If your dog is ill or injured, the best thing you can do is to get them to us as fast as possible! However, there may be situations where that isn’t fast enough, and you need to know what to do before you can get to us – or before we can get to you in an emergency. In this three-part blog, we’ll first look at your immediate response to an accident or injury; then at what you can do on the scene, and finally at what we will do at the surgery.
First aid key rules
Before starting any first aid there are four golden rules you MUST remember:
- Stay calm. If you panic, your dog will, and you won’t be able to help. In addition, effective first aid requires that you are thinking clearly.
- Do not put yourself in danger. Of course, you want to help your dog, and that’s right and proper. But if you become a casualty yourself, you’re not helping them and you’re putting yourself and the human ambulance crews in danger! The classic situations where this is an issue (although of course there are others) are:
- Traffic – stop the traffic or at least make sure there isn’t any before you run onto the road after your dog.
- Water – generally, dogs can swim really well (better than most people). You are far more likely to drown than they are, so don’t go into the water if you can’t see how deep it is, or if it’s flowing really fast. Don’t go close to a crumbling river or lake bank either – find a lower or more stable area, and call your dog to you.
- Heights – falling off a cliff while trying to help a dog on the edge doesn’t help anyone! If your dog is on a ledge, don’t climb down to them – reassure them with your voice and call for assistance.
- Electricity – it seems obvious, but if your dog’s chewed through a power cable and collapsed, they’ll still have electrical current running through them. Don’t touch or even approach until the current is turned off at the mains!
- Fear – frightened dogs, even loving and friendly ones, often bite. It’s not their fault, it’s how they’re programmed, but if your dog is stuck in something and you get your hand bitten off, you can’t help them. Try and calm and reassure them, and then seek veterinary help if possible.
- Treat the life-threatening injuries first, even if they aren’t the most obvious or graphic. This means you must assess their status before starting any first aid intervention. You need to know what’s likely to be wrong with the dog before you can help them! Then, you manage injuries in this order:
- Anything that will kill them within the next few minutes if not treated, such as severe bleeding, inability to breathe.
- Anything that might kill them in the next hour if not treated, like severe fractures or burns.
- Minor injuries, like grazes or scrapes.
- Seek veterinary help as soon as possible. We’re trained to manage emergencies, and we’ve got the equipment and the drugs. If you can keep your dog alive until we can start working on them, you’ve done your job! Of course, in most cases, the injuries are minor and not life-threatening. These can often be managed at home, but a call to us for advice is always worthwhile!
Assessing your dog after an injury
There’s a thing we call a Primary Survey – this is a quick, thirty second check to see if the dog is having, or is about to have, a cardiopulmonary arrest – i.e. whether they are about to die, and if so what you can do to prevent it. Just like in human first aid, we use the ABC:
- Airway – can the dog breathe? Is anything blocking their airway? If they’re groaning or crying, the answer is probably no!
- Breathing – are they breathing on their own? If the airway is clear but they aren’t breathing, you may have to do it for them.
- Circulation – is their heart beating, are they bleeding severely? You can feel for the heartbeat right behind the elbow on their left hand side – practise locating your dog’s pulse while stroking or grooming them, so you’ll know how in an emergency. If it isn’t beating, essentially they are dead, but sometimes a dog can be resuscitated (we’ll talk about that next time). In an emergency situation, severe bleeding is anything more than a minor graze, so treat it as such!
Once you’ve ruled out these immediately life threatening injuries, you can perform a Secondary Survey, looking for and assessing other injuries such as fractures, burns, grazes etc. This will allow you to decide how best to transport injured dog to us for definitive treatment – for example, fractured limbs should be immobilised if possible, and spinal injuries should not be moved until you’ve spoken to us unless it would be more dangerous to leave them where they are.
In the next blog in this series will look at how you can manage different types of injury in an emergency.