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Pet Emergencies & First Aid

We all hope our pets will never need emergency treatment, but sadly some will, and emergencies always seem to happen at the most inconvenient time.

The first and most important thing in an emergency is to check that it is safe for YOU to help the animal. You will do no good if you are injured, while trying to help.

  • Animals in pain or shock, or animals that are frightened, may bite, scratch or kick whoever is trying to help (even their much loved owners)
  • If your pet has been involved in a road traffic accident, make sure it is safe for you to go on to the road
  • If your pet has been attacked by a dog or another animal, make sure you are not going to get bitten as well
  • Don’t jump into water after a pet, unless you are absolutely sure it is safe to do so. Many pet owners get themselves into serious trouble and often need rescuing themselves, after jumping into water when trying to rescue pets – pets which usually manage to get themselves out of difficulty with a little encouragement from dry land!

What You Need To Do In An Emergency

  1. Check the area is safe for you
  2. Keep calm and keep talking to your pet to reassure them (this will help keep you calm too)
  3. Assess the problem or injuries and do what you can for your pet
  4. If your pet is in pain and there is a danger that you may get bitten or scratched, make sure you protect yourself. How you do this will greatly depend on the type of injury or problem your pet is having; for dogs that are not having breathing difficulties, a makeshift muzzle can be made from a tie, dog lead or strong string, alternatively you can place a rolled towel (or jacket) over the dog’s neck and ears to give you a bit of a buffer. Cats and small animals can be gently wrapped in a towel or blanket to prevent scratching, if their injuries will allow
  5. Contact your veterinary practice for advice or to let them know you are on the way, if they know you are coming they can prepare for your pet’s arrival and treatment can be started sooner. If you are phoning outside of normal hours make sure you listen carefully about where you need to take your pet; you may be directed to a different practice depending on who provides veterinary cover out of hours. At Castle Vets we are fortunate that our emergency cover from Vets Now is provided in our building
  6. If you think you may have difficulty paying for emergency treatment don’t panic and be honest with your vet about your financial situation. Your vet will be able to put you in touch with animal charities that may be able to help you with the treatment costs

Transporting Your Pet

If your dog is able to walk or hobble, let it. Often dogs are transported less painfully, and with much less stress, if they can move themselves rather than being carried.

If your dog is unable to walk and is too big to be carried by a single person, you can make a stretcher using a large towel, blanket or even the parcel shelf from your car with one person carrying each end.

For cats and small animals, it is always best to place them in a secure carrier or a box as they will feel much more secure if they can hide away.

If you are unable to move your pet, contact your veterinary practice because they may be able to come out to you at home.

A Few Common Pet Emergencies And How To Deal With Them

There are so many potential emergency situations that it would be difficult to list them all, but the following are some of the most common that we see. If you are in any doubt about your pet’s health contact your vet for advice as soon as possible.

Breathing problems, Coughing or Choking – Breathing problems can be caused by many things including trauma, heart or lung disease, allergic reactions, cancers and foreign bodies in the throat. Breathing problems are potentially life-threatening, so contact your vet as soon as possible if your pet is having difficulty breathing

Burns – The most common burns around the home will be caused by hot liquids such as boiling water or candle wax, prolonged contact with a hot surface such as a radiator, or by flames. Occasionally a pet may suffer an electrical burn if they chew through a cable or a chemical burn from a household cleaner such as bleach. Before acting, make sure the area is safe for you.

  • For burns caused by heat; apply running cool (not cold) water for at least 5-10 minutes, using a gentle shower stream or pour water from a jug. When the wound has been cooled, wrap the area loosely in clingfilm to prevent contamination and get to the vet
  • For burns caused by chemicals; prevent your pet from cleaning/grooming itself (use a buster collar if you have one) and rinse the affected area with water for at least 5 minutes to clean off the substance. If the chemical was a powder, try to brush it out of the coat before you wet it. Get your pet to the vets for a check over
  • For electrical burns; ensure that the power is switched off to prevent further injury to your pet or yourself. If you can see external burns you can try cooling them and then covering loosely with clingfilm to prevent contamination, however these burns are usually in and around the mouth and internally

In all cases contact and see your vet immediately, so that your pet can be examined because burns can often be worse than they look and there is a high risk of infection.

