Emergency Pet Handling and Restraint Procedures
In this module you will learn:
Understanding how to handle an emergency, and safely approach an injured animal
Muzzles, and tools and techniques for physical restraining aggressive pets
Lifting and transporting injured dogs
Environmental and food allergies, and how to treat and manage them
First aid treatment of heatstroke in dogs
It is important to be familiar with how to handle an emergency situation involving your pet.
When an emergency occurs, owners should stay calm and assess the situation before taking action. Even the gentlest-natured pets can become aggressive when it is in pain or is frightened. Owners should be cautious about approaching any injured animal, even their own, to ensure their own safety. In some cases, it may be necessary to restrain the pet so that it can be treated safely.
When a pet is injured, they may need to be lifted and transported. Knowing how to do this correctly will help to prevent further injury until veterinary treatment can be obtained.
Just as with humans, pets can suffer from allergies. These can be caused by a wide range of factors, from pollen, to household cleaning products, to food. Allergies can cause your pet considerable discomfort, so need to be identified. Food allergies can be more difficult to identify but, with patience, they can be pinpointed so that the triggers can be removed from their diet.
In hot weather, animals can overheat and experience heatstroke. Dogs are particularly vulnerable, as their physiology makes it difficult for them to lose heat. Heatstroke can easily be fatal, so owners need to be able to recognise the signs and react quickly.
5.1 Assessing emergency situation
Remaining calm is key to handling an emergency situation effectively and efficiently.
This can be difficult, but taking a deep breath, grounding yourself in your surroundings, and speaking to yourself calmly all help. However serious the situation, do not be tempted to rush in without thinking, or give in to panic, as this will cloud your ability to think clearly. Take deep breaths and quiet your mind.
These simple steps will assist you in making a detailed visual assessment of the scene in front of you, and should take no more than twenty seconds.
Ask yourself the following:
- What has happened? Look for clues that will help you identify the exact nature of the emergency. Could your pet have been in an accident? Could they have fallen? Have they been in a fight or attacked by another animal? Might they have ingested or been in contact with hazardous chemicals? It is important to understand the nature of the emergency that you are dealing with.
- Am I safe? Owners should assess the wider situation, and whether they could be in danger themselves. If you are on the roadside; if there is an aggressive animal nearby; or if your pet has been injured by electricity or chemicals, you should consider if you are in danger. Failure to do so can result in harm to you and further harm to your pet.
- Based on your knowledge, particularly from the previous modules, what is the best way to proceed?
Once you have determined the answers to the above questions, consider the following:
- Is it possible to reach your pet safely and easily? Will approaching the pet place you in danger?
- What are the hazards you are facing, and is it possible to overcome these? Common hazards can include fire; rushing water or flooding; unstable surfaces; fallen objects; chemicals; loose debris; or electrical cords.
- Injured or sick pets can be aggressive due to pain or fear. Assess whether it is safe to handle them, especially if it is not an animal that you are familiar with. In this case, you may want to call for help, for example from the RSPCA.
If you observe that the pet has a hazardous or unidentified substance on it, do not consider touching them without wearing latex gloves. Similarly, if there is blood, try to ensure that you are wearing gloves before contact. Although there are very few animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans, the blood may be mixed with other substances.
Wherever the incident has happened, if possible, seek assistance. There may be witnesses to the cause and events, and having someone else to help will make it easier to handle and treat the animal.
5.2 How to approach an injured pet
Pets can behave very differently from their normal selves when they are experiencing pain, trauma or shock.
While a gentle hand placed on the animal can provide both restraint and comfort to them, it should not be attempted if the animal is exhibiting any signs of aggression, or if you have concerns that they may do.
It is important to keep yourself safe while trying to help the pet as, if you get bitten or are attacked, then you will also need medical attention, and will not be able to respond as effectively to the emergency.
The following tips will help when approaching an injured pet:
- Make sure that you move slowly and quietly towards the animal. Talk gently to them. If an animal is happy to approach you, they are less likely to react aggressively. Try to persuade them to approach you by calling them and patting your knee or the ground.
