First aid is about treating a sick or injured dog until you have access to full medical assistance. Alternatively, in cases such as a simple bee sting, first aid is likely to resolve the problem. Other times, such as the dog hit by a car, the need for further help is obvious, but the dog needs stabilising until that assistance is available. But sometimes the situation is less clear cut and it’s tricky to know if this is an emergency (immediate veterinary attention required), urgent (see a vet the same day), or a problem to manage at home.
The following are emergencies or require urgent veterinary attention. Phone the clinic immediately, explain the situation, and then follow their advice.
- Non-productive Retching: Any dog that is trying to be sick, but brings nothing up, should see a vet immediately. Non-productive retching is a sign of bloat or GDV (gastric dilation and volvulus) which untreated is rapidly fatal.
- Difficulty Giving Birth: If a pregnant dog is actively straining and pushing hard for 20 minutes without a puppy or kitten being born, contact the vet straight away.
- Straining to Pass Urine: If the dog is constantly trying to urinate and yet nothing comes out, see a vet. This can be a sign of urinary blockage, which is life-threatening and requires veterinary intervention.
- Haemorrhage: Arterial bleeds first need to should be stabilised by the application of pressure, then get the dog to the vet asap
- Altered consciousness: The dog that seems disorientated, weak, wobbly on their feet, confused, or not aware of their surroundings needs urgent veterinary help
- Deterioration: Any condition, including sickness or diarrhoea, that seemed OK earlier but has since got worse, should be checked out by the vet.
- Difficulty breathing: Keep the dog calm and seek immediate veterinary attention.
- Sudden swelling: Sudden puffiness or swelling could indicate an allergic reaction and should be checked out urgently.
Problems that fall outside the above, such as cuts that need suturing, gaping wounds, vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, fever etc. do need veterinary attention but are not immediately life-threatening and therefore classed as urgent. Get that dog checked by a professional the same day.
Problems such as small grazes and minor cuts that don’t need stitching, can often be managed at home with first aid to reduce the risk of infection. Remember, if you are uncertain what to do, err on the side of caution and phone your local vet clinic for advice. Most vets are very happy to discuss a first aid situation over the phone, and if they aren’t – change your vet!