Cystitis (Trouble passing urine) or Completely Unable to Pass Urine – If you notice your pet is having difficulty passing urine or you notice blood in the urine, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Cystitis is an extremely painful condition.

If you notice that your pet cannot pass urine at all seek veterinary advice immediately. Blocked urinary tracts can be a life-threatening emergency (this is most common in male cats).

Flystrike – This is usually a summer problem but can occur at any time of the year if it is warm enough for flies to be about. Flies lay their eggs on an animal and the maggots that hatch, then eat the flesh of the animal. Flystrike mainly affects rabbits, but it is possible for other pets such as dogs and cats to be affected too (especially those with longer coats or matted fur). The flies are attracted to soiled bottoms, faeces and wounds and the condition is more likely to occur in overweight or poorly animals that cannot groom themselves. If you notice maggots on your pet contact your vet immediately.

Gastric dilatation and volvulus – GDV, also known as Gastric Torsion or bloat (Dogs) - This is a life-threatening condition that is most commonly seen in large breed and/or deep-chested dogs. GDV usually occurs a few hours after a dog has eaten; gas builds up, causing the stomach to twist over on itself and distend (a torsion) or in some dogs the stomach distends with gas build up but doesn’t twist (bloat). This is an emergency and your pet must be seen by the vet immediately. Symptoms can include

  • Restlessness
  • Breathing rapidly and with more effort
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting white froth or retching.
  • Enlarged/swollen abdomen
  • Pale gums
  • Standing with feet fairly wide apart and head down
  • Praying position – forelegs and head on the ground with bum in the air (similar to a play bow, but your dog will look very uncomfortable)
  • Collapse

Gut stasis (Rabbits) – This happens when the normal movements of the intestines either slow down or stop altogether, bacteria then build up within the intestines which results in distension or bloating. Gut stasis can occur for a variety of reasons, including poor diet, stress, dehydration, pain or a problem caused by another underlying disorder or illness; if it is left untreated it can quickly result in a painful death. If your rabbit stops eating or producing feces for 12 hours or more, you should consider the condition an emergency and contact your vet immediately. Symptoms of gut stasis include

  • Very small fecal pellets or a complete lack of pellets
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Not wanting to move
  • Grinding teeth (pain sign)
  • Ears held down to the head/back
  • In some cases, very small fecal pellets will be encased in clear or yellowish mucus

Poisoning – There are many things that are toxic to our pets including plants, accidentally ingested human medications, chocolate, grapes/raisins/sultanas, antifreeze, rodent poisons, pesticides etc. the list is very long! Paracetamol and ibuprofen are extremely toxic and are often given by misinformed owners who are trying to help their pets. Permethrin, which is commonly found in many over the counter ‘spot-on’ flea treatments for dogs is also very toxic to cats and unfortunately we see many cases where these have been mistakenly applied to cats.

If you suspect that your pet has eaten something he or she shouldn’t of, or you have accidentally applied or given the wrong treatment or medicine, please contact your vet immediately for advice. Try to give your vet as much information as possible such as exactly what and how much was eaten, the time it was eaten and with medicines or treatments, what strength they were.

Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) and Broken Bones – If you think your pet has been hit by a car, have him or her examined by a vet as soon as possible, because even if they have no external wounds they may have internal bleeding and damage.

If you suspect your pet has a broken a bone or has a head injury seek veterinary help as soon as possible.
Try not to touch or manipulate the injured area if possible and take great care when moving and transporting your pet.

Seizures (Fits) – Animals having a seizure will often collapse onto their side, start to shake using their whole body, their legs may be in motion (paddling) and they will often lose control of their bladder and bowels. Most animals recover quickly from a seizure so there is often no need to rush them to the vet immediately; although we do recommend that you call the vet to advise them of the situation and find out what you should do next. However, if you suspect that your pet has eaten something toxic or you applied a treatment prior to the seizure contact your vet immediately as they will likely want to examine your pet promptly.

