First Aid For Pets – Comprehensive Resource

Picture this: you are walking your dog in the park when suddenly you see him stumble and fall over. You rush over in distress. He is salivating and gagging. You can see he tongue is swollen and turning blue. In panic you think through your option: the nearest Vet is at least 15 minutes drive away. Too long!

What will you do if your dog is injured? Bleeding? Poisoned?

In 2009 I was asked to write a ‘First Aid For Dogs’ training course aimed at the regular dog owner. The course was about giving everyone the skills and knowledge about how to save a dog’s life in an emergency. I was overwhelmed by the demand.

Here is a short exert from the written notes of the course:

Responding in an emergency

The most important advice is to stay calm and think logically through the situation. No training course can prepare you for every eventuality you may encounter in the real world. However, quick and calm thinking together with good preparation will get you through any emergency.

At the Scene

The first thing to think of is how did this Emergency come about? Look carefully at the Animal and the Environment trying to reconstruct the events in your mind. Could you be endangered in the process of trying to help this animal? Was this a car accident? Electrocution? Snake bite? These are some of the instances where the rescuer could be placed in great danger while trying to help. Remember, no one will benefit if you get injured as well.

Try to make the scene safe before attempting to help the animal. Alert approaching cars. Turn off the power at the source. Tread carefully if the animal is in the water or long grass.

Observe the animal. Look for signs of trauma. Examine the animal’s condition. A poor, emaciated body condition may suggest a protracted illness. Look for signs of movement. Especially chest rising, eye movement, twitching of ears.

Speak to the animal in a soft monotone voice. Approach slowly from the back of the animal. If no response – extend your hand and gently touch the rump. You are less likely to be bitten that way.

Watch the chest – is it rising with breaths? Put a few strands of hair in front of the animal’s nose – is there any air coming out of the nostrils?

Breathing Unconscious Animal

If the animal is breathing – clear out any mucus/blood/vomit from around the mouth and nose area. Be careful not to get bitten while doing this. Your next priority is to transport the animal to aVeterinaryHospitalas soon as possible.

Respiratory Arrest

If you can not detect any breathing, the next step is to check for heartbeat. There are two ways to do this. Method 1 – place your cupped hand around the animal’s chest and feel for heartbeat. This works well for small dogs and cats. Not so well for large dogs. If the heartbeat is not felt try Method 2 – Feel for Femoral pulse between muscle layers on the inside of back leg. This is the best place to feel the pulse of a dog or cat. In a large dog – try this method first. Do not waste your time feeling for the Jagular pulse on the animal’s neck. It is much harder to find. If the pulse is present but the animal is not breathing – you are looking at a Respiratory Arrest.

If the animal is in Respiratory Arrest, you can be sure that Cardiac Arrest will soon follow. Your quick action at this time can save the animal’s life. Begin ‘Mouth to Nose’.


This method is a modified Mouth-to-Mouth used to resuscitate people. Mouth-to-Nose works by filling the animal’s lungs with the air you breathed out. This air has almost as much Oxygen as room air.

Animals have large mouths and it is difficult to seal it completely with your lips. ‘Mouth-to Nose’ avoids this problem.

  • Clear vomit/mucus/saliva from around mouth
  • Pull the tongue out
  • Create a complete seal around mouth with your cupped hands. In a cat just a finger in a ring around mouth will do the job. In a large dog you will have to use both hands.
  • Blow into nose
  • Watch the chest rise.

If a chest doesn’t rise, you are not doing the procedure effectively. Check your ‘seal’. Is the air leaking out through mouth? There could also be an obstruction in the nose or lower in the airway.

  • Don’t blow too hard – especially in a cat or small dog.
  • Give five breaths in quick succession. Wait for chest to fall between breaths. Then:
  • Give one breath every 3 seconds in a cat or small dog
  • Give one breath every 5 seconds in a large dog
  • Review after one minute (this feels like a very long time!)
  • Stop and wait for breath. Count to ten. Check pulse. If no breath but heart still beating – continue ‘Mouth-to Nose’.
  • Keep doing this while you are transporting the animal to the Vet.

