Grooming Emergencies: Knowing Doggie First Aid

Grooming Emergencies: Knowing Doggie First Aid

In This Chapter

  • Being ready in case of a grooming emergency
  • Sorting the major from the minor emergencies
  • Dealing with common dog emergencies
Emergencies can and do happen, even when you’re grooming your dog. I’m not talking about the horrible trim that the so-called professional groomer gave your dog; I’m talking about serious injuries. Although you never like to think about them, being prepared for such eventualities is important. So in this chapter, I tell you about being ready for most emergencies you’ll face as a groomer and how to deal with major and minor problems that you may encounter.

Preparing for a Grooming Emergency

Humans have an innate ability to foresee the future. No, I don’t mean psychics here; I mean your normal cognitive abilities, thinking your actions through and pondering the possible consequences they may have. For example, you know that when you leave a burning candle or other open flame unattended, something may catch fire. You’re able to foresee this terrible outcome because you’ve either been down that fiery path before, heard about it from someone else, or simply considered what can happen if you don’t extinguish the flame.

You can use the same approach when making sure that you’re prepared for grooming-related emergencies. When you’re prepared for the worst possible circumstances, you can turn those emergencies into less terrible and more manageable situations.

Preventing an emergency

The best way to handle a grooming emergency is to prevent it from happening in the first place. If you look around your grooming room, I’m sure you’ll see plenty of “lighted candles” that need to be put out, especially the ones that flare up into, well, emergencies when you add a dog to the mix. Here are some items that can cause problems in your grooming area:

Electrical cords: Dogs love to chew them, and the results can be shocking (no pun intended) and devastating. Keep cords unplugged and/or out of the way when they’re not in use.

Electrical devices near sinks or tubs: You know that electricity and water don’t mix, right? Keep all electrical devices unplugged and safely away from water.

Grooming nooses (neck and body): Use these restraints only when you’re attending to your dog’s grooming needs. Otherwise, store them away from your dog to prevent strangulation and injury. Never leave your dog unsupervised in a noose.

Scissors (or shears) and other sharp objects: Sharp tools and objects need to be stored in a drawer or other dog-proof container when not in use. If left on the counter or in a bin and they get knocked off or upset, they can stab you or an unfortunate dog.

Other dogs: Keep other dogs crated or out of the room. Groom only one dog at a time.

Cage dryers: Cage dryers can seriously overheat your dog, and for that reason, I don’t recommend them. If you use a cage dryer, you simply can’t leave the dog unattended.

Make sure your entire grooming area has proper ventilation, because without it, dogs can become overheated in hot, stuffy areas.

Shampoos, conditioners, and other sweet-smelling items: Dogs are tempted to eat these substances. Keeping them away from your dog takes away that temptation.

Grooming tables and other equipment: Make sure your grooming table is sturdy and that all your equipment is in working order. Be aware of what can happen if your dog jumps off the table or your equipment malfunctions.

You can prepare for emergencies by anticipating what can happen. Looking at a tray full of scissors on the counter probably has you wondering, “What if my dog were to knock that over?” Or seeing your best friend bring in her princess for a quick brush-out while you’re bathing your own dog, you definitely need to think about how the two dogs are going to react. Even if they’re just friendly, they’ll probably be excitable when they spot each other. An excitable dog in the tub may try to jump out with the noose attached. Foreseeing problems before they happen can prevent many emergencies.


Always have your veterinarian’s phone number and the numbers for an alternate veterinarian and a 24-hour emergency number posted, taped onto, or otherwise inscribed next to your telephone. (Put it on speed dial, too!) That way, if a problem occurs, the number’s handy. You also need to have the national Animal Poison Control Center hotline number available (see Chapter The Skinny on Hairy Health Issues). That number is 1-888-426-4435.

