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Pet First Aid
by Dr. Karen Halligan
Many pets’ lives are compromised because their owners don't know what to do in common pet-emergencies. The next several topics describe pet first-aid.
Although dogs and cats have a good sense of what they can and cannot ingest, accidents do happen. Some common pet poisons include the swallowing of very common household items such as weed killers, ammonia, scouring powder, bleach, insecticides, a variety of indoor and outdoor plants, and spoiled food. Some signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, nervousness, difficulty breathing, and change in pupil size. Your pet may even stumble, go into convulsions, or become unconscious. Do not try to make your pet vomit. Many times, this can make the situation worse, as some poisons actually cause as much damage coming up as they do going down. Comfort your pet and make it feel secure, and immediately take it to a veterinarian. If you know what your pet ingested, take a sample of it to the veterinarian to help determine proper treatment.
Even though dogs and cats are excellent swimmers, pets should never be forced to swim. Dogs and cats can drown due to exhaustion if they try to swim too far. It is important to keep pets safe and dry indoors. Should your pet fall into water by accident, some symptoms of drowning are gurgling noises, gasping for breath, clawing wildly, or gagging - even if the pet is already out of the water. To resuscitate your pet, place him on a flat surface, open his mouth, pull the tongue forward, and clear away any debris in his mouth. If he is still in distress, hold him by his hind legs and gently swing him back and forth in an attempt to clear the water from his lungs and stomach. If the pet is too large to lift, place him on his side and press upward on his midsection or abdomen. If necessary, perform the Heimlich maneuver and take him to a veterinary hospital.
Cats and dogs, like people, sometimes fall the wrong way, or become victim to an array of accidents resulting in broken bones. If your pet is found with any broken bones, immobilize the pet by holding him still. Do not attempt to apply a splint or set the bone—you may actually do more damage. Place the pet on a stretcher (one can easily be made by using a board, a car floor mat, or a folded blanket). Be careful not to twist the body or spine, and take him to a vet immediately.
Rarely do cats or dogs choke, but on occasion they can put more into their mouths than they can swallow. A choking pet may shake his head, paw at his mouth, salivate, or make choking sounds. To help your pet, open the animal's mouth and if you see the object, remove it. If you cannot remove the object and the pet is breathing, take him to the veterinarian immediately. If the pet is not breathing and you cannot find what is obstructing his air passage, apply the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the object. To do this, hold your pet against you and clasp your hands around his upper abdomen. If this isn't possible, place your pet on his side on the floor or table. Then place one of your hands on top of the other. Your bottom hand should be just below his rib cage, on the midline of his abdomen. Push or lift upward to dislodge the object. The pressure you apply depends on the animal's size - a large pet requires more pressure than a kitten or puppy. If another person is with you, ask him/her to open the animal's mouth while you hold the tongue down and remove the object once dislodged. Then take the pet to the veterinarian who can examine the pet for any resulting complications.
Sometimes pets chew on things they shouldn’t. Of particular concern are electrical cords, and pets should be taught to keep away from them. However, accidents happen, and some pets can suffer electrical shock. Never try to pull your pet out of danger; you will be putting your own life at risk. First, pull the plug or turn off the electric power. Then gently free the animal of the cord (or outlet). Wrap your pet in a towel or blanket to keep him warm and prevent possible shock.
Pets have been known to fall victim to a variety of accidents resulting in open wounds which can be fatal if not cared for properly. If your pet is bleeding, apply a pressure bandage and rush him to a hospital. If you see spurts of blood, this indicates that a blood vessel has been severed. In this case, apply direct pressure to the wound to prevent excess blood loss. Press your fingers hard against the wound to control the bleeding (use a handkerchief, corner of your clothing, a leaf, or even your bare fingers as a last resort). Keep the pressure on until your pet is in the hands of a veterinarian. Even if your pet’s wound seems minor and the bleeding has stopped, take him to the veterinarian for antibiotics to prevent possible infection.
When the temperatures rise, your pet's body temperature will also rise. Even ten minutes in a car on a hot day could be fatal to your pet. Temperatures in a car could reach 160 degrees within minutes, causing your pet to suffer heat stroke and possibly causing permanent brain damage. Sometimes shady spots (like under a tree) aren’t even cool enough for your pet and he may suffer heat exhaustion. Signs of heatstroke include panting, gasping, loss of mobility (the animal may stagger and stumble about), weakness, and finally collapse. The pet’s body temperature must be brought back to normal by GRADUALLY cooling the body. Do not immerse a pet into cold water because he may go into shock. Place the pet on his side and bathe his body with warm water at first, then switch to cooler water. Finally, apply ice packs to his head and neck. When he is cooler and breathing normally, take him to a veterinarian. When temperatures fluctuate to the extreme (whether hot or cold), it's best to keep pets comfortable indoors with regulated temperature.
A pet may experience shock resulting from an injury, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, or illness. Symptoms of shock include panting, rapid breathing, weakness, pale or gray colored gums, coldness, and possibly even unconsciousness. It’s very important to keep the pet warm. Wrap the pet in a blanket or towel and take him to the hospital. If your pet has gone into shock as a result of heat exhaustion, wrap him loosely in a towel after his body has been cooled.