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First aid for pets
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First aid for pets

Health & Safety

We all dread the thought that our pet may become injured or suddenly sick, but in reality it's something which a lot of owners will have to deal with at some stage.When faced with an emergency situation, it can be easy to lose your head. Keeping calm and not succumbing to panic is very important, and if you have a plan to follow if an injury or illness befalls your pet, you will find it much easier to think clearly.Here are some guidelines on how to prepare for a pet related accident or emergency, and some basic pet first aid advice for the most common emergency situations.

  • Plan ahead. Keep your vet's contact details in several easy to find and easy to remember locations- such as your mobile phone memory, tacked to the fridge or notice board, and near your home phone. Also keep at least one back-up phone number for another veterinary surgery for use in the event that your regular vet is unavailable or dealing with another call. If you are taking your pet on holiday with you or going out of your local area, make sure you have the details of a local practice to hand.
  • Have plans for how you would transport an injured animal to the vets in an emergency- do you have a car, or will you need to call a taxi? Have you checked which companies locally will transport animals? Make sure that any transportation equipment such as a cat carrier or collar and lead are always easily accessible and easy to find.
  • In the event of an emergency involving your pet, make sure that you keep yourself safe at all times. You can't help your pet if you too become injured while trying to assist them. Make sure that whatever has caused injury to your pet is not also going to cause injury to you- be aware of hazards such as sharp objects, other animals, electricity or poisons, and make sure that you can approach the situation safely.
  • Remember that an injured pet is possibly going to become defensive as a result of their pain, and may even lash out. This is true for even the most loving animals, so you may have to modify your approach. You may need to consider muzzling dogs and restraining cats, even those that are usually sweet tempered- and you may even have to accept that there is nothing you will be able to do to ease your pet's pain until you can get them to the vet.
  • Never in any circumstances be tempted to try and medicate a companion animal with human medications. You will quite possibly make the situation worse. Never give any tablets or treatments to your pet without the prior approval of your veterinary surgeon.

Some common first aid emergencies you may face

Poisoning

Symptoms of poisoning in your dog or cat in the early stages can include acute vomiting and nausea, excessive salivation and diarrhoea, as well as a generally unsettled and unhappy manner. As the poisoning progresses, this can lead to coughing up blood, a racing heart, collapse and fitting.If you know or suspect your pet has been poisoned, the first thing to do is remove the source of the poisoning. Contact your vet straight away and explain the situation. Keep both the substance which you suspect the animal has ingested, and any packaging which it came in, and take these with you to the vet. Do not induce vomiting, or give milk or water to your pet, nor do anything else without the vet's direction.

Heart and breathing problems

An animal's heart can stop beating suddenly after an injury or accident or even as a result of shock.Should this occur, it's vital to perform heart massage and artificial respiration right away, and have someone contact a veterinary surgeon for immediate advice.To perform heart massage, place the heel of your hand just behind the pet's elbow on the left of the chest. Place your other hand on top and press down firmly but not hard. The amount of pressure you use and how firmly you perform cardiac massage will vary greatly depending on the pet- cats ad small dogs will require a much lighter pressure than large and deep chested dogs. For smaller pets, you may need to perform cardiac massage with the tips of your fingers rather than the heel of your hand.To deliver rescue breaths to your pet, lay the animal on its side, with the neck stretched out as much as possible. Pull the tongue forwards and check for any obstructions. Hold the animal's mouth closed, and breathe into their nostrils for around two to three seconds. You should see the lungs inflate when you do this- if the lungs do not inflate, check that air is not escaping through the mouth, and that the head is positioned correctly.If your pet does not have a heartbeat, deliver six chest compressions (around one per second) and then one rescue breath. Repeat the procedure until the animal begins to breathe unaided or until you are advised by the vet to stop.If your pet still has a heartbeat but has stopped breathing, perform a series of rescue breaths lasting for two to three seconds each until the pet begins to breathe unaided or you are advised to stop.

Wounds and bleeding

If your pet has acquired a bite, puncture or cut that's worse than just a surface graze, this requires veterinary attention and may need stitching. The first thing you should do in this situation is aim to stop the bleeding, or at least reduce it as much as possible. Elevate the area to above the level of the heart (if possible) and apply firm pressure over the wound with clean dressings such as you'd find in a first aid kit. It is important also to try and keep the wound clean and free of infection, but not as important as it is to minimise blood loss in the initial stages. As soon as the animal is safe to move, take them to the vet. Remember that your pet may be suffering from the onset of shock as well as the injury, so try to keep them calm, talk to them in a reassuring voice, and minimise any further stress.

Breaks and sprains

If your animal comes in with a broken or dislocated limb, there is little you can do for them at home. You should take them to the vet as soon as possible. An animal will not place any weight on a broken or dislocated leg, nor attempt to walk on it. A broken or dislocated limb will be extremely painful; you should avoid touching it, both to avoid further distress to the animal and also for your own safety- injured animals can lash out. Try to minimise movement, keeping a cat restrained in a carrier and a dog secured on a lead until you arrive at the vets.

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