Working dogs are valuable animals and often have accidents a long way from a veterinary clinic. What you do after an accident may not only save the dog's life but can also hasten its recovery. First aid is all about sustaining life and preventing things from getting worse before you get professional help.
Some general rules
- Check for a clear airway and normal breathing.
- If unconscious, place the animal so its vomit cannot be inhaled.
- Muzzle securely as pain may make it aggressive.
- Stop any bleeding.
- Handle injuries carefully - use a sack or blanket as a stretcher.
- If you suspect broken bones immobilise them with splints before moving.
- Examine animals all over with care - compare suspected injured parts with normal.
- Check for blood loss - gums and third eyelids should be pink.
- Check pulse inside the upper thigh (femoral artery) or heartbeat over the chest.
- A normal heartbeat is between 80 and 120 beats/minute.
- Check whether excessively hot or cold. The normal temperature is about 38.5 C
- Have accurate history and any relevant samples for the vet.
Wounds & bleeding
Cleanliness is essential - clean hands and clean dressings. For external bleeding apply external pressure and elevate the injured part - unless a fracture is involved. Wash the wound and surrounding skin with clean water working from the centre outward and dry with cotton wool. Carefully remove any obvious foreign bodies. Once cleaned, place a sterile pad over the wound and bandage it on firmly (not too tight) until you get to the vet. If it's a limb leave the foot out to check the drop in temperature or swelling. When bandaging use the same principles as for humans.
Internal injuries are a greater worry as they are hard for non-professionals to diagnose. Blood may be coughed up or appear in faeces, urine or vomit. Shock is a concern so keep the animal warm ( not overheated) and get to a vet immediately. Don't offer feed or drink as it may need an anaesthetic. Pale gums and eyes will denote blood loss as well as weak pulse and shallow breathing.
Bones and joints
If limbs look abnormal suspect breaks, fractures or dislocations. A common problem is the "stifle injury" caused by the dog catching its hind leg when jumping a fence. Pain, swelling and displacement are signs you need to get to the vet without delay, trying as well as you can to immobilise the affected limbs. Don't attempt to manipulate things yourself - you'll do more damage to arteries and tissues.
Swellings under the skin
These may be due to many causes - but let the vet decide. They can be due to the accumulation of blood from ruptured vessels, saliva from damaged salivary ducts or abscesses filled with pus caused by bacterial infections, or even grass seeds that work their way under the skin. Swellings can also be caused by accumulated fluid under the skin and have many causes. Tumours will also produce lumps that need investigating. Don't be tempted to burst abscesses - you'll only spread the infection.
Heat and cold
Heat stroke is common in summer with dogs locked in vehicles. They show weakness, muscle tremors, collapse and rapid pulse and breathing. Vomiting and diarrhoea may also occur. Run cold water over the animal, give it plenty of air and give it cold drinks. Let a vet check it.
Excess cold causes a severe drop in body temperature or "exposure". The signs are the same as for humans - the dog becomes very lethargic and shivers. Seeking shelter and warming the animal is an urgent priority. You may have to put it in a warm bath if it is badly affected. Seek veterinary help.
Constipation and diarrhoea
There are many causes for both of these conditions so don't delay - if the condition persists get the animal to the vet. Daily exercise is very important to avoid constipation. Also, avoid too many cooked bones and the dog eating wool fibre blocking the rectum. Feed a soft diet full of variety (meat, vegetables and biscuits). For old dogs prone to constipation give them a regular dose of 10ml of liquid paraffin or linseed oil. Keep these old dogs moving even though they may argue strongly to be left in the chair on the verandah.
Excess diarrhoea can result in severe dehydration and this can be very serious. You need to find the cause urgently and prevent dehydration. Keep the dog warm before you visit the vet.
There are many causes of a dog vomiting to excess. First aid advice is to provide water and warmth and to prevent inhalation of the vomit, especially if the dog is unconscious. Note the interval between eating food and vomiting, and collect a sample of the vomit to show the vet. If the vomiting is clearly travelled sickness, then you need to get the dog used to travel by stages or get some pills from the vet.
This is a very nasty problem and many of the things around the home and farm can be poisonous to dogs. A good example is slug bait in the garden. The basic rule is to keep chemicals locked away but dogs will often find them if the smell is attractive.
For external poisons wash them off quickly with large quantities of warm water. Mild soap may be needed if the problem is caused by oil. Dry the dog and keep it warm.
If a poison has been swallowed, make the dog sick by pushing a crystal of washing soda (about 1cm in diameter) over the back of its tongue. Do this as soon as possible after it has swallowed the poison. If it isn't sick within 10 minutes do it again.
If you suspect the swallowed poison was corrosive (eg. acids, formalin from a footbath or kerosene), or if the dog is having fits, is unconscious or is having breathing problems - or it has already vomited up blood, DO NOT induce vomiting. Give it some eggs and milk to protect the gut lining and help absorb the poison. If convulsing, make sure it can't injure itself, and always keep it warm to protect against shock until you get to the vet.
Try to take a sample of the suspected poison to the vet, and collect a sample of the vomit to help in diagnosis. An antidote may be noted on the label of the chemical container. You'll need your specs to read it though, as it won't be in large print!