First aid for your dog or cat: how to treat minor ailments
Whenever your dog or cat needs first aid treatment it’s good to be prepared. This article will give you some suggestions for what to stock in your pet’s first aid kit at home and some first aid tips for common ailments.
First aid kit
Ready-made pet first aid kits are available to purchase from your vet clinic or pet pharmacy. However, if you prefer to assemble your own first aid kit, here is a list of some important items to include:
Up to date vaccination card
Recent photo of your pet
Important telephone numbers, including your nearest 24-hour veterinary clinic
Thermometer: normal temperature for both dogs and cats is approximately 38-39oC
Saline for cleaning wounds. Make your own by adding 1 teaspoon of salt to 500ml (1 pint) of cooled boiled water
Chlorhexidine or antiseptic wash: use diluted (1:10 dilution – 1 part antiseptic to 9 parts water) for contaminated wounds
Melolin non-adhesive dressing to apply directly to wounds
Gauze swabs to clean wounds or eyes
Cotton wool roll
Conforming bandage (eg Knitfirm) and cohesive bandage (eg Vetrap) for bandaging wounds
Adhesive tape to secure bandages
Scissors with rounded ends
Syringe to administer medication or clean a wound
Spare collar and lead
Probiotics for dogs and cats
Electrolyte powder for dogs and cats. This is usually added to their drinking water
It is recommended that you check the kit each year, and replace things that have been used or gone out of date.
What happens if my pet eats something it shouldn’t?
If your pet eats something it shouldn’t, that might cause irritation, damage or perforation of the stomach and/or intestine you should contact your vet immediately. It may be necessary for your vet to induce vomiting. This is done with the help of a special vomiting medication given by injection. Please do not try to make your pet vomit at home using salt, as this can cause salt poisoning.
If more than two hours have passed since your pet ate something inappropriate, expulsion by vomiting is rarely possible. After this time the stomach contents pass through into the small intestine. In some cases it is not appropriate to induce vomiting as the item/chemical may cause further damage on the way back up, or may become lodged in the oesophagus (food pipe).
There are many human food types, as well as other household items, that are toxic to pets. If your animal is showing any signs of having eaten something it shouldn’t, then do not watch and wait; contact your nearest vet clinic immediately. If possible, take a sample of the item consumed, or the packaging with you, as this will help the vet assess the danger and provide the appropriate treatment.
If your pet seems well, or you are unsure about what they have eaten, you can start by calling your vet for some advice. More information is available from the Veterinary Poisons Information Service Animal Poisons website. Here you will find details, for example, about how much chocolate a pet can consume before signs of toxicity are seen.
How do I treat fight wounds at home?
If your dog is involved in a fight, do not try to intervene with your hands as you risk getting bitten, or scratched. Instead, try to distract them or separate them, for example by soaking them in water using a bucket, or a hose pipe. For cats involved in a fight, gently introduce a sheet of cardboard or another large barrier between them, to split them up and then allow them to cool down.
After the fight your pet may be agitated, scared or in pain. Take great care when checking for injuries. If you can see an obvious wound, if your pet has difficulty walking or standing, is bleeding heavily, or is in shock, then seek advice from a vet immediately. In the meantime, keep your pet as quiet as possible. If you find a wound(s) that is more than 1 cm long or more than a few millimetres deep, if the wound is over a joint, or if the wound is contaminated with debris, a visit to your vet is needed. If the wound is bleeding heavily, it may be possible to wrap a bandage (see first aid kit above) around the affected area to stem the blood flow. Let the vet know that you are on your way, so that they can be ready when you arrive.
If your pet seems ok, check closely for small wounds or tiny puncture marks. These may be hidden under the fur and may only become apparent after a few days. Puncture wounds often become infected because bacteria become trapped under the skin, resulting in the formation of an abscess. This often leads to swelling, which can be very painful.
