WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE IS NO VET: Pet First Aid Part ll
By Dr. Linda Nelson
In the last issue, we discussed practical first aid advice for pets whose owners might not be able to access veterinary services as quickly as they would in a developed country. This month, we will cover the topics of CPR, Eye Injuries, Fractures, Heatstroke, Snake Bite and First Aid Kits.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitations (CPR) for Pets
It might sound crazy, but for pet lovers, knowing how to perform CPR is essential. Just like humans, you never know when you’ll need to use it and you’ll be glad you know how if you ever need to. Performing CPR on dogs is just like performing CPR on a human, albeit with a few adjustments in positioning due to anatomical differences.
1. Check for Airway, Breathing and Circulation
Check the dog’s airway. Pull the tongue out just a little to clear his airway and close his mouth if your dog is not breathing. Tilt his head back to make sure the airway is open and begin mouth to snout breathing. Place your mouth over his nose and administer four to five breaths. Check for circulation. If your dog has circulation, she will have a pulse. Check for circulation by pressing on the femoral pulse. This is located on the inside of the rear leg towards the top.
2. Perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
If your dog is not breathing and does not have a pulse, it is time to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Place the dog on a flat, hard surface RIGHT SIDE DOWN. If the dog is on the ground, place his spine against your knees.
Bend the dog’s left front leg at the elbow. Where the elbow touches the body is equivalent to where you should place your hands to begin compressions. This is approximately between the fourth and sixth rib, one-third of the way up the chest from the sternum. Lock your hands in a classic CPR position which is one hand on top the other with fingers together. Lock your elbows. Begin performing compressions by pushing two to three inches deep. Give compressions then breaths. Check for a pulse after one minute and repeat if needed.
Eye injuries are common in both dogs and cats. Any injury to the eye can lead to permanent scarring or blindness if penetrating or ulcerative lesions develop. Eye injuries can include scratches, perforating injuries, foreign bodies, and chemical or contact corneal trauma. Also, certain diseases such as diabetes can cause serious eye problems that have a sudden onset. Any condition that causes your pet to squint or protect his eye, any suspected trauma to the eye, any abnormal appearance of the eyeball or any time the eyelid cannot cover the eye are all emergencies which should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Delays of more than a few hours can lead to permanent blindness.
As you are waiting to see your vet, there are a few basic steps you can take to help your pet. If you suspect there may be debris or irritation affecting your pet’s eye, you should use copious amounts of sterile saline (or contact lens solution) to clean foreign objects from the eye and to assess the seriousness of the situation. If there is a foreign object, you can try removing it with plastic tweezers (carefully!) or by continuing to flush with clean water.
The most common eye injury for both cats and dogs are corneal abrasions/ulcerations. Fortunately, most of these injuries do not cause permanent damage if given proper treatment. For first aid, flush the eye with saline and then apply antibiotic eye drops to the affected eye. Three to four drops should be given every two to three hours until a vet has looked at the eye. NEVER use eye drops containing a steroid for treating corneal ulcers unless specifically instructed by your vet. In certain situations steroids can cause a“melting ulcer” which is just as bad as it sounds! Look for eye drops containing chloramphenicol, such as Abchlor®, because this is a broad spectrum antibiotic effective against many pathogens.
The aim of first-aid treatment of fractures should be to minimise further damage to the injured part, to make the dog as comfortable as possible and to control any associated hemorrhage. If it’s a simple fracture of a limb, immobilise the limb by wrapping a section of newspaper or a magazine around the limb and taping it together. This makeshift splint is all you’ll need to reduce the damage the break may cause if left unsupported. If you don’t have a magazine or newspaper, tongue depressors or Popsicle sticks will work on smaller dogs. Thin pieces of lumber will do the job for a larger dog. In a pinch, use branches. Use tape or strips of cloth to tie the ends of the splints to the limb. For an open fracture of a limb, place a wet cloth over the wound to keep debris out, and then put a splint on the leg. Ensure that you don’t cover the protruding bone with the splint. Dogs that are unable to stand may have neurological injuries and should be lifted on to a flat board or tray and moved very carefully.