Assembling a first-aid kit

One preventative measure that helps during emergencies is having a well-stocked first-aid kit. You need to assemble this first-aid kit for your dog and have it available in your grooming room in case a real problem crops up. Having a first-aid kit can’t prevent an emergency, but you’ll be better prepared for dealing with one.


When you use any of the supplies from your first-aid kit, don’t forget to restock. If you don’t, you may not have what you need when the next emergency occurs. Likewise, check expiration dates on medications and throw them out if they’ve expired. If something’s close to expiration but the first-aid kit item is something you use regularly, replace it in your first-aid kit before using it. In other words, buy fresh supplies to replace the old ones.

Your groomer’s first-aid kit needs to include the following items, most of which you can purchase at your neighborhood drugstore unless otherwise noted:

A muzzle: To prevent your dog from biting you. It’s available online, in pet supply catalog, or from your vet. The “Muzzling a dog” section later in this chapter explains how to make a makeshift muzzle in a pinch, but it’s best to have an actual muzzle on hand.

Aspirin (not ibuprofen or acetaminophen): For pain; ask your vet about the proper dosage.

Large and small nonstick bandages plus bandage scissors and tape: You can also buy self-adhesive elastic pet bandage online or in pet supply catalogs. (Elastoplast for humans works well, too; it’s available at supermarkets and drugstores.)

Pressure bandages: To stop bleeding.

Sterile gauze wrappings and sponges: For bandaging.

Forceps or tweezers: Available online, in pet supply catalogs, or from your vet.

Betadine antiseptic solution: For cleaning wounds and preventing infection.

Blood-clotting gel or powder (cut-stop gel) or styptic power: To stop bleeding. It’s available online, in pet supply catalogs, or from your vet.

Hydrogen peroxide: For cleaning wounds and inducing vomiting.

Triple antibiotic ointment (without benzocaine or lidocaine): To prevent infection.

Electronic ear thermometer made for dogs, or an electronic rectal thermometer: Available online, in pet supply catalogs, or from your vet.

Petroleum jelly (Vaseline): To use when taking temperatures with a rectal thermometer.

Cortisone cream: To help sooth itching.

Disposable latex gloves: To keep substances off of you.

Isopropyl alcohol: To sterilize stuff.

Syrup of ipecac: For inducing vomiting.

Kaolin product for dogs: To stop diarrhea. It’s available online, in pet supply catalogs, or from your vet.

Mineral oil or activated charcoal: To use for poisonings. Mineral oil acts as a laxative, and activated charcoal absorbs some toxins.

Unflavored pediatric electrolyte (Pedialyte): To treat dehydration and heatstroke.

Talk to your vet to see whether he or she has any other recommendations for first-aid supplies. Put these items in one place, preferably in a container marked “FIRST-AID KIT” with a permanent marker.

Emergency know-how

Knowing what to do in case of an emergency is just as important as having the right stuff on hand. You need to find out how to use a muzzle, and you have to be able to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a dog. Showing you the correct way to resuscitate a dog in a book like this is pretty difficult, so ask your vet to show you how to do it properly before a problem arises.

Muzzling a dog

No matter how sweet and gentle your dog is, I can guarantee that she’ll bite if she’s fearful or in pain. That reaction isn’t a question of good temperament; it’s a question of instinct. Before you treat a dog for any emergency, you have to muzzle her to keep her from biting you. Protecting yourself is important.


Muzzle a dog only if the following conditions are met. Your dog

  • Is conscious
  • Does not have an obstructed airway
  • Isn’t having trouble breathing
  • Isn’t suffering from heatstroke
  • Doesn’t have a fractured skull
  • Isn’t suffering from a sucking chest wound
You will aggravate any injury and possibly kill your dog if you muzzle her under these circumstances.

