Working in emergency medicine, we get numerous calls from people wondering what they can do with their pet in an emergency prior to coming in to the office. While the majority of treatments on your pet should be done by a veterinarian or a member of a veterinary staff, there are some things you can do to help your pet prior to transport.
Preparing to Transport Your Pet
The most important thing to remember is that you should never do anything to assist your pet that will cause harm to yourself. Even the most gentle pet, when in pain, may try to bite and/or scratch you. The most frequent occurrence of this situation is after a pet is hit by a car — we often see clients who have been bitten by their pets while trying to tend to them and transport them. For dogs, placing a large blanket or towel over the head, with room for them to breathe, can help prevent injury to yourself. You can also use a towel with cats, and it’s a great idea to put on sturdy work gloves and a long-sleeved shirt prior to picking them up.
With an animal that has been hit by a car, it’s also helpful to slide the animal gently onto a board, blanket or sturdy piece of cardboard — this will help protect against possible trauma to their spinal cord or neck. It’s also important, especially in patients that are having trouble breathing, to keep your pet sitting up on their sternum (chest) — that will help them aerate both sides of their lungs and breathe more easily. You can place thick towels on either side of them to help keep them propped up in this position.
Getting Bleeding Under Control
When it comes to pet injuries, a bleeding pet typically leads to a frantic owner, so it’s important to stay calm and focus on helping your pet. To be prepared for such an event, having a first aid kit on hand for your pet — including gauze and materials needed to make a bandage — is a very good idea. One important initial word of advice is that if there is foreign material sticking out of the wound, do not try to remove it yourself. The foreign object could be pressing up against a blood vessel or penetrating an organ, and removing it could cause more harm than good. This includes foreign material sticking out of the eye.
For penetrating wounds (such as bites) and wounds that are bleeding heavily, apply firm pressure and place a firm pressure bandage over the wound. If the bleeding is on a limb, you can also try to raise that limb above the level of your pet’s heart to help slow the bleeding. For nose bleeding, apply ice to the bridge of the nose to slow it down, and try to keep your pet laying on their sternum (chest), as we discussed above.
One of the most common bleeding problems we see on an emergency basis is a bleeding toenail, which includes a toenail that has broken or has pulled out. This kind of injury can bleed profusely and run all over a floor or rug (I refer to this as “crime scene bleeding”). To help bring the bleeding under control at home, you can place the bleeding toe in some corn starch, a bar of soap or a stick of underarm deodorant containing zinc.
Dealing with Toxicities
Toxicities are also a common emergency we deal with here at Greenbrier Emergency. With so many different substances toxic to pets — and many substances you might otherwise not think of as toxic — always call a veterinarian if you suspect that your pet has gotten into something. In this kind of situation, many people consider trying to make their pet vomit to remove the toxic substance. But with some household products and medications, inducing vomiting in a pet can cause more harm than good. Your pet, if poisoned, may not be able to swallow correctly and end up inhaling some of its vomit, creating a whole new problem known as aspiration pneumonia. Also, some products can cause more irritation to the esophagus and mouth on the way back up than on the way down.
Because so many common plants are toxic to pets, I usually recommend that people keep a list of the types of plants they have in and around their house. Telling your vet, “they got into a big green one,” doesn’t help us pinpoint the exact toxic agent and resolve the problem.
For other common toxic household substances like rat poison, try to keep them stored in a place that is inaccessible to your pet. And if you smoke, don’t throw your used filters outside — nicotine is a toxic agent to pets, and any remaining tobacco, eaten by your pet in large enough quantities, can cause serious problems.
If you ever do have an emergency situation with your pet, if possible, please call a veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency to let them know you’re on your way. That will help them get set up and be prepared to handle your pet’s specific problem and treat them as quickly and effectively as possible.
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