( DR. MARY FULLER /Vetstreet)
Just the thought of something happening to your pet is enough to get your heart thumping in your chest. Despite your best intentions, accidents can and do happen. But if you’re prepared, your pet has a better chance of making it through a crisis situation.
In any medical emergency, the best course of action is to bring your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Since time is of the essence, don't waste precious moments surfing the Internet for suggestions or trying to handle the situation yourself. And never give any medication to your pet unless you get the green light from your vet.
It's always good to know some key first aid techniques, but keep in mind that you should only use them to stabilize your pet until you can get to a veterinary hospital. That said, here are five common emergency situations — and the simple steps you can take to help your pet.
If you suspect that your pet has eaten something toxic, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline (888-426-4435) immediately. Unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian, never induce vomiting. Many toxins are corrosive, and vomiting may damage the esophagus or cause choking.
Should your veterinarian instruct you to induce vomiting, he will provide you with a recommended dose of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, based on your dog’s weight. (Do not use salt or syrup of ipecac.) Take your dogoutside or cover the floor with newspaper. Measure the dose and use an eyedropper to administer the hydrogen peroxide into your dog’s mouth. If your pet does not vomit within five minutes, repeat the dose one more time.
Since there are no at-home products that can be used to induce vomiting in cats, you'll need to take your feline to a veterinary clinic for treatment. In either case, get your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Scenario: Cuts, Punctures or Bites
All cuts, punctures and bites have the potential to become infected, so they need to be examined by a veterinarian. If your pet is bleeding profusely, cover the area with sterile gauze and a clean towel, and then apply direct pressure until a clot forms. If there is an object penetrating the wound, such as a stick, do not attempt to remove it.
If the wound is not bleeding, remove any debris and clean the area with sterile saline solution or clean water. (Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, which can damage the tissue.) Apply clean gauze and wrap a bandage around it to keep the area clean and prevent your pet from licking it.
Scenario: Car Trauma
Lay your pet on a flat board, and then strap him down to help prevent movement. Avoid putting pressure on the chest, which can hinder breathing. If your pet has sustained a head injury, tilt the board so that your pet’s head is slightly above the body during transport.
If you notice any broken bones, do your best to minimize excessive motion, but don't attempt to splint them. This may only make the situation worse — plus, you don't want to waste any time getting your pet to the veterinary clinic. Once inside the car, cover your pet with a blanket to help prevent shock.
Even if your pet does not appear to be injured, it’s still critically important that you have a veterinarian examine him. Many pets suffer internal injuries that are not obvious, and they may be very serious if not given immediate professional attention.
If your pet is choking but he can still breathe, try to keep him calm — and get him to a veterinarian immediately. But if your pet’s gums or tongue are turning blue and he’s in obvious distress, place your hand over the top of his muzzle and lift it up to open the mouth (don't cover or occlude the nostrils). For an object that is clearly visible, you can use needle-nosed pliers to remove it, but be careful not to force it farther down into the throat. Also, a pet in this situation may panic and bite, so be careful.
If that doesn’t work, lay your dog on his side, and then place your hands at the very end of his rib cage. Push down and slightly forward, applying pressure in quick, firm strokes. If you are unable to dislodge the object, get to the veterinarian immediately.
If your pet has a seizure, try to move furniture and other objects out of the way to prevent further injury. Do not try to restrain your pet, and keep your hands away from your pet's mouth — they will not swallow their tongues, but chances are that you will be bit.
Since pets often lose bladder or fecal control during a seizure, you may want to place a towel under your pet. Talk to your pet in a calm and soothing manner while you time the seizure. Most episodes will last under five minutes. Regardless of how long the seizure lasts, your pet needs immediate veterinary attention.
Numbers You Should Have On Hand
With any luck, you’ll never need to use these first aid techniques, but just knowing what to do in an emergency situation can help to reduce your panic level. You can also reduce your stress levels by making a list of important emergency phone numbers:
- Your veterinarian
- The closest emergency veterinary clinic
- The ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline: 888-426-4435