Technical Stuff

I don’t know whether you’ve ever been bitten by a dog. If you haven’t, make sure the situation stays that way. If you have been bitten, you know what I’m talking about when I say that dogs can bite down with a bone-crushing pressure as high as 400 pounds per square inch. Even a minor bite can be pretty serious, because a dog’s saliva starts breaking down your skin right away. Even a small bite can become severely infected and may require medical attention. Assuming your dog hasn’t broken any (of your) bones, you’ll still feel the bite and have a lot of bruising and pain for days afterward. Trust me, I speak from experience. Dog bites are no fun.

If you already have a muzzle in your first-aid kit, that’s great. But if you don’t, you still can muzzle a dog with a makeshift muzzle made from a belt, a long piece of sturdy fabric or cloth (that doesn’t have much stretch to it), a necktie, or a rope.
Here’s how to make a makeshift muzzle from a belt, tie, or rope (I use a lead/leash for this example; see Figure 17-1):
1. Put the lead beneath your dog’s chin.

Be sure to place your dog’s chin in the middle of the lead so that both sides are equal in length.

2. Wrap the two ends of the lead upward and tie once at the top of the dog’s muzzle (foreface).

Figure 17-1: Muzzling a dog in pain (even with a belt, tie, or rope in a pinch) can prevent her from biting you.
3. Wrap two ends of the lead downward and tie once under the chin.
4. Bring the two ends of the lead under the ears toward the back of the head, and tie them there securely.

Performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation

I hope you never have to use this advice, but I’d nevertheless encourage you to ask your veterinarian to show you how to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR for a canine. Here’s a checklist that you need to review before you start any type of resuscitation. Note: These techniques should never be used with or performed on a healthy or conscious dog.
1. Find out whether the dog has a pulse.

You can feel your dog’s pulse on the inside of her back leg. Try feeling it when she’s healthy and uninjured so you know where it is.

2. If the dog has no pulse, perform canine CPR as instructed by a veterinarian.

If you don’t know how to do canine CPR, contact an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible.

3. If the dog has a pulse but is not breathing, remove the collar and all other constricting items.
4. Check the dog’s airway to find out whether anything is blocking it.

Use forceps to remove any small item, or try performing a doggie-modified Heimlich maneuver by pushing or squeezing the dog just below the ribcage to cause her to expel the foreign object.


Don’t practice the doggie Heimlich maneuver on a healthy dog, but when you must use it on an unhealthy one, don’t press too hard, because you can injure your dog. Have your vet show you how to do the doggie Heimlich.

5. Begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation the way your vet showed you.

Make sure the dog’s tongue is in the proper position, and hold her mouth closed as you blow air into her nose. (On larger dogs, you may have to hold your hands around the nose.) Blow air in only so that it just inflates the lungs.

Don’t overinflate, or you can rupture your dog’s lungs. Let the dog breathe the air out. Do CPR/mouth-to-mouth at a rate of 20 breaths per minute.

Handling Minor Grooming Snafus

Occasionally, you’re going to encounter some minor accidents while grooming your dog. They usually occur because you’ve either shaved your dog too closely or you’ve cut or nicked your dog. When the wounds or cuts aren’t too bad, you can use your first-aid kit. Check out two of the less-serious problems.

Cuts and nicks

Maybe you were using scissors when you shouldn’t have been, or maybe your dog squirmed a bit — they have been known to do that. Whatever the reason, you’ve somehow cut or nicked your dog, and he’s pretty unhappy with you, I’m sure. So you need to be sure to treat the nicks carefully. Anything that looks like it needs to be sutured probably does, and you need to take your dog to the vet to get him stitched up immediately.
If there’s still a fair amount of hair, use a guarded clipper to remove as much of it as you can from around the cut. If it’s bleeding, use some cut-stop gel or styptic powder to clot the blood. Then you need to clean the cuts with a solution of 10 percent Betadine antiseptic and 90 percent water and follow that up with an antibiotic ointment. If the cut is in a place where you can bandage it with a sterile pad and self-adhesive bandages — on the leg or any place that you can wrap the bandage around — do so. Don’t use tape to keep the pad on unless you wrap the tape only around the bandage and not the fur. In other words, don’t apply tape directly to the fur. Removing a bandage that’s been taped directly onto a dog’s hair is far worse than pulling off any bandage that’s ever been taped onto you — so be careful! Change the bandage every day, and watch for infection (redness, pus). If your dog shows any sign of infection, take him to the veterinarian immediately.

