID chip is a tiny electronic chip implanted under your dog’s skin. When your dog is found and taken to the pound or a vet, staff members can scan the chip and get your contact info. Of course, your dog also should be wearing an ID tag with your name, phone number, and address. Some chips come with a tag that gives the chip number, which you can read over the phone to the dog pound when someone finds your dog.
Some people even make up some generic “Missing dog” posters ahead of time and keep them with emergency supplies. In the biggest type size you can, center the words LOST DOG, along with a clear picture of your dog. Beneath that, provide a description of your dog, including any identifying marks. Leave a space to add the phone number where you can be reached, along with any backup contacts, friends, relatives, neighbors, or your veterinarian. Print a hundred copies and keep them in a safe place.
A staple gun allows you to post your notices on anything wooden or cardboard in your neighborhood; keep a loaded staple gun with your supplies, along with thumbtacks and electrical tape.
If your dog becomes lost, post the flyers in your neighborhood and beyond, and distribute them at veterinary hospitals and shelters. While relying on the kindness of strangers is nice, offering a reward can make many strangers just a little bit kinder.

 by Eve Adamson, Richard G. Beauchamp, Margaret H. Bonham, Stanley Coren, Miriam Fields-Babineau, Sarah Hodgson, Connie Isbell, Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Chris Walkowicz, M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD

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