- Do not reach over their heads, as this can be perceived as threatening. Instead, allow the dog to sniff your hand (held in a fist to prevent fingers being bitten), or reach under the chin.
- Approach the dog from a sideways angle, making sure they can see you so that you do not startle them. Avoid eye contact.
- Keep your face away from the animal’s mouth.
- Do not attempt to hug it, as you are unaware of the nature and location of injuries, or whether they may react aggressively.
- While getting down to their level will make you less intimidating, do not sit on the floor, as this will reduce your ability to move out of reach if the animal becomes aggressive. Crouching or kneeling are better options.
- Be alert and observant to any sounds that the pet makes, and their physical condition. This information could be relevant when seeking medical attention.
It is well known that animals pick up on fear, excitement or aggression. Reacting calmly will encourage the animal to remain calm and trusting.
Try to ensure that you have the emergency kit with you when you approach them, so that you do not have to return with it, requiring you to approach the animal again.
When assessing if the pet may become aggressive, these are common signs:
- Growling and snarling
- Hair standing up on the body, known as the hackles being raised
- Ears pulled straight back, laid flat against the head
- Tail tucked between the legs, head down, and intense staring
Be aware that a mother with their young can be particularly aggressive due to their instinct to protect their babies. Where possible, they should be separated from them, preferably where they cannot see what is happening.
5.3 Muzzles for injured pets
If a pet is injured or sick, it may need to be restrained for both your protection and theirs.
Muzzling is a simple form of restraint. As well as to prevent you being hurt by an aggressive animal, it also prevents them licking off ointments or lotions, or biting off bandages.
You will, no doubt, be familiar with muzzles for dogs, which restrict the movement of the jaw. Module 3 includes instructions for how to make a homemade muzzle. Muzzles for cats are a little different, as they cover the eyes, to reduce visual stimulation. Cats will usually become calm after they are muzzled.
Whatever type of animal you are handling, do not use muzzles in the following situations:
- Chest injuries
- Breathing difficulties
- Vomiting or retching
- Where the pet is unconscious
Muzzling is not recommended for short-nosed dog breeds, such as Pekingese or bulldogs, and they should never be muzzled, as it can interfere with their breathing. Puppies and other young animals should be restrained very gently.
While a muzzle should be tight enough to prevent biting, it should be loose enough to allow the animal to pant, especially dogs that use panting to control their body temperature.
Muzzles should not be used for any extended period of time. Where there is an ongoing need a medical cone should be used.
Following an operation.
5.4 Equipment required for physical restraint
Preparation is always better than waiting until an emergency occurs.
Collars not only provide a means of identification and something to clip a lead to, they can also help an owner to restrain their dog if it is being uncooperative.
Collars should be fitted with care. Too loose, and the dog will be able to slip out of it and escape. Too tight, and it can restrict breathing and cut into the neck and throat. A suitable collar should be accompanied by an appropriate lead. Larger dogs will require thicker, stronger leads, and smaller dogs, weaker, thinner ones.
If your dog is reluctant to move, try a quick tug on the lead to begin with, but do not pull too forcibly. If the dog refuses to walk, then soothe it and try again.
For cats, a figure of eight harness can be useful. If this is a method you want to utilise, you will need to familiarise them with it beforehand in normal situations so that they do not panic when it is used in an emergency. Handling an aggressive cat can cause painful injuries to the owner. They have four sets of sharp claws and sharp teeth, and are happy to use all of them.
If a cat is scratching and clawing, the best restraint technique is wrapping the cat in a blanket, coat, or pillowcase.
Wrap the chosen item around the cat, taking care to ensure that the paws are secured inside. Peel back the blanket so that the head is left free, and the cat is able to breathe freely. As a last resort, pet owners may need to use a net to restrain fractious and hissing cats.