Cardiac Arrest

This is when the heart has stopped beating. In humans Cardiac Arrest is often a result of a heart attack. Get the heart going and you can save a life. In animals cardiac Arrest is more often the end result of some other serious health problem. Therefore your odds of reviving an animal in Cardiac Arrest are much poorer then a human! Keep this in mind when making a decision how to respond. If you decide to attempt to save the animal – you will need to perform CPR.


This is alternating chest compressions and ‘Mouth-to-Nose’. You blow the air into the animal’s lungs and then move the Oxygen through the body by compressing the heart and chest.

  • Place the animal on the side
  • In a cat or a small dog
    • Hold the chest with a cupped hand. A bit like when feeling the heart beat.
    • Two compressions per second
  • In a large dog:
    • Ensure the dog is lying on solid surface
    • Kneel over the dog
    • Put both hands over the chest in a spot when the elbow touches the chest.
    • Straight hands – use your back to compress chest.
    • One compression per second
  • Let the chest expand after every compression. In a small dog this is hard to do.
  • Give a ‘breath’ every five compressions.
  • Stop every five minutes and feel for pulse.
  • If there is no pulse after 20 minutes of CPR – it’s probably hopeless to keep going.
  • If the pulse returns – revert back to ‘Mouth-to-Nose’.
  • A repeat Arrest is very likely so get the animal to the Vet ASAP.

Acupuncture Resuscitation

I use Acupuncture frequently in my work. Let me assure you it is not a gimmick but a powerful medical system. The Acupuncture Resuscitation point (called Governor Vessel 26) has been recognised as a powerful CPR tool in human medicine and is used extensively in Emergency suites of many Hospitals. In Chinese Medicine terms this point lies at the intersection of the most powerful Yin and Yang meridians. There is also a Western Medicine explanation – the point is innervated by a number of Cranial Nerves and can stimulate the Sympathetic Nervous System. It is located at the midline between nostrils. Use it by pressing it with a sharp object, like a key or a pen. This is something you can do in the car on the way to the Vet.

The Conscious Patient

An animal that responds to touch and sound offers a much better prognosis for recovery. Don’t forget, the animal may be disoriented or in pain and therefore act unpredictably. If this is your pet, don’t rely on your previous experience with this animal to anticipate its reactions.

Infection Risks

Thankfully, dogs inAustraliaare free of Rabies virus. This makes responding to a pet emergency much safer. There are still some serious infections you may contract by closely handling an animal. This includes bacterial infections like Leptospirosis and E. Coli. And of course there is a risk of getting injured. A decision to come to an aid of an injured animal is an admirable one but it can’t be taken lightly. Use your judgement and weight up the risks. There are no right and wrong answers here.


Before you precede any further you must make the scene safe. This includes preventing the patient from injuring you. If the animal fights you, it is likely to injure itself further making your job more difficult. Also consider the safety of people who may get involved with helping this animal at a later stage (like the Vets and Nurses).

Dogs fight with their mouths. Restrain the mouth and you are in relative safety. Approach with slow deliberate movements. Try to control your nerves. As you are moving about – speak constantly in a low monotone to alert the animal to where you are. It doesn’t matter what you say, just keep talking. Avoid direct stare but keep a constant watch from the corner of your eyes. Is the animal looking straight at you? Curling the upper lip? Growling? If yes, you may be about to get bitten.

When handling a dog, getting a lead around its neck a good first step. Use what you have available – a piece of rope or a belt works well. Make a loop and carefully try to pass it over the dog’s head. Be careful, many dogs are head shy and will attack if threatened. Having a lead on the dog doesn’t give you complete safety but it usually makes the next step easier. If the dog is in a confined space – try to lead it out. It often makes handling easier. You can also lead the dog into a car or a crate for transportation.

Improvised Muzzle

Getting a muzzle on a dog substantially improves your safety. The following method is good for dogs with long snouts. It’s not so good for dogs with short snouts or cats (but sometimes it still works). A piece of string or a shoe lace about 40cm long works well.

  • Make the string into a loop and form a loose knot
  • Pass the loop over the dog’s snout and tighten the knot on top of the snout
  • Tie another knot under the snout
  • Take the ends of the string behind ears and tie in a bow

This muzzle is not 100% secure as the front is open and the dog can still bite but it gives a fair degree of safety.

