WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE IS NO VET: Pet First Aid Part I
The Internet and bookshops are full of advice for pet owners about how to deal with animal health emergencies but most of it boils down to “bring your pet to a veterinarian immediately.” This is obviously sensible advice in the developed world, but what does one do in Uganda where there may be no vet readily available? The answer lies in knowing a few basic treatments and having a simple animal first aid kit on hand. There are many situations where taking prompt action will stabilize the animal to allow time to get it to the vet and where the eventual outcome is much better as a result of proper first aid.
The first step is knowing your pet’s normal behavior and physical parameters such as weight, approximate heart rate, breathing rate and temperature. Most people unconsciously take in this information just through day to day interactions with their pet. Understanding what is normal will allow you to more accurately assess problems if they occur.
When giving first aid to a sick or injured animal, it is of utmost importance to protect yourself from being bitten or scratched. Animals in pain are often unexpectedly vicious. If you are examining a dog for a traumatic injury or bandaging a wound, temporarily muzzle him. If no muzzle is available, it is easy to use a bandage roll or pantyhose to make one. Cats are a little more tricky, but can be restrained by holding the scruff of the neck very firmly, or by rolling them up in a bath towel. Practice this a few times when your animals are healthy and it will be much easier if it becomes necessary in an emergency situation.
These suggestions are not meant to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian—they are intended to provide practical help when no professional assistance is immediately available.
Bite Wounds & Lacerations
Unfortunately it is quite common for our household pets to get into fights with various animals – the neighbour’s dog, feral cats or even monkeys. Ugandan pets also seem to have frequent run-ins with jagged metal sheets and barbed wire. If this happens, clean the wounds thoroughly with clean water and mild soap or dilute disinfectant (e.g. Dettol®). Hydrogen peroxide is better than nothing but can actually injure tissue and delay healing. However, it is brilliant for removing bloodstains from fur! Bleeding wounds or wounds that are gaping open should be bandaged.
The first layer of a bandage should be a non-adhesive gauze over the wound. Triple anti-biotic ointment can be applied to scrapes and lacerations. The second layer of a bandage should be a soft, absorbent layer with the outer layer being either a self-sticking bandage (Vetwrap®) or tape. If bandaging a limb, check to make sure the bandage is not too tight by ensuring the foot remains warm. The bandage should be changed daily until a veterinarian has examined the wound or advises otherwise.
Pets with bite wounds and serious lacerations will often benefit from a course of antibiotics. Pet owners living in very remote areas who will not have access to a vet should keep a week’s supply of a broad spectrum antibiotic on hand for this purpose. The most commonly prescribed one for both cats and dogs is clavulanic acid/amoxicillin (Clavamox® or Synulox®). It is also important to give pets a rabies booster within a day or two if they have been bitten by an unknown animal. Rabies vaccines can be acquired from private practitioners in larger cities or from the District Veterinary Officer in all districts.
Diarrhea & Vomiting
Although not usually a life-threatening emergency, severe diarrhea or vomiting can be worrisome, particularly in very young or very old pets. Puppies with profuse, foul-smelling diarrhea may have parvovirus and will need intensive care from a veterinarian to survive. This disease is easily preventable by vaccination. Without vaccination, the mortality rate is >90%. Otherwise, diarrhea and vomiting are most often the result of what vets call “dietary indiscretion,” or in other words, eating garbage. Fortunately, it is usually self-limiting and resolves quickly.
If your pet has diarrhea or is vomiting, do not give any food or water for 6 hours. If the diarrhea or vomiting continues or the pet acts ill, contact a vet. In the meantime, give very small amounts of clear liquids (water, Gatorade, Pedialyte or other electrolyte solution.) The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon per kilogram of body weight every 2 or 3 hours throughout the day and night. If the fluid stays down, food can be reintroduced. When food is reintroduced, give small portions of bland foods like boiled chicken or boiled beef mince, and rice. Antibiotics are not usually indicated, but a veterinarian may prescribe them if the illness persists over days and there is suspicion of a specific bacterial infection such as Salmonella , Campylobacter, or E. coli.
Insect Bites/Bee Stings
Any insect or spider can cause problems if they bite or sting your pet. A bite or sting can cause swelling, redness, and itching. Some animals can have an allergic reaction to a sting or bite that may result in mild hives, facial swelling, vomiting, difficulty breathing or even collapse.
If the stinger can be found, scrape it out with a credit card or other stiff material. Alternatively, use tweezers by grasping the stinger, which is located below the venom sac. If the sting just happened, don’t put pressure on the venom sac, as that would inject more venom into the pet. Apply cool compresses to the area. To help neutralize some of the acidic venom, apply a past mixture of baking soda and water to the sting area. It may also be helpful to give an antihistamine, which should decrease the reaction. Dogs can be given diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) at the dose of 2-4mg/kg up to three times per day. Do not give any other antihistamine medication because they can cause seizures.
Poisoning is a condition that results from the ingestion, inhalation, absorption, injection, or application of a substance that causes functional of body tissues. The poison can be a plant, a medication given in excess, a cleaning product, or other household chemicals. In Uganda, pesticides and rat bait are particular problems.
The most important thing to do is accurately assess exactly what substance was ingested and in what quantity. If possible, contact a 24hr poison control hotline (numbers listed below) for information about specific antidotes for each chemical. These services will bill your credit card approximately $40 but are very worthwhile as they will continue communicating with you until the case is resolved. In the meantime, or if you are unable to make phone calls where you are located, consider inducing vomiting.
A poisoned pet should be made to vomit when the ingestion happened within the last 3 hours and the poison substance isn’t caustic. Vomiting should NOT be induced if the poison was a petroleum product (eg paraffin), a cleaning solution (eg Lime-away), a strong acid or a strong base. Vomiting should also NOT be induced if the pet is showing signs of poisoning such as seizures, retching, or is too weak to stand. To induce vomiting, squirt hydrogen peroxide (1 teaspoon per 2 kg) into the back of the throat with a syringe or turkey baster. This can be repeated ONCE if it doesn’t work the first time.
Do not give any liquids because they may push the poison into the body sooner. For rat poison it is also useful to give activated charcoal which aids in binding the poison in the stomach before it is absorbed. Activated charcoal is available in Uganda pharmacies and should be given at 1 to 3 grams/kg body weight.
A seizure is any sudden and uncontrolled movement of the animal’s body caused by abnormal brain activity. The pet may or may not seem conscious or responsive, and may urinate or have a bowel movement. Seizure activity that lasts longer than 3-5 minutes can cause severe side effects such as fluid in the lungs or brain. A dramatic rise in body temperature can also result, causing internal organ damage.
If your pet has a seizure, don’t panic. Protect the pet from injuring himself during and after the seizure. Do not place your hands near the pet’s mouth. (They cannot really swallow their tongues.) Take note of exactly how long the seizure lasts and if it started with a certain body part (such as twitching of an eye.) If the seizure lasts more than 3 minutes, cool the pet with cool water on the ears, belly and feet, and seek veterinary attention at once. Shorter seizures are not immediately life-threatening and a veterinarian can be consulted in due time to diagnose the specific cause and formulate a treatment plan.
Next article: CPR, Eye Injuries, Fractures, Heatstroke, Snake Bite
For more information, please contact: Dr. Linda Nelson
Mobile: +256 784 718988. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org