Animal Training and Pet Sitting Module 10

First Aid

Basic knowledge of pet first aid can save your pet’s life. This is a brief introduction of the most common pet problems and emergencies that are encountered in the home. If this module sparks your interest in knowing more, seek out additional courses and certifications through organizations such as the American Red Cross.

10.1 On the spot diagnosis

10.2 Vomiting and diarrhoea

10.3 Poisoning

10.4 Cuts, grazes, wounds and burns

10.5 Breaks and fractures

10.6 Shock

10.7 CPR

10.8 Contents of your first aid kit

10.1 On the spot diagnosis

“On the spot diagnosis” basically means quickly assessing the problem and determining what to do next. If you suspect that something is wrong with a pet, quickly go through a basic “check-list” before taking further action.

1. Stay calm. You will think better and can assess the situation better if you have a clear head.

2. Stay safe. Move yourself and the pet to a safe location and secure the animal’s movement. This may involve muzzling the pet or enlisting the help of another person.

3. Assess the situation

a. What is going on?

b. What signs is the pet showing?

i. For example, vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, bleeding?

c. What events lead up to the problem?

i. For example, vomiting, activity, lethargy, trauma?

4. What can I do?

a. Check ABCs – more to come in Section 11.7

b. Check TPR – more to come in Section 11.7

5. Contact the veterinarian and/or owner

6. Transport to closest veterinary facility

10.2 Vomiting and diarrhoea

Vomiting and diarrhea are very common causes and signs of illness in pets. Vomiting may also actually be ‘regurgitation’ – when food is expelled from the stomach undigested. Vomiting typically involves a retching motion, abdominal heave and expulsion of stomach and small intestinal contents. Vomit may be foamy, full of food or stomach contents, hair, blood, mucus or bile.

Vomiting more than once per hour or if it contains blood requires immediate veterinary attention.

A single episode of vomiting or regurgitation may not be a sign of a serious problem, especially if the pet is alert and acting normally otherwise.

Diarrhea happens when there is inflammation in the small or large intestine and has many causes. It can range from a loosely formed stool to watery. Infection, stress, “garbage gut” and irritable bowel disease are common causes of diarrhea.

Diarrhea that is bloody, appears to contain tissue or is very watery requires immediate veterinary attention. Diarrhea for more than 48 hours, especially if it is worsening or if the pet is visibly not feeling well, requires immediate veterinary attention.

Unvaccinated puppies and adult dogs are at risk for Canine Parvovirus infection – a severe illness that causes vomiting, bloody diarrhea, severe dehydration and blood infection. Many puppies will die even with aggressive treatment. If your puppy has not received a full series of vaccinations for parvo, and/or is less than 16 weeks of age, he or she is at risk. Adult dogs need parvo vaccines every year to every 3 years in order to be protected. Parvovirus is ubiquitous in the environment – the virus can live in the soil for up to 10 years! There is no avoiding parvo exposure – vaccinate!

Diarrhea is commonly treated at home by introduction of a bland diet such as boiled chicken and rice. This diet is highly digestible and provides fiber, which may slow down the passage of stool. If you are pet sitting it is best to discuss any diet change with the owner and/or veterinarian before trying it.

10.3 Poisoning

Poisoning is quite common, especially when dogs and cats are allowed to wander the house when the owners are not home. Cabinets may not be secured and many dogs enjoy “counter-surfing” for things to snack on.

Common poisons you need to protect your pets from include:

– Household cleaners and chemicals

  • Soaps, bleach, fertilizer, pesticides, etc.

– Foods

  • Raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, chocolate, caffeine, artificial sweeteners (especially Xylitol), etc.
  • For a listing of what not to feed your pet, refer to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website

– Medications

– House plants

In cases of poisoning, first assess the pet. Address the ABCs and obtain a TPR. Contact the pet’s veterinarian first. If the veterinarian is not available by phone, take the pet to the nearest facility. Additional resources can be found through pet poisoning hotlines, such as through the ASPCA Animal Poison Control. Fees may apply for calls to these hotlines.

Your veterinarian or the Poison Control hotline may instruct you to “decontaminate” the pet by inducing vomiting at home. Do not induce vomiting unless you are specifically instructed to. It is usually safe to induce vomiting if your pet has ingested a toxic food substance, but vomiting may be harmful in a case of chemical ingestion.

If a chemical has gotten onto your pet’s skin, a bath with de-greasing shampoo may be recommended.

10.4 Cuts, grazes, wounds and burns

Cuts, grazes, wounds and burns are common in pets. Multi-animal households are the most likely to experience these types of injuries. Pets may play or fight with each other, causing skin or damage to deeper tissues.

Basic first aid for cuts and grazes:

  • Assess the patient as a whole first – are ABCs and TPR normal?
  • Stop bleeding
    • Apply a clean towel or gauze to the area and apply pressure. Do not apply a tourniquet!
    • If bleeding does not slow with constant pressure after a minute or two, or is quickly bleeding through thick fabric with pressure applied, contact your veterinarian and transport pet to the nearest facility ASAP.
  • When the bleeding is stopped, assess the edges of the cut. If the edges are far apart and flesh is showing through between in a large gap – the pet may require sutures for repair.
  • For minor cuts, apply a small amount of over the counter antibiotic cream and monitor.
  • Pets may lick at areas that bleed or are painful to them. If your pet licks excessively, use an Elizabethan collar (E-collar) to prevent licking. Licking may also be a sign that veterinary treatment is needed.