5.5 How to lift a dog under 50lbs in weight
Sometimes, the pet may be injured so seriously that it is not able to walk at all. In this case, you may need to carry the pet. There are different techniques for lifting animals, dependent on their size.
This method is for dogs that may be carried relatively easily, up to around 50lbs:
- Put a lead on the dog and crouch down beside it. Do not attempt to lift a dog from a standing position.
- Place one arm gently under the dog’s head, so that the dog’s head is cradled on the elbow.
- Slide other arm under the dog’s abdomen, bending it so that the fingers are under the front legs, the palm is up, and the hand is pointing forward. Now lift the dog slowly.
If the dog is seriously wounded, then owners should employ the following method:
- Place one arm under the dog’s head, so that the dog’s head is cradled on the elbow.
- Place the other arm around the dog’s hind quarters so that is behind the knees, with the upper legs up against their body.
- Scoop the dog straight up.
5.6 How to lift a dog over 50lbs
Dogs that weigh more than 50lbs need to be lifted by two people.
As well as the difficulty and the risk of the owner hurting themselves, larger dogs are not generally used to be lifted, and may struggle.
Follow these steps:
- Both people should crouch on the same side of the dog.
- One person places one arm under the chest, and the other over the neck, so that the arms circle the dog as far as possible.
- The second person should wrap one arm around the dog’s hind quarters, with their other under the abdomen.
- They need to rise in unison, lifting the dog as evenly as possible.
5.7 How to transport an injured pet
Not knowing how to move and transport an injured pet correctly can result in further injury, and aggravate internal bleeding or other injuries.
The basics for moving an injured animal are:
- Handle the pet as little as possible and remember to be gentle.
- Keep movement and fidgeting to a minimum.
- As far as possible, pets should lie on their side. However, if the pet has a chest or lung injury, it may not be comfortable on its side. In this case, allow the pet to choose a position that feels comfortable for it.
- Do not apply pressure to the stomach.
It is also important to cover the pet with a blanket. As well as preventing heat loss, which can cause animals to go into shock, the blanket also provides comfort and has the added benefit that it can assist with moving the pet if necessary. This is especially true for larger dogs, where two people can carry it between them as a makeshift stretcher.
If the injury is spinal, minimising movement is especially important.
This method will help to prevent further injury during lifting and transportation:
- Find a strong flat surface, for example plywood, ironing board, window screen, blackboard, or sledge.
- Make the animal lie on its side, preferably their right side.
- Stand behind them, hold it by the scruff of the neck and the small of the back and slide it onto the board. Ensure that the movement does not twist the body and that the head and neck remain straight.
- The pet must be restrained while lying on the board to minimise injury and pain. Strap it to the board. This can be done using bandage, tape, or sheets, as covered in Module 3. Softer materials are better. Be careful that you that pressure on the stomach is kept to the minimum possible.
If the pet is unconscious, take care to keep its head from flexing abnormally upward or downward. Such flexing may result in blood draining away from the brain, potentially causing further injury.
Owners should watch carefully for signs that the pet may vomit. Pets that have suffered serious head injuries can vomit even while unconscious, which carries a risk of them choking if it enters their windpipe or lungs. If they think that the animal will vomit, they should raise its hind legs to allow the vomit to escape.
Pet owners should take the precaution of having the number of their nearest 24-hour vets before an emergency occurs. They should also ensure that they know how to get there. In an emergency, if there is time, call ahead to alert staff of the situation and ensure that a vet is on hand.
During transportation, if possible, smaller dogs and other pets should be put into a carrier to prevent them moving around necessarily and potentially injuring themselves. Larger dogs that cannot fit into a carrier should preferably be accompanied by someone in the back seat, to calm and restrain them. Despite the emergency situation, owners should drive as carefully as normal to help prevent accidents.
5.8 Allergic reactions and treatment
If your dog is chewing and licking its feet constantly, or your cat frequently scratches its ears, they could be suffering from an allergic reaction. Allergies are an overactive immune response to a triggering substance.