Cat Restraint

Cats are not small dogs. They fight with their mouth and claws. They are also more agile. I personally would rather face a large unfriendly dog then a feral cat. The best way to restrain a cat is to contain it in something solid. A cardboard box or a pillowcase works well. Make sure you leave a breathing opening though. If the cat is un-handlable, it is often better to contain it in a box then to try to restrain it for emergency aid.

With a reasonably friendly cat scruffing may be all you need. Gather the loose skin at the back of the cat’s neck into your hand. Support the body and back legs with your other hand and lift up the cat. This is the way cats carry their kittens around and it has a calming effect on many cats. If the cat starts to struggle – let go! You will not be able to hold on to a struggling cat. Instead you will get bitten and scratched.

With a less friendly cat your best bet is to use a blanket or a large folded towel to throw over the cat, scoop it up and quickly place it into a container. Get the container ready beforehand, you will have control for a coupe of seconds at best. A thick towel is usually enough to protect you from the teeth and claws.


Lift up a medium-size dog by placing your arms in front of hind-legs and behind the forelegs. For a very large dog a large blanket can make a good stretcher to be lifted up by two people. A cat or a small dog can be placed in a cardboard box or a shopping bag. A pillowcase works well to.

External Bleeding

Is often the first and most obvious sign of injury. Blood comprises 10% of an animal’s bodyweight. Losing any more the 10% of blood can be life-threatening. Therefore a 5kg cat is in trouble if it loses 50ml of blood. A 20 kg Kelpie is in trouble if it loses 200ml of blood.

The key to stop bleeding is to apply firm pressure and patiently maintain it. You can apply pressure with whatever you have available – a cloth, handkerchief or the palm of your hand. Push firmly and hold for 60 seconds on the clock. Don’t take the pressure off sooner to check if the bleeding stopped. If there is still bleeding after 60 seconds of pressure – you need to make a bandage.


A makeshift bandage can control the bleeding while you are getting to the Vet. Use whatever cloth material you may have available. Apply it firmly but not too tightly around the wound. If the wound is on the leg – try to bandage all the way down to the toes. If the wound is on the body – wrap the bandage around the body. Make sure not to make a body-bandage too tight around chest or abdomen as it can restrict breathing. Keeping bandages like this from slipping is quite hard. Do not use a tourniquet.

If you are far away from the Vet, a little forward planning can have you prepared for all eventualities and putting on bandages like a pro. All bandages have three layers:

  • Contact layer – permeable and non-sticking
  • Absorption layer – helps absorb blood and fluid
  • Holding layer – keeps the bandage on

If there is a foreign body in the wound that is hard to remove – leave it in and bandage around it.

Steps to expert bandaging:

  • Wash the wound. Sterile Normal Saline from the Chemist is best. Tap water works too.
  • Smear Petroleum Jelly (from the supermarket) onto Gauze Swabs and apply onto the wound.
  • Secure to the body by bandaging with an elastic bandage (from the Chemist)
  • If bandaging a limb – bandage down to toes and up again. If bandaging trunk – wrap bandage around the trunk
  • Don’t use metal clips often supplied with the human bandages. Sticky bandages like ‘Elastoplast’ work well to secure the bandage to skin. For the limbs, human ‘sock’ bandages also work well.

Internal Bleeding

Is bleeding into chest, lungs, abdomen, urinary or gastro-intestinal tract. There is no visible blood or wound and therefore this is much more difficult to detect. The general symptoms of blood loss include weakness, lethargy, increased heart and respiratory rate and pale gums. There may also be symptoms related to where the bleeding is coming from, such as vomiting blood, bloody urine or bloody diarrhoea.

The general rules are the same weather you see the wound or not. Keep the animal calm and at rest. This is achieved by adequately restraining the animal from injuring itself and by creating a safe environment. Most animals feel safest in a dark, quiet confined space. If using a carry cage – put a towel over it. Do not shout, wave hands or allow unnecessary people near an injured animal.

Minor Wounds

This is usually not a life threatening problem (unless your pet has a bleeding disorder) but most owners have to face this at some point. Remember – even a small wound could be contaminated with bacteria and result in an infection. If a wound is through full thickness of skin (wound edges are gaping open) it will probably need to be stitched up.

