First Aid A-Z of common conditions requiring first aid
Allergic Reactions and Insect Bites
This can be a common occurrence in dogs, especially during the summer months. Dogs can develop one of two types of reactions.
This is a severe allergic reaction. Luckily, this is not that common but when it does occur it is a true emergency.
Rapid swelling (particularly worrying if this is of the mouth, throat, or eyes)
Difficulty breathing (you may hear noisy, wheezy breathing or your dog may be panting very heavily) – see section on “breathing problems”
Vomiting or diarrhoea
If you notice any of these signs, go to your nearest vet immediately. If you can, ring them on the way. See separate sections on what to do if your dog is collapsed, fitting or having difficulty breathing.
Mild allergic reactions
These are far more common and don’t tend to be life threatening. In a lot of cases, insect bites can cause pain and irritation but usually resolve themselves without treatment.
A skin rash or bumps known as “hives”. These can extend all along your dog’s body and not just around the area that has been stung
Mild swelling, usually around the area that has been stung
Redness around the sting/bite site.
Pain or discomfort in the bite site area. If it is on your dog’s paw, they may be limping.
Call your vet for advice if you notice your dog has a mild allergic reaction. They may want to monitor it or may suggest examining your dog depending on where the bite is and the severity of it.
Do not give your dog any anti-histamines without speaking to your vet first.
Severe loss of blood can lead to shock, collapse and ultimately death. These cases are very rare, but we commonly see wounds, particularly of the ears and tail, which can continue to bleed for quite some time. It can be very worrying to see blood and a little bit can look like an awful lot! Try to stay calm and follow these three simple steps:
Identify where the bleeding is coming from – remember when dogs are frightened or in pain they can act differently and can snap – so move slowly and calmy when doing this. If you have a muzzle handy, it may be safer to use it.
Apply Pressure – using a clean tea towel or bandage, apply firm pressure to the area. This helps constrict (close) the blood vessels, reduces the flow of blood and helps a blood clot to form. Do not remove the cloth or bandage as this may dislodge the clot and the bleeding could start again. If you can, tape the bandage or cloth to the area. (See also “First Aid for Wounds” article which gives more detail on bandaging).
Contact your vet – Your vet will be able to advise you on what to do next. They may suggest you go to the practice immediately or give you further information on how to manage it if the bleeding is minimal.
Bloat ( gastric dilation volvulus) or a swollen tummy, is one of the most life-threatening emergencies that vets face. Dogs can deteriorate very rapidly and die within hours with this condition and so it is essential that you contact your vet immediately if you notice your dog’s tummy looks bloated.
Bloat happens when the tummy fills with gas. The stomach can then twist, cutting off its blood supply and preventing the food and gas from leaving the stomach. It can also affect your dog’s cardiovascular system by blocking the circulation (veins) which transports blood back to the heart.
Signs can occur very quickly and include:
A tight, rounded, swollen belly
Retching and trying to vomit but unable to bring anything up
Signs of pain and distress (pacing, restlessness, panting)
Signs that the dog is experiencing pain in the tummy, ie. turning their head towards their stomach, trying to stretch out the tummy area and groaning/crying.
Contact your vet immediately if you suspect your dog may have bloat.
Having difficulty breathing is a life-threatening emergency.
Signs which may indicate your dog is struggling to breathe:
Rapid, shallow breathing
Stretching their head and neck out
Very pale pink or white gums
What to do:
Follow the DR ABC (see “CPR – the emergency situation” article)
Check their airways - Do they have anything stuck in their mouth or throat which could be obstructing their breathing? Pull their tongue forward to check there is nothing blocking the airways and remove it if they do. Be careful
tonot to get bitten!
Check their breathing - Watch their chest for signs of it rising and falling. Can you hear any breathing? See if you can feel any breath coming from their mouth or nostrils. If you are struggling, you can try by holding a whisp of fur by the mouth/nostrils to see if it moves.
If they have stopped breathing – start CPR (see “CPR – the emergency situation” article for a guide on how to do this)
If your dog is struggling to breathe, take them to the nearest vet surgery immediately. Try and phone them on the way to warn them you are coming so they can get things ready for your arrival.
Try and keep your dog calm and cool – they can easily overheat if they are panting or breathing quickly.
Try and keep yourself calm as your dog will tap into your anxiety and it could make them worse.
Sometimes it can be hard to know if a dog has a broken bone and other times it can be very obvious. You may have seen your dog being run over or your dog may be limping and not putting any weight on the leg at all. In some cases, the leg or area may be pointing in the wrong direction or the area could be limp or hanging.
Check for any bleeding. If there is, apply light pressure (see section on “bleeding”) but not too much so that it is painful for your dog when pressing down in this area.
Check for any wounds – If there is, cover the wound with a clean cloth or bandage to prevent it from getting dirty or allowing infection in.
Try and confine your dog as much as possible so there is as little movement around the fracture (break) as possible.
If you suspect they have a broken leg – do not let them walk but carry them.
If you suspect they have a broken back, if possible, do not move them until you have spoken to your vet. Your vet may advise that you put them on a board to act as a stretcher when carrying them.
Broken bones need to be seen by a vet as soon as possible as they can be extremely painful and there is a risk that they could move out of place and cause further damage. Call your vet immediately if you suspect your dog may have a fracture.
Burns and Scalds
Whilst burns and scalds should always be examined by your vet no matter how small they seem, there are a few first aid things you can do at home which will help your dog.
Remove your dog from the source of the burn.
If it is a chemical burn, wash the chemical substance away with cold water.
Flush the area with large quantities of cool water. Try to do this for 10-20 minutes if possible.
Avoid using ice cold water and take care that your dog does not become too cold elsewhere.
Avoid using burn creams or any other medications or ointments on the wound.
You can loosely wrap the wound in cling film to help keep it clean and moist, while going to the vets.
Call your vet immediately