Allergens can be almost anything, and common ones include:
- Dust mites and other household pests
- Household cleaners and fresheners
- Insect bites and stings
- Drugs, such as antibiotics and skin creams
It can seem that there has been an increase in animals suffering from allergies. However, it is unclear if this is the case. Pets’ health has never been taken so seriously as it is today, and so owners seek help more readily than ever before when their pets seem ill. Medical advances mean that it is now possible to test for and identify allergies. It may also be that irresponsible breeding in some species has increased the rate of genetic problems.
German shepherds are prone to skin problems.
As with people, pets will react differently to different allergens.
Typical symptoms of allergies include:
- Itchy or irritated skin, eyes, nose, ears or paws
- Coughing or sneezing
- Ear infections
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
Where the pet responds to the allergic reaction by scratching or chewing, there is a danger of infection, raised welts, or sores developing.
5.9 Types of allergies
Allergies are triggered by food or environmental factors.
If the symptoms seem intermittent, they are probably seasonal. If they continue throughout the year, they will be caused by food, or something in the environment that is around constantly.
Atopy is a form of allergy that is triggered by environmental factors. They may be seasonal and can be worsened by environmental pollutants, such as pollen, mites, and moulds. Animals with allergies to tree pollen will suffer most in March and April, when it is most prevalent. Allergies to mites may be worse in the winter, when the dog spends more time indoors.
Often atopy presents as skin irritation, although reactions can also be respiratory.
Typical signs that your pet is suffering from atopy include:
- Chewing of the feet
- Rubbing the face on the carpet, or pawing at it
- Excessive scratching
- Persistent licking of the flanks or groin area
- Hair loss
- Greasy or flaky skin with an unpleasant odour
- Recurrent ear infections and inflammation
- Pinpoint facial scabbing in cats, and recurrent hotspots (raw, inflamed areas) on dogs
- Wheezing and respiratory problems
Contact dermatitis is a relatively rare skin condition, and is caused by allergic reactions to things in the environment. Common causes are carpets, household cleaners, or contact with certain plants or saps.
This usually presents as:
- Intense scratching
- Raised, red sores on the more exposed parts of the body, such as the stomach, paws, and muzzle
- Hair loss
Hives (urticaria) and swelling (angioedema)
Some allergic reactions will present as hives or inflammation.
Hives typically appear as itchy, raised bumps, and can be spotted as the fur stands up over them.
Common causes of hives are:
- Stings and insect bites
- Food allergies
- Reactions to chemicals, such as insecticides used to treat grass
- Plants such as poison ivy and oak
- Vaccines, with the bordetella (kennel cough) or rabies most likely to trigger a reaction
Signs of urticaria usually occur within twenty minutes of exposure to the allergen.
Symptoms of urticaria typically include:
- Medium to large areas of redness and swelling, particularly on the face, stomach, and legs
- Swelling around the muzzle
- Swelling around the eyes, which can be severe enough to prevent the pet from opening them
- Excessive scratching
- Drooling, caused by a swollen muzzle
In very severe cases, the throat may begin to close, restricting the dog’s breathing.
Fortunately rare, anaphylaxis is the swelling of the throat, causing the airways to close. It can be life threatening without prompt medical attention, and any pet that appears to be experiencing anaphylactic shock should be taken to the vet immediately, before cardiac failure occurs.
Anaphylaxis can be caused by a range of allergens, but most commonly by:
- Medications such as antibiotics or vaccines
Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include:
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Fast heart rate but weak pulse
- Pale gums
- Cold limbs
- Facial swelling
- Breathing problems
The only effective treatment for anaphylactic shock is an injection of epinephrine, which needs to be administered as quickly as possible, preferably immediately.
For animals that have been diagnosed as suffering an anaphylactic episode, vets may prescribe an Epi-Pen. This is an auto-injecting syringe that contains a single dose of epinephrine. The vet may also recommend that you keep a stock of an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, at home.