Large wounds, bite wounds, burns

Full-thickness puncture wounds and large wounds require immediate veterinary attention. Basic first aid for cuts should be used before heading to the veterinarian. Stop the bleeding and keep the area clean. Prevent the pet from licking the area if possible.

Dog or cat bites are very dirty and can become infected very quickly. Many times cat bites are not apparent until a large, hot, painful swelling (abscess) appears under the skin. Burns may not show anything more than red skin after it happens, but veterinary attention is needed quickly. Burned skin can become infected and can peel to deep layers quickly. Antibiotics, surgical treatment and pain medications may be necessary.

10.5 Breaks and fractures

Broken bones, also known as fractures, are usually caused by trauma. Even stepping on a dog’s foot could cause a fractured toe! Older pets that have bone cancer can also experience fractures without trauma.

Common signs of broken bones include:

  • Limping or lameness
    • May or may not be weight-bearing, reluctance to move
  • Swelling on the leg, foot or tail
  • Pain
    • Licking, vocalization, lameness, turning towards the area that hurts, biting at area

If your pet has experienced trauma such as a fall or has been hit by a blunt object or car, always assess their ABCs and TPR before addressing the fracture.

Fractures are best assessed and manipulated by a veterinarian. Keep the pet calm, as immobilized as possible and transport them to a facility as soon as possible.

With any painful injury or illness, always take care to keep yourself safe. Pets can and will bite out of fear and pain!

10.6 Shock

Shock can occur for a variety of reasons, from organ failure to trauma. You as a pet owner or caregiver need to be able to recognize it and respond to it when it happens. Shock creates a strain on the cardiovascular system and poor blood flow can cause your pet its life. Fast response is key to survival.

Signs of shock include:

  • Pale or white gums and/or tongue OR
  • Brick-red or purple gums and/or tongue
  • Severe lethargy
  • Coma
  • Poor pulses, absence of pulse
  • Very high or very low heart rate
  • Very high or very low rectal temperature
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hyperventilation
  • Hemorrhage

Assess your pet’s ABCs and TPR first and then respond. CPR may be necessary in severe cases. Cover your pet with a blanket and transport him to the nearest veterinarian for care.

10.7 CPR

CPR is a resuscitative measure for pets that are in shock. It is important as a first step in CPR to assess the pet’s ABCs.

What are the ABCs?

A = Airway. Is the pet’s airway obstructed? Has the pet choked?

– A careful “finger sweep” may be necessary to check for obstructions in the back of the mouth/throat.

– Extend the neck out with the chin to the ground. If the airway is clear

B = Breathing

– Is the pet breathing?

– If not, begin breathing for the pet by cupping your hands around the nostrils and breathing into them. Use of a piece of cardboard tubing from a toilet paper roll can help facilitate this.

– One breath should be given for every 5 chest compressions

C= Circulation

– Check for a pulse. The best place to do this is to place two fingers between the ribs immediately behind the left elbow, down near the breast bone. Pulses can also be felt by gently putting pressure on the inner thigh, right where it meets the abdomen.

– If no pulse is found and no heartbeat is felt near either elbow on the chest, being chest compressions.

– With the pet laying on the side:

  • Chest compressions should be at 100 per minute for animals under 30 pounds (13.5 kg)
  • Chest compressions of 80 per minute for animals over 30 pounds (13.5 kg)
  • Apply firm pressure to the ribcage over the heart (behind the elbow) and release

Alternate breathing and chest compressions. If you have another person present, assign breathing or chest compressions to the other person.

If the pet has not responded in 10 minutes, CPR is has not been successful and you should stop. If resuscitation is successful, transport the pet to the veterinarian immediately.

Helpful info regarding “TPR”

T: Temperature. Normal is between 99.9 F – 103 F (37.7 C – 39.4 C) for dogs and cats

P: Pulse. Normal for dogs under 50 pounds (23kg) is 120-180 beats per minute, over 50 pounds (23 kg) a normal heart rate can be as low as 70 beats per minute.

R: Respiration. Panting is NEVER normal for cats and is a sign of respiratory distress or stress. Normal respiration is between 10 – 30 breaths per minute.

Call your veterinarian if any parameter of the “TPR” is out of the normal ranges listed above.

10.8 Contents of your first aid kit

Pet First Aid kits can be made at home or purchased online. Essential equipment includes:

  • Extra leash
  • Sterile gauze
  • Non-stick bandages
  • Towels, at least one large and one small
  • Adhesive tape
  • Activated charcoal
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Isopropyl alcohol (70%)
  • Honey packets – essential for diabetic pets and puppies
  • Digital rectal thermometer
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Medicine dropper or small syringes
  • Blunt-end scissors (to cut the tape and gauze)
  • Tweezers
  • Disposable gloves (non-latex)
  • Diphenhydramine (anti-histamine medication, otherwise known as “Benadryl”)

Ask your veterinarian for the dose appropriate for your pet’s size. Giving an anti-histamine at home can be important in cases of insect stings and allergic reactions.

Well Done!