It may be possible to treat small wounds at home. Carefully trim the hair around a wound and wash it with copious saline solution; if necessary, use clean gauze to remove mild debris. If you notice that the area around the wound is swelling, or the wound is not healing, then seek advice from a vet.
Lameness: What do you do if you suspect a broken leg?
If your pet has an obvious fracture, if bone is visible, if it is non-weight bearing on one or more limbs, or seems to be very sore, then we recommend that you seek emergency assistance from your nearest vet clinic. If your pet has a broken leg, you can try to stabilise it by gently wrapping the leg with cotton wool roll, followed by conforming bandage and then cohesive wrap. You can add a light-weight stiff splint for extra support between the layers of cotton wool, for example a wooden ice-cream stick for small animals, and a similar larger splint for bigger animals. If it is an open fracture (the broken bone is visible through the wound), use a clean piece of gauze or melolin dressing, moistened with saline. This should be placed over the entire wound before applying the bandage on top.
How do you dress a paw wound?
Sometimes it may be appropriate to put on a bandage to protect a paw wound and to speed up wound healing. It is important to follow these steps and use the diagram below:
Cut small strips of gauze or cotton wool and lay a piece in between each toe, including the dew claw. This is to prevent the nails from rubbing and scratching the adjacent toe/s
Wrap the paw with a cotton wool roll, starting with the toes and continuing up the leg; you may or may not need to extend the bandage over the wrist joint in the forelimb, or the ankle joint in the hindlimb
Wrap conforming bandage over the cotton wool, for the full length of the bandage, followed by a cohesive wrap
If you put bandages on a back paw, make sure that there is sufficient cotton wool over the ankle joint so that it is properly padded, and do not wrap too tightly as this can cause pressure sores in this area
How do you treat a broken nail?
The first sign of a broken nail may be that your pet is limping. If the broken nail has been lost completely, the nail bed may be very sore. You can clean it very gently each day with saline (see first aid kit above). Using regular paw bandages and/or an Elizabethan (Buster) collar for the first two weeks may be sufficient to allow it to heal fully. The nail should start to grow back after a few weeks. If your pet won’t let you look at the paw, if the nail is only partially detached, or if there are fragments of nail still attached, then you should seek additional veterinary advice and treatment.
Eyes: How do you treat conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is typically caused by environmental irritants, such as dust or pollen. If the eyes are both fully open, clear and bright, you can usually start by applying a drop of saline to each eye 2-3 times per day to provide cleansing and lubrication. If it does not resolve within 24-48 hours, or gets worse, then your pet should be seen by your vet.
Eye injuries are more serious. They can progress quickly and are extremely painful, so it is important that they receive prompt treatment by a vet. What to look for:
The eye is partially or fully closed and your pet does not want to open it
The pupils (black hole in the centre of the eye) are different sizes
The eye looks cloudy or milky
There is blood inside the eye, or there is blood coming from the eye or surrounding area
Your pet appears to be blind, or is having difficulty seeing with one or both eyes
To prevent your pet from doing further damage to the eye on the way to the vet, use a restraining harness, an Elizabethan Collar or an Inflatable Buster Collar. A traditional collar and lead is not advisable because pressure on the neck may also increase pressure in the eye.
What should I do if my dog has vomiting and diarrhoea?
If your pet develops vomiting and/or diarrhoea, ensure that they have access to fresh water. Electrolyte powder for dogs and cats can be added to their water to help them maintain hydration. If an adult animal vomits then it should be starved for 2-3 hours before being offered a small bland meal. For example, boiled rice or pasta with a little cooked chicken, turkey or white fish. Please note puppies and kittens cannot be starved as their blood sugar levels will fall dangerously low.
If there is no further vomiting, this diet can be continued for 5-7 days, together with a probiotic supplement, to help the gut microflora to recover faster. It is important to make any changes to the diet slowly.
If the animal becomes lethargic or dehydrated, vomits blood, has frank blood in their stools, or vomiting episodes continue after 24 hours, then you should contact your vet to arrange an examination.