If you decide not to consult a Veterinarian or if the help is delayed take the following steps:

  • Clip hair  around wound
  • Wash the wound. Sterile saline is best. Tap water is a pretty good replacement.
  • There is little evidence that using antiseptic ointments on the wound has any benefit. Some human antiseptics can be toxic to pets. I don’t recommend putting any ointments on a wound.
  • Bandage the wound. See the bandaging section above. A bandage absorbs the moisture from the wound and prevents the wound from becoming contaminated.
  • If in any doubt – visit a Veterinarian.
  • You definitely need to visit a Veterinarian if the animal is distressed or if wound is becoming red, swollen or discharging pus. These changes indicate wound infection.
  • A bite wound always carries with it potentially life-threatening infection risks and needs to be treated by a Vet.

Bleeding Nail

A minor emergency but a very distressing one. Firstly, I have never heard of an animal dying from a bleeding nail (unless there is a clotting disorder, as I keep repeating). Even if the volume of blood looks large, this is not a life-threatening problem, so relax and start breathing. First thing to try is to drag the nail through a bar of hard soap, trying to create a soapy ‘seal’ around the bleeding vessel. Try to keep the affected foot up in the air for a few minutes after doing this. If this doesn’t work and the bleeding continues – make a bandage as described in the ‘Bandaging’ section. Then just keep the dog quiet and wait. If no blood is seeping through and the dog is looking well – remove the bandage in a few hours. If the blood is seeping through the bandage – visit your Vet.


This is when a bone is broken. There is no difference between a ‘fracture’ and a ‘break’. These are emergency injuries and need to be transported to a Veterinarian as soon as possible. Fractures can be ‘open’ (when a bone is protruding or visible through the skin) or’ closed’ (completely covered over by the skin). An open fracture carries an extra risk because it is also contaminated and can cause an infection. Some fractures are obvious – a limb is moving in an abnormal way or a ‘grinding’ sensation is felt when moving a limb. Other fractures can’t be detected without an X-ray. A ‘green stick’ or ‘hairline’ fracture is when the bone is broken incompletely. Fractures are very painful. The pain will distress the animal and make care and transportation more difficult.

Fractures only hurt if there is pressure or movement. If you can immobilise the broken bone – the pain will be significantly decreased and this will make care and transportation to the Vet much easier. To effectively immobilise a limb fracture you need to restrict the movement of the fractured bone and the joints above and below. This is very hard to do above the knee or above the elbow. I do not recommend applying slings. There is a great potential to do damage if they are done incorrectly. In my opinion they should only be applied by a professional. You are better off immobilising the animal in a small box or a crate and transporting to the Vet ASAP.

Fractures below the knee or the shoulder can be immobilised well with a splint:

  • Use a rolled up magazine or a piece of cardboard folded up into a few layers.
  • Make sure it is long enough to reach to one joint above and below the break.
  • Pad the limb well underneath the splint with a soft bandage or a roll of cotton wool so that the splint doesn’t injure the skin.
  • Bandage the splint to the leg with an elastic bandage.
  • Aim for a firm but not too tight bandage.
  • Bandage all the way down to the toes and back up again.
  • A home made splint can not replace Veterinary attention.

Another method that works especially well for cats and small dogs is to apply a large, bulky, shape-holding bandage (‘Robert-Jones bandage’). Instead of a splint, use a few rolls of cotton wool. Apply firm but not too tight around the limb. Finish with a roll of elastic bandage applied down to the toes and back up above the fracture.

If the animal is in great pain or distress while having the leg bandaged – do not proceed further. This is one of the instances where the stress of treatment may be doing more harm then the treatment itself. Confine the animal as best you can and transport as is.

Sprains and Strains

‘Sprain’ is for injured ligament, ‘strain’ is for an injured muscle tendon (‘t’ is for ‘tendon’). In the field it doesn’t matter which one it is. The bottom line is that they both hurt and then they heal. Can you tell a broken bone from an injured tendon/ligament? I can’t a lot of the time without an X-ray. If the pain appears not severe (I struggle to define ‘not severe’) it is not unreasonable to treat it as a soft tissue injury and to seek help if there is none or minimal improvement in 24 hours.

A soft tissue injury is treated as follows:

  • Restrict the animal’s movement as much as possible. Confining to a small room or a carry cage works well.
  • Apply a cold pack wrapped in a cloth for 20 minutes.
  • After that, apply gentle warmth (such as a tepid hot-water bottle).

If a bone isn’t broken, there will be tremendous improvement in 24 hours. If the animal is still very painful after that – assume a broken bone.