Skin irritation

Your dog can suffer skin irritation from the clippers or from virtually any of the products you’re using. If your dog suffers clipper burn, you can apply some aloe vera on the irritated areas. To prevent clipper burn, you can use a clipper coolant, which cools off the clipper blades fast, before working on your dog’s coat (see Chapter Spiffing Up Short- and Medium-Coated Breeds).
If you suspect your dog has irritation caused by a particular product, try washing your dog again, this time with a hypoallergenic shampoo and conditioner and then rinsing really well to remove all the residue. You can use an over-the-counter cortisone-type cream on the rash. If the irritated area doesn’t get better, or if it gets worse, take your dog to a vet.

Doggie 911

Whenever things go wrong in a serious and big way, it’s up to you to help your injured pet. One thing to keep in mind: Don’t panic. Your dog is relying on you to help her.

Serious cuts

Serious cuts are the ones that may require sutures and usually have a fair amount of blood associated with them. If the blood is bright red and spurting, you must apply pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding, except when it’s a severe crushing injury. Apply a bandage on the wound (that’s not a severe crushing injury) and use a self-adhesive elastic pet bandage to apply pressure to the wound. When you apply the bandage, don’t cut off the circulation, because applying too tight of a bandage can do more damage than good. If your dog experiences any type of severe injury, get her to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
For a deep puncture wound, try to determine how deep it goes. If the object is still embedded, leave it in the wound until you can get your dog veterinary attention, because pulling it out can cause more bleeding. Seek immediate veterinary attention for all puncture wounds.

Allergic reaction

The most serious allergic response is an anaphylactic reaction, in which the dog stops breathing. The other, more common type of allergic reaction involves simple redness and itching.
Luckily, anaphylactic reaction is a rare condition that you’re unlikely to see. Unfortunately, its beginning symptoms are virtually the same as for the simpler reaction. If your dog is suffering from anaphylactic reaction, time is of the essence! Take your dog to a veterinary emergency room immediately, because you can’t treat a dog with anaphylactic shock. The first signs may be hives or swelling of the face, or the reaction may start with itching and redness of the skin and progress to agitation, diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.
In the more common, less serious type of allergic reaction, you’ll see redness of the skin, hives, and itching, and the face may swell up; however, you won’t see the respiratory (breathing) distress.
Whenever your dog suffers from an allergic reaction, remove as much of the offending substance as you can from the dog — if she hasn’t experienced any respiratory distress. Contact a veterinarian to find out how much antihistamine to administer. Benadryl is a common one used for less serious reactions. In any event, you need to seek immediate veterinary attention for your dog.

Knowing reactions are nothing to sneeze at

You may be wondering how serious an allergic reaction can be for a dog. In some cases, it can be so severe and so immediate that it can cause death in a matter of only seconds. The problem is that dogs (and people, too, for that matter) can become allergic to something after they’ve been exposed to the substance several times with no ill effects.
Always watch for signs of an allergic reaction when you’re using grooming products. Even hypoallergenic products sometimes can cause reactions, but only in rare circumstances.

Taking your dog’s temperature

Taking a dog’s temperature isn’t easy, but knowing how to do it is a necessity. Normal temperature for a dog is 100.5°F (38°C) to 102°F (38.9°C). You need to take your dog’s temperature to find out whether he has a fever or is overheated or hypothermic. You can do so one of two ways. One way is to use an ear thermometer, though ear thermometers are rather expensive and are sometimes hard to get. A friend of mine bought one and discovered that her dog had a type of ear canal in which the ear thermometer wouldn’t work. So even if you get an ear thermometer, you may still have to do it the old-fashioned way:
1. Purchase an electronic thermometer that can be used rectally.
2. Wash it with warm soapy water (not hot), and disinfect it with isopropyl alcohol.
3. Lubricate it with petroleum jelly (Vaseline), and turn it on.
4. Lift your dog’s tail and gently insert it in your dog’s anus about an inch (more if your dog is large; less if your dog is a toy breed).

