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Pet First Aid & CPR Resource Guide


by Dr. Mary Williams, R.N. D.C.

When a loved one is badly injured, chokes, or stops breathing, people need to understand what action to take. For that reason, learning basic first aid and CPR is of the utmost importance. Most often, however, when a person thinks of learning these skills, it is for the benefit of humans, with little or no thought given to emergency care for their pets. Animals such as dogs or cats may also become injured to the point that they require emergency care. When this happens, people are often at a loss for what needs to be done and how. For serious injuries, pet owners will want to get their pets to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Basic first aid will help to keep the animal stable until it reaches professional care. The type of first aid administered depends on the injury or exposure that has occurred.

Prevention

Animals can injure themselves in a variety of different ways just around the home, with poisoning, fractures, burns, and heatstroke being some of the more common incidents. Before exploring pet first aid and CPR, pet owners should attempt to create an environment that lessens the risk of these and other types of injuries. One of the ways to do that is to keep poisonous chemicals securely closed and in a location that is not easily reachable by the pet. Educating oneself on poisonous plants both of the indoor and outdoor variety is also useful to prevent accidental poisoning from occurring. When burning candles and other flammables, place them up high and on a sturdy surface where they are not easy to knock over. Never leaving a room with lit candles is also important, particularly where there are cats. Other things to look out for include holes in the yard that can cause animals to fall, get stuck, and potentially break a bone. Electrical cords are another problem that, if chewed, can shock or burn an animal.

First Aid for Chemicals

If a pet is exposed to a chemical or poison, check the labeling for instructions on what to do. In most instances, if the poison has gotten in the eyes or on the skin, it will need thorough flushing with water. If there are only human instructions for removing chemicals from the skin and they advise the use of soap and water, the same should be done for the animal. When using soap and water, however, care should be taken to prevent the soap from getting in the animal's eyes, nose, or mouth. When a pet has swallowed a chemical or other potential poisonous substance, the veterinarian or emergency veterinary care should be contacted as soon as possible. The pet owner must provide information on the substance that has been consumed, the animal's breed, its age, weight, and sex, and the symptoms that it is exhibiting. When taking the animal to the veterinarian, the owner will also want to bring any material that has been expelled by placing it in a sealable bag. The container or package for the chemical or poison that has been consumed must also be taken to the appointment.

Bleeding or Fractures

If an animal is bleeding or has a broken bone, it is important that a muzzle be used to prevent biting. Animals with fractures should be placed on a flat, firm surface prior to moving them any distance or transporting them to the veterinarian. If necessary, secure the animal to the surface using a soft blanket; however, the injured area should not receive any pressure or squeezing. If the animal has a bleeding wound that does not involve a fracture, pressure should be placed over the area with a thick, clean pad or cloth. The person applying the pressure over the wound should maintain it for several minutes until clotting begins and bleeding slows to a stop. Internal bleeding will require immediate veterinary care. While transporting the animal to the vet, it should be kept as calm and warm as possible.

CPR on an Unresponsive Pet

One of the most frightening things that a pet owner can encounter is a pet that is no longer breathing and that is unresponsive. If this happens, action must be taken immediately. The first step is to dislodge any foreign object that may be in the dog or cat's throat. To check for a foreign object and to open the airway, pull the animal's tongue forward so that it is flat and out of the mouth. Tilt the head so that so that it is straight and it is possible to look into the throat. If the foreign blockage is visible, attempt to remove it. If no object is visible or it has been removed, attempt a practice rescue breath by closing the animal's mouth, holding it closed, and breathing into the snout. If the chest moves and the breath enters the body, the blockage is gone. If the air breathed into the animal is blocked, the owner will want to attempt the Heimlich maneuver. The Heimlich is performed by holding the animal upside down, with its back against the owner's chest. Placing a fist beneath the rib cage, the owner should give five thrusts to the animal's abdomen. After the five thrusts, re-check the mouth and attempt to breathe for it again. Repeat until the object is successfully dislodged. To provide breathing support for the animal, once again pull the tongue forward, straighten the neck, and breathe into the animal's snout.

To keep circulation going, it is important to perform compressions. Begin by checking the animal for a pulse by placing two fingers on the inner thigh closest to the body. Place the animal onto its right side and place both interlocked hands approximately at the middle of the ribcage, where the animal's left elbow comes to the chest. For medium to large dogs, two hands can be used to perform compressions, while one hand can be used to effectively squeeze this area on cats and smaller dogs. Compression, or squeezes, should be approximately a third of the animal's width. Additionally, compressions should be performed 30 times. After the 30 compressions, give the animal two rescue breaths and repeat until the animal can successfully breathe without human assistance.