Head Trauma

This is often a complicated injury because as well as the usual skin/muscle/bone damage there is also a potential for brain injury and a damage to the Central Nervous System. A disoriented animal in pain may act out of character and be dangerous to people, including the owner.

Head injury assessment:

  • Examine the animal’s demeanour – is it exhibiting normal behaviour? Engaging and exploring its environment? Responding to the surroundings in a normal way?
  • Examine the head position. Is there a head tilt? Is the neck moving freely?
  • Examine the eyes. Look for symmetry between both sides. Are the whites of the eyes red? Uneven colour? Are the eyes bulging from the orbits? Are the pupils responding to light?
  • If feeling confident in the animal – consider palpating the head gently. Feel for swellings, painful areas, ‘grinding’ sensation. Examine ears, nose and mouth carefully.

Abnormalities in any of the above areas should alert you to a possibility of head trauma.

If head trauma is suspected – confine the animal, minimise stimulation and movement and seek Veterinary help. Animals with head injury may lose consciousness unexpectedly. Try not to leave the patient unsupervised and if loss of consciousness occurs – follow the guidelines in the ‘Resuscitation’ section.

Eye Injury

These are extremely common in pets. They are usually either blunt trauma or penetration injuries. In an eye that suffered a blunt injury the white of the eye usually looks red or has thin red lines (engorged blood vessels). Sometimes the pupil may look cloudy as well. If penetrated by a foreign body, the object may be visible on the surface of the eye or it may be hiding behind an eyelid.

In a compliant patient gently hold the eye open and examine with good light. If an object is visible – try to flush it away with sterile saline or tap water. Do not try to manually remove it. An eye injury is always an emergency. Even a tiny penetration injury can result in a loss of an eye. An eye can also suffer an internal injury due to blunt trauma, which can lead to a serious immune reaction (Lens-Induced Uveitis).

Neck and Spinal Injuries

The spinal cord housed within the vertebrae carries the nerves to the majority of the body. If the vertebrae are injured, outmost care must be taken to prevent movement or displacement of the spine, which can lead to irreparable nerve damage.

Back and neck injury should be suspected in any case of severe trauma, such as a car accident. In some dogs (especially long body breeds like Dachshunds) an injury can occur spontaneously if an Intervertebral Disk pushes up onto the spinal cord. Spinal trauma may manifest as a reluctance to move the head, weakness, abnormal gait, dragging feet, inability to get up, flaccid tail or loss of urinary/faecal continence. A single limb is occasionally affected. If there is spinal cord injury, the weakness or paralysis are usually symmetrical and worse in the back legs.

Great care needs to be taken during transportation and restraint of a spinal injury patient. Rough handling may make the injury worse and cause permanent damage. Attend to life-threatening injuries only and minimise handling as much as possible.  Place a cat or a small dog in a container. Consider securing a large dog to an improvised stretcher (a wooden board works well). Any further handling can then be done without disturbing the animal’s spine.

I generally do not recommend applying any kind of back or neck brace. They are poorly tolerated by most animals and damage can be done if they are not applied correctly. Once again – get to the Vet ASAP.


The general rule is that regardless of cause, the true extent of a burn is usually greater then it first appears.

Thermal burns usually result from scalding with hot liquids. The skin has a capacity to absorb a large portion of the heat and release it slowly overtime. Thus the damage continues long after the actual injury. To prevent this from happening, hold the injury under cool running water for 15 minutes. Do not apply a cold pack to cool the skin. Bandage the injury using non-sticking bandage as described in the ‘Bandaging’ section. If the right materials are not available, it is better not to cover the wound at all then to use a bandage that will stick to the wound.

Chemical burns are usually due to contact with caustic substances. Wash the skin thoroughly with soapy water. Wear gloves and take care not to get the substance onto your own skin. Remember that animals, especially cats often ingest caustic substance while trying to clean themselves after a spill. Check inside mouth to make sure there is no injury. If ingestion is suspected – do not try to induce vomiting. Give the animal water or milk to drink.

If a burn is suspected, go to the Vet even if skin damage appears small. The damage often becomes more visible over time, sometimes days after the injury.

Insect Bites

This occurs frequently in pets. The bite is usually sees as a swollen, painful area, sometimes with a red or black centre. The common culprits are bees, wasps and spiders.