A broken bone requires the help of a professional. The only necessary dog first aid for fractures is immobilization of the break before transporting your dog to the vet or clinic as quickly as possible. Don’t waste time getting it perfect. As long as the limb is immobilized, your treatment is done.
Heatstroke is an emergency and requires immediate treatment. Because dogs do not sweat (except to a minor degree through their foot pads), they do not tolerate high environmental temperatures as well as humans do. Dogs depend upon panting to exchange warm air for cool air. But when air temperature is close to body temperature, cooling by panting is not an efficient process. Common situations that can set the stage for heat stroke in dogs include: being left in a car in hot weather, exercising strenuously in hot, humid weather, or being confined without shade and fresh water in hot weather.
Heatstroke begins with heavy panting and difficulty breathing. The tongue and mucous membranes appear bright red. The saliva is thick and tenacious, and the dog often vomits. The rectal temperature rises to 40° to 43.3°C. As shock sets in, the lips and mucous membranes turn gray. Collapse, seizures, coma, and death rapidly ensue.
Emergency measures to cool the dog must begin at once. Move the dog out of the source of heat, preferably into an air-conditioned building. Take his rectal temperature every 10 minutes. Mild cases may be resolved by moving the dog into a cool environment.
If the rectal temperature is above 40°C, begin rapid cooling by spraying the dog with a garden hose or immersing him in a tub of cool water (not ice water) for up to two minutes. Alternatively, place the wet dog in front of an electric fan. Cool packs applied to the groin area may be helpful, as well as wiping his paws off with cool water or rubbing alcohol. Monitor his rectal temperature and continue the cooling process until the rectal temperature falls below 103°F (39°C). At this point, stop the cooling process and dry the dog. Further cooling may induce hypothermia and shock. Following an episode of heat stroke, take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Once a dog has been bitten by a poisonous snake, immediate medical care is needed to prevent permanent tissue damage and/or possible death. The most important thing to remember in a possible snake bite situation is to remain calm. In many cases, the snake does not successfully inject much or any venom into the victim. Also, many Ugandan snakes are non-venomous. Try to remember what the snake looked like.
The first step in cases of suspected snake bite is to assess whether the pet has actually been bitten. The symptoms of a snakebite include visible bite wounds which look like small puncture wounds; bleeding, bruising, and swelling around the site of the wound; and excessive swelling on the portion of the body the bite occurred (for example, if the bite was on the head, the dog’s whole head may begin to balloon within minutes.) There may also be colour changes to the tissue surrounding the wound such as red, blue and black as the tissue dies; signs of shock such as pale gums, cool skin or tremors; weakness, confusion, lack of coordination, vomiting or slow respiration.
If these symptoms are in evidence, no first aid treatments are useful. Never try to cut into the bite wound, suck out the venom, or cut off circulation to a limb that has suffered a snake bite. Do not apply ice or heat to the wound. Just keep your pet as still as possible and get your pet to a vet clinic as fast as you possibly can. The good news is that with prompt professional treatment, many dogs can be saved.
First Aid Kits
A basic pet first aid kit suitable for pets in Uganda would include:
• Plastic Tweezers
• Dettol® or Savlon® solution
• Sterile gauze pads and bandages
• First aid tape
• Antibacterial ointment (eg Triple antibiotic)
• Rubbing alcohol
• A leash and muzzle
• Sterile Saline (contact lens solution) – for cleaning out eyes
• Benadryl® (diphenylhydramine) tablets
• Antibiotic eye drops
• Hydrocortisone cream
• Copies of veterinary documents (past medical history, proof of rabies vaccination)
• Rectal Thermometer
For people living in remote areas away from pharmacies, it would be also worth asking your vet for a few common prescription medications such as broad-spectrum antibiotics and appropriate painkillers.
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Linda Nelson
Mobile +256 784 718988