Make sure that you hold your dog still and keep him quiet until the thermometer signals that the temperature has been taken.

5. Remove the thermometer and wipe it clean with a paper towel.
6. Read the temperature.

Always wash the thermometer after each use with warm soapy water and then disinfect it with isopropyl alcohol.


Overheating, or heatstroke, is a serious condition in dogs that can rapidly lead to coma and death. Symptoms of overheating include high temperature (above 103°F — 39.4°C), extreme thirst, watery diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, lethargy, pale gums, difficulty breathing, weakness, and eventually, coma and death. In most cases, the dog is also suffering from dehydration. See the next section for more about dehydration. Check out the “Taking your dog’s temperature” sidebar in this chapter for directions to help you do just that.

Technical Stuff

Dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke than humans, partly because of their origins — coming from Asiatic wolves some 20,000 or so years ago. Dogs with a double coat are better suited for colder weather than for warmer temperatures. Dogs don’t perspire the way humans do. Instead, they rely on panting to cool their bodies, so whenever airflow’s restricted, a dog isn’t able to cool herself off fast enough and becomes overheated or suffers heatstroke. Remember, dogs can’t take off their fur coats when it’s hot.

When talking about heatstroke, most people know they should never leave their dogs in a parked car in the sun, even with the windows down. Temperatures inside the car can rise quickly, and a dog can become distressed in only a short time. However, dogs also can suffer heatstroke in other ways. Your dog can suffer heatstroke with too much exercise in warm weather, not enough water, or confinement in small spaces where no cool air flows. So in a grooming area, you need to be careful with cages and cage dryers, hot-water baths, and leaving your dog out in the sun.
You can prevent your dog from getting heatstroke simply by following a few guidelines. Keep her in cool and shady places when the temperatures soar, and turn a cooling fan toward her and give her fresh water. Don’t use cage dryers when drying her. Also, keep her bath-water temperature tepid or slightly on the cool side.
Here’s what to do if you suspect your dog is suffering from heatstroke:
1. Remove collars or anything else that can restrict the dog’s breathing.

If the dog has no pulse and/or isn’t breathing, perform CPR or mouth-tomouth resuscitation.

Never put a muzzle on a dog that’s suffering from heatstroke.

2. Move the dog into a shady area that has good airflow; start giving her fluids.

If the dog is conscious, give her cool water or unflavored pediatric electrolyte beverages, such as Pedialyte, to drink.

You can add broth to make the liquids more appealing if you have to.

3. If you can, cool the dog in tepid or cool water.

Don’t use cold water to cool down an overheated dog; otherwise, you may cause the dog’s capillaries to constrict and thus retain heat.

4. Seek immediate veterinary attention

Knowing where your dog can overheat

Here’s a list of some of the places in which dogs can become overheated:

 – Inside cars, even with the air conditioner running

– Inside trailers that have dog compartments

– Inside recreational vehicles

– Inside tents

– Inside un–air-conditioned shops and buildings

– In cages with crate dryers

– In crates in the car or in the sun

– On the back porch in the sun

– On walks or while hiking

– In sports competitions


Dehydration can be a serious condition, occurring alone or in conjunction with overheating (see the preceding section for more about overheating). Dehydration can result from overheating, a serious medical condition, diarrhea and vomiting, or an inadequate water supply.
Dogs who are dehydrated may vomit or have watery diarrhea, and they’re often weak and lethargic.
To find out whether your dog is dehydrated, check the look and feel of her gums. If they’re dry and sticky (not wet), your dog is dehydrated. Another test you can perform is the skin-snap test; however, for this test to work appropriately, you need to have performed it while your dog was healthy so you can tell when she isn’t. Age, diseases, and breed all play a factor in how the skin-snap test looks. Here’s how you do it:
1. Look for the loose skin along the nape (back) of the neck, just in front of your dog’s shoulders.
2. Grasping the loose skin gently, pull up and then release (see Figure 17-2).
3. Observe how it springs back.