Bees can only sting once. The sting is sometimes visible in the middle of the swelling. If so – remove it with a pair of tweezers. Wasps can bite multiple times. These bites are rarely life-threatening, unless the swelling compromises the animal’s ability to breathe or if there is an allergic reaction. Calm the animal down and apply a cold pack. If concerned – your Vet can give medication that will make the swelling subside very quickly.

Always be concerned about the potential to compromise breathing if the bite occurs around head or neck. In that case – get to the Vet fast. If the animal goes into Respiratory Arrest – follow the steps described in the ‘CPR’ section of these notes.

An allergic reaction can occur as a result of bites or an injection of any other chemical substance, including medications. Look for signs of swelling, especially around head and neck, red blotches appearing on skin or breathing difficulties. This is a life threatening condition.

A bite by a Red Back spider is life threatening. Red Back spiders have enough venom to kill a pet or a human. However their mouthparts are small and often can’t pierce the skin. I have seen a number of lethal bites to puppies. I have not personally seen a lethal bite to an adult dog. Regardless, if a bite is suspected, I strongly recommend contacting a Veterinary clinic. Antivenom is available, but call your local Vet Clinic first to make sure that they have resources and equipment on hand. With a less serous bite – a black, weeping area sometimes forms in the middle of the swelling. These are by human accounts excruciatingly painful and may need to be surgically removed. Remember, if a bite is suspected – examine the surrounding are carefully. A Red Back spider has enough venom to make you very sick too!


Some of the common poisonous substances ingested by dogs and cats include Rat bait, Snail bait, human medications and common household chemicals such as bleach, coolant etc. Cats can sometimes be poisoned by Rat bait after eating poisoned mice. Cats are much less likely to ingest poisons then dogs. When taking your pet to the Vet – bring the container of the poison with you.

You may suspect poisoning if:

  • You find your pet chewing on a box of poisonous substance
  • You pet is
    • Salivating
    • Vomiting – check the vomit for an unusual substance
    • Acting in an abnormal way

The first thing to do if a poisoning is suspected is to check the label of the product. Call the Poisons Hotline if a number is available on the label. Call your Vet. Do not induce vomiting unless told so by the Vet. If a caustic substance (eg. Bleach) has been ingested – do not induce vomiting. Give water or milk to drink.

Snail bait if ingested causes the animal to rapidly develop tremors and shaking. Green or blue pellets can often be seen in the vomit. This substance can be life threatening as the tremors can lead to a dangerous rise in body temperature.

Rat bait impairs the ability of the blood to clot. As a result, bleeding can be seen on the skin, on the whites of the eyes, in faeces or urine or internally (see the section on Internal Bleeding). This process can take up to 3-4 days. If Rat bait poisoning is suspected – do not wait to see the symptoms. Take the animal to the Vet immediately.

How to Induce Vomiting

If told by the Vet to induce vomiting, the best product to use (and have as part of your First Aid Kit) is Washing Soda. Washing Soda works on dogs only. Do not use this in a cat. It is more difficult to induce vomiting in cats. Fortunately cats are much more selective about what they eat, so they don’t need to have vomiting induced nearly as often.

This product (usually under the name ‘Washing Soda’, ‘Lectic Soda’ or ‘Lectric Soda’) can be found in the Cleaning Products isle of your supermarket. It consists of small clear granules. If instructed to make your dog vomit – pick out one granule and feed it to the dog like a pill. Vomiting usually occurs within a few minutes. If there is no vomiting in 5 minutes – try again. Don’t try this more then twice. Be aware that Washing Soda degrades due to contact with air. It needs to be stored in an air-tight container. If it has been affected by air – it changes colour from clear to white. Once Washing Soda turned white it is no longer usable for induction of vomiting.


An animal that is choking will quickly become distressed and may start gagging, salivating profusely, and looking like it’s about to vomit. If this is a complete obstruction (ie. the air can’t get into the lungs) the animal will collapse, gasp for air and its’ gums may start turning blue.