During a seizure

  • Do not attempt to move or handle your pet in any way, unless the pet is in immediate danger of further injury i,e, to close to a fireplace or in danger of hitting their head on something, or falling down the stairs -if necessary move any furniture out of the way or place a cushion/rolled towel as a buffer between them and the object to avoid further injury
  • Try to reduce mental and sensory stimulation by making the room as dark and quiet as possible – close curtains or blinds and turn off the tv/radio and ask everyone to be as quiet as possible. Don’t stroke or touch your pet – this will stimulate the brain further and possibly extend the duration of the fit
  • Try to time the fit if possible and make a note of what your pet is doing (twitching,shaking violently, paddling their feet, chomping etc) as this information may help the vet
  • Never attempt to try and pull your pet’s tongue forward during a seizure – he/she will not choke and you risk getting bitten very hard, or worse cause your pet to damage their own tongue

Prolonged fitting is an emergency (5 minutes and longer). You should contact your vet immediately if you dog does not stop fitting within 5 minutes, as he or she may need medical help.

Vomiting and Diarrhoea – In healthy adult dogs and cats a single episode of vomiting and/or mild diarrhoea is normally not a concern. However, if your pet is having several episodes of vomiting or diarrhoea, if it is a puppy, kitten or older pet, or the vomit or diarrhoea contains blood, please contact your veterinary practice as soon as possible for advice.

Wounds – Wounds can happen for a variety of reasons and may be large or small, some pets may injure themselves while out and about, while others may have been bitten or scratched by another animal. Wounds on paws, ears and tails may bleed profusely and make a great deal of mess, so you will need to apply pressure to these if possible.

If the wound is dirty you can help clean it by gently pouring tepid water over the area (if your pet will let you).

Wounds can be covered with a sterile dressing and bandage from a first aid box or any clean material in an emergency. Remember not to make a bandage too tight. Make an appointment with your vet to have the wound checked so that infection can be prevented and sutures can be put in if necessary.

If the wound is bleeding you can apply pressure using some clean material or a bandage (Sanitary pads will work well in an emergency). NEVER use anything like a tourniquet to stop bleeding as this can often lead to severe tissue damage. Once a bandage has been put on, do not remove it to check the wound as you may remove any clots that have started to form, if blood is striking through the original dressing add another layer on top.  Seek veterinary help as soon as possible for bleeding wounds.

First Aid Kits For Pets

There are lots of first aid kits available to buy for pets from various places and with various costs.

What you have in your pet first aid kit is entirely up to you but the following items are good for a basic kit.

  1. Sterile Dressing Pads (i.e. Melolin) – this can be placed directly onto a wound (shiny side down)
  2. Padding Bandage (i.e. Soffban) – to go between the dressing pad and the next layer (optional)
  3. Conforming bandage (i.e. KBand/wow) – to go over the padded layer and apply a little tension. You can also use this bandage to make a tie-muzzle if needed
  4. Micropore Tape - Sticky tape dressing that can be used to secure dressing pads in areas that can’t be bandaged
  5. Cohesive Bandage (i.e. Vetwrap) - sticks to itself but nothing else. Top and protective layer (optional)
  6. Sterile Water pods
  7. Gloves – so you don’t contaminate your pet’s wound
  8. Scissors – (round ended) to cut the bandages if necessary

first aid kit clare

Basic essentials for a pet first aid kit

You can easily purchase these dressings at your veterinary practice. You can also make an appointment with your veterinary nurse who will be able to show you which dressing goes where and how to use them to ensure they are not too tight or too loose.

Other optional useful bits for a pet first aid kit could include:

  • Restraining aids i.e. a dog lead and a muzzle
  • Cotton wool
  • Latex disposable gloves
  • Blanket or space blanket
  • Tick hook
  • Vet’s contact number and emergency vet contact number
  • Digital thermometer and lubricant (KY Jelly will work) – for rectal temperature taking. Or you can use an ear thermometer (a normal childs one will do)

At Castle Vets we are a host practice to Vets Now who provide emergency and out of hours veterinary cover for many practices in the Reading area; this means that our patients do not have to travel to a different veterinary practice if they need to be seen out of hours. To find out more please visit our out of hours information.

You can contact us on 0118 957 4488 to make an appointment or to speak to one of our veterinary staff. You can contact Vets Now for emergencies out of hours on 0118 959 4007.

For wildlife emergencies please have a look at the wildlife section of our website.