If the dog is healthy, the skin springs back quickly.

If the dog is dehydrated, it springs back slowly.

If the dog is severely dehydrated, it may melt back slowly or even stay up. When that happens, you have an emergency on your hands and need to get your dog to a vet! 

With mild forms of dehydration, giving your dog water or pediatric electrolyte beverage is probably all you need to do. You can mix it with broth to make it palatable. In severe forms of dehydration or in cases where your dog won’t drink water, you need to take her to the veterinarian as quickly as possible for intravenous fluids and care.


Dehydration can kill a dog. When in doubt, get that dog to a veterinarian.


If your dog is somehow strangled, remove grooming or bathing nooses or whatever is constricting your dog’s breathing (such as collars or harnesses). If your dog is unconscious, follow the steps under the “Performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” section earlier in this chapter. Get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible even if she is conscious.
Figure 17-2: Check your dog for dehydration by performing the skin-snap test.

Electric shock

A dog can be electrocuted by chewing an electric cord or when electrical equipment (like your clippers) falls into the bathtub. If your dog receives a shock from either from chewing a cord or having an appliance fall into the tub, don’t touch the dog. Use a wooden broom handle or other nonmetal, nonconductive item to unplug the cord.
After you get your dog out of the tub, if she’s unconscious, follow the steps in the “Performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” section earlier in this chapter, and take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible (even if she’s conscious).


Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition in which a dog’s temperature drops dangerously below normal. Toy breeds, puppies, older dogs, and dogs with short coats are more likely to become hypothermic than dogs with long and double coats. A dog can quickly become hypothermic in the wintertime if washed and left outside or in a drafty area.
You can prevent hypothermia by drying the dog quickly and not allowing him outside until his coat is thoroughly dry. Signs of hypothermia include shivering and listlessness, followed by unconsciousness, coma, and death. A low body temperature (below 99°F — 37.2°C) is a possible sign of hypothermia (see the “Taking your dog’s temperature” sidebar in this chapter).
Whenever you find a dog shivering, move him to someplace warm and wrap him with a blanket. If he’s conscious, give him warm broth to drink. If unconscious, follow the steps in the “Performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” section earlier in this chapter. Get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible, even if he is conscious.

Dog bites

If you have more than one dog present while grooming, you may have to deal with dog fights and therefore, dog bites.
In any dog fight, you’re likely to be bitten if you get between two battling dogs. On the other hand, allowing two dogs to continue to fight can result in a dead dog. You can usually separate dogs by throwing water on them or by forcing something (other than you) between them. If you can, get help so that you and the other person can grasp the each dog by the hind legs and pull the two animals apart. If you’re alone, try separating the dogs by herding them into a doorway and shutting the door between them. In extreme instances, a couple of blasts from a fire extinguisher can work.


After you separate the dogs, be sure to keep them separated, preferably in crates. Dogs will go back to fighting even after an initial cool-down, especially if they’ve drawn blood. When you take your dogs to the vet, make sure that you have at least one of them in a crate to prevent a fight in the car.


Anything you do to separate dogs in a dog fight can result in your being bitten.

Again, after you separate the dogs, examine them carefully for wounds. Some wounds won’t show up right away. With bad injuries, treat as for serious cuts and take the dogs to the veterinarian immediately. Any puncture wounds need to be cleaned by a veterinarian.
by Margaret H.Bonham