What to do:

  • Hold upper jaw with fingers on both sides just behind the upper canine teeth. Push the lower jaw down with finger on the front lower teeth.
  • Visually examine the throat with good light if available
  • If an object is visible – attempt to remove it with fingers or tweezers.
  • It’s very easy to get bitten doing this

If the object is too deep to retrieve:

  • Cat or small dog – hold the animal in the air with head below body
  • Large dog – place the animal on elevated surface (eg. Table) and hang the head down from one side
  • Firmly slap back of animal behind neck aiming down and forwards
  • Repeat five times
  • If can’t dislodge but animal is breathing – transport to Vet
  • If animal is not breathing and the gums are turning blue – you will need to try the Heimlich Manoeuvre
    • Lay the animal on the side
    • Push firmly from behind the rib cage towards the head
    • This can cause internal damage – only do this if the animal is not breathing

If the animal is not breathing and the gums are turning blue you only have a few minutes to remove the object before death occurs. Travelling to the Vet will probably take too long so you need to keep trying until the object is dislodged.


The medical name for this condition is Gastric Dilatation and Valvulus. It is due to the stomach filling up with gas and twisting around. This is a problem predominantly of large dogs. The known risk factors are:

  • Large dog
  • Certain breeds – Mastiff, Doberman, Boxer, German Shepherd etc.
  • Eating a large meal
  • Exercising after a meal
  • The best way to address this problem is to prevent it by avoiding the risk factors

For reasons not well understood, the stomach fills up with gas and twists around, making it impossible for the gas to come out. The dog is at first salivating and distressed. As the condition progresses the dog becomes unresponsive and collapses. If this condition is suspected – get to the Vet immediately.


A typical progression of an animal having a seizure begins with distressed or abnormal behaviour (the animal can ‘sense something’), progresses to the animal becoming unconscious, falling over and having convulsions of limbs and body. This can last from a few seconds to ’status epilepticus’ – a continuous seizure which doesn’t stop. When the animal wakes up, it’s usually in a confused state. Sometimes only part of the body may be affected, or the seizure may manifest simply as abnormal behaviour.

Conditions which can look like a seizure include syncope (fainting) and choking. A classical seizure involves the animal becoming unconscious. If the animal is conscious, there is a good chance this is caused by something else.

What to do:

  • Do not restrain the animal
  • Do not put finger into the animal’s mouth – you will get bitten
  • Remove objects around animal to prevent self-injury
  • Stand nearby and watch the clock
  • Seizure lasts less then one minute:
    • Not an emergency
    • Help patient recover
    • Attend Veterinary Clinic
  • Seizure lasts more then one minute:
    • Emergency
    • Pick up patient as best you can – use blankets if necessary
    • Transport to Veterinary Clinic

A short seizure is not in itself life threatening. However having a seizure, even a short one, increases the chances of having a repeat seizure. Therefore don’t delay that trip to the Vet.

Gastrointestinal Emergencies

Dogs suffer overwhelmingly more frequently from gastrointestinal problems then cats. This simply reflects the difference in eating habits.

Some of the common ways in which gastrointestinal problems manifest include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Not eating
  • Painful abdomen
  • Lethargy and depression

Not all gastrointestinal problems are an emergency. In dog especially, an occasional bout of vomiting or diarrhoea with no other accompanying symptoms is not unusual. A decision as to weather a particular problem is an Emergency and requires an Emergency approach is sometimes a difficult one and must include the totality of the symptoms for the particular animal. I would suggest that if more then one of the above symptoms is present, the problem should be considered an urgent one. If in doubt, a cautionary trip to the Vet would be a good strategy.

Urinary Bladder Obstruction

This occurs when the urethra (the pipe between the bladder and the outside) is blocked. The most common cause of the blockage is caused by stones or crystals produced by the kidneys. If the urine can’t come out – this is a life-threatening situation with coma and death occurring within hours. Cats are overrepresented for this problem, but it does occur in dogs as well.

The most common symptom is squatting to urinate without any urine coming out. An animal would squat frequently and for a long time.

An animal suffering from Urinary Bladder obstruction would squat with increasing frequency. It will also vocalise and become increasingly unsettled and distressed. As the bladder becomes larger, the animal often becomes listless and non-responsive. At this point, the large bladder can often be felt inside the abdomen as a large, round, firm mass. This is a near-death situation. Don’t wait for this. As soon as the earlier symptoms appear, take the animal to a Veterinary clinic.

About Dr Vadim Chelom

Dr Vadim is a house call Veterinarian in Melbourne
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