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Essential Dog First Aid Basics Every Dog Owner Should Know

Essential Dog First Aid Basics Every Dog Owner Should Know

While we might think our dogs are immune to harm, their playfulness and curiosity can make them accident-prone. Part of being a responsible dog owner is knowing the basics of dog first aid. 

Accidents don’t always happen when it’s convenient. If you’re like us and travel with pets, they could have a medical emergency when you’re hours away from the nearest veterinarian.

Today, we’re addressing how to perform dog first aid for minor injuries and acute medical concerns. This information will help keep your dog comfortable and stable until you get professional help. Let’s get started.

First Aid Isn’t Just for Humans

Dogs are just as susceptible as humans to cuts, burns, and broken bones. Not to mention, dogs can suffer from medical conditions outside our control. If your best