Histamines are part of the immune response. Allergic reactions are caused by the over-response to a substance. Antihistamines block the receptors, reducing the response. Common antihistamines in the UK are diphenhydramine and cetirizine, which are found in most antihistamine treatments.
5.10 Seasonal allergies and treatment
Allergic reactions are produced by a dog’s immune system, and the way his immune system functions is a result of both nature (his genetics) and nurture (his environment).
The symptoms of seasonal allergies can be summarised as possible:
- Watery or puffy eyes
- Runny nose
- Coughing and sneezing
- Itchiness, which may be intense. This may be identified through constant scratching or, in the case of cats, trying to rub against a vertical surface.
- A discharge near the eyes or ears that smells particularly unpleasant. This may be caused by scratching.
- Head shaking.
- Hair loss around the ears
- Redness in the eyes, paws, chin, anus, or gums
Owners can help their pets by taking a few simple steps:
- Wash your pet frequently in warm baths using a shampoo designed for pets with allergies. This will ease their skin irritation and remove allergens from the coat and skin.
- Wash their feet after they have been outside. This will help to avoid them walking allergens into the house.
- Keep your pet’s favourite areas as free from allergens as possible by cleaning them frequently.
- Replace your household cleaners with ones that are more pet-friendly, and contain fewer harsh chemicals.
- Remove and avoid growing plants or trees in your garden that have pollen that trigger your pet’s allergies.
- Reduce or eliminate grains and carbohydrates in their diet. These can increase inflammation.
There is some evidence that rubbing a small amount of coconut oil on a pet’s skin can help to prevent skin problems. It is believed that this is due to the lauric acid it contains, which can suppress yeast growth. However, research is still being undertaken and pets can have allergies to coconut, as they can to anything else.
5.11 Food allergies
Food allergies occur in both dogs and cats.
Food intolerances and allergies may occur on their own, but often occur in conjunction with other allergies.
There is a difference between intolerance and allergies. If a pet has an intolerance, they struggle to digest the food, but may be able to eat small amounts of the food without ill effect.
Allergies mean that the pet is unable to eat any amount of the food without suffering a reaction as the immune system identifies the food as a threat, and releases excessive amounts of antibodies to counteract it.
As symptoms can be varied, it can be difficult to identify that the allergy is related to food rather than environmental factors.
Symptoms that food allergies have in common with environmental allergies are:
- Persistent scratching
- Hair loss
- Red, inflamed skin
- Recurrent ear problems
More easily identifiable symptoms of food allergies are:
- Diarrhoea, particularly if it continues for a period of time
In both cases, the best treatment is to remove the triggering food from their diet. Identifying the triggering food can be difficult, and it may be that the only way to identify it is to undertake an elimination diet. This is where the pet’s main food is replaced with something that it has not eaten before, until their condition improves.
Once the animal’s digestive system seems to have recovered, foods are reintroduced one by one to see if they have a reaction. The process can take months, but it allows specific problem foods to be identified.
There are a number of foods that commonly trigger allergic reactions. For dogs these are dairy, chicken, beef, lamb, fish, wheat, and soy.
Proteins feature heavily in this list, as some dogs lack the enzyme required to break them down. Another common problem can be food additives. Many popular pet foods contain high quantities of these ingredients. When a problem is identified, owners should consider replacing their pet’s normal food with a hypoallergenic alternative.
These should meet the following criteria:
- Contain one type of protein and one type of carbohydrate, which has not formed part of the pet’s diet previously. With the growth of the pet food market and the introduction of less traditional ingredients such as salmon, this has become more difficult. However, hypoallergenic food may contain proteins from duck or bison to combat this. Proteins should not make up more than 20 percent of the food.
- Contain hydrolysed proteins, which are small ‘predigested’ protein fragments, which are highly digestible and have low allergenicity.
- It should be free of food additives.
- The food should contain minimal or zero levels of vasoactive amines (which release histamines).
In addition to the allergens already listed, owners should keep dogs with food allergies away from:
- Pigs’ ears and cow hooves
- Flavoured toothpaste
- Flavoured medications (such as heartworm preventatives)
- Flavoured plastic toys
To ensure that your allergy-prone pet stays well, you should follow these precautions:
- Keep your pet on a lead when they are outside so that they cannot pick up discarded food or animal excrement.
- Shut them out of the room while you are eating, and clean up afterwards, so that they are unable to look for dropped food.
- Keep them away from cat litter boxes, as cat excrement can be particularly appealing to dogs.
Some foods should never be fed to dogs. These include:
- Bones from chicken or other poultry, or fish bones. These fine bones can easily splinter and lacerate the digestive tract. Cooked bones should never be given to dogs for the same reason.
- Chocolate, coffee, and caffeine, which can contain methylxanthines, which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death.
- Cat food, as it is very high in protein.
- Citrus oil extracts, which can cause vomiting.
- Grapes, currants, raisins and sultanas, which can cause kidney damage.
- Mushrooms, which contain toxins that can lead to organ failure, shock, and death.
- Nuts, especially macadamia nuts. These have high levels of oils and fats that can cause stomach upsets and pancreatitis. Macadamia nuts can cause tremors and hypothermia.
- Onions, garlic and chives.
- Pits from soft fruits, which can cause obstructions in the digestive tracts.
- Products including the sweetener xylitol, which can cause hypoglycaemia and toxicosis.
- Raw eggs contain avidin, which is known to reduce the levels of biotin (a type of vitamin B12). This can result in skin and hair problems, and neurological issues.
- Raw or undercooked meat, which can contain salmonella and E. Coli.
- Tuna, which contains higher levels of mercury.
- Yeast dough, which can cause severe gas, and can cause the stomach to twist.
5.12 Treating heatstroke in dogs
Dogs are unable to easily control their body temperature. Only two parts of a dog’s body can lose heat rapidly: the tongue and the paws. This is why it is so easy for dogs to overheat
When in hot cars.
Exercise in hot weather or lying directly in strong sunlight can also cause heatstroke. For cats, the greatest danger is from sleeping in hot garages, sheds, or attics.
Heatstroke is when the body’s core temperature rises above 104-106 degrees Fahrenheit (40-41 degrees Celsius). As you may remember from Module 3, a dog’s normal temperature is 100-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5-39 degrees Celsius).
Dogs with short or light coloured fur are more likely to suffer heatstroke. Short-nosed breeds are less able to cool themselves down through panting, and so are more vulnerable.
Owners should not be tempted to clip their dog’s fur short in the summer. Far from keeping them cooler, it can actually make them more prone to overheating, as fur acts as an insulator against heat as well as the cold.
Signs of heatstroke include:
- Rapid panting and bright red tongue
- Red, pale gums with thick, sticky saliva
- Weakness and dizziness
- Vomiting (sometimes with blood) and diarrhoea
- Shock and coma
In the case of heatstroke, owners must lower the animal’s body temperature. This must be done slowly, as cooling too quickly can cause seizures.
The following response should be followed:
- Remove the pet from the hot area.
- Put the pet in the bath and run cool (not cold) water over them, especially the back of the head and neck.
- Allow the water to fill the bath, and ensure that their head remains up to prevent aspiration pneumonia.
- If you are unable to get your pet into a bath, use a garden hose, or apply a towel soaked in cool water to the abdomen and under the hind legs. Garden hoses should be used carefully, as the water can be very cold.
- Apply a cold pack to the dog’s head, which will help to lower their temperature. You can use a pack of frozen vegetables.
- Massage the pet’s legs to improve circulation and reduce the risk of shock.
- Check the rectal temperature every five minutes, and stop applying the cooling measures once the temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Dry the pet and feed them some children’s hydrating solution. Give him free access to drinking water, which you can add a pinch of salt to, to replace lost minerals. You can also give them ice cubes to lick.
- Check for shock.
- Take the pet to the vet as soon as possible, keeping the car as cold as possible.
Be aware that dogs that have suffered heatstroke once are more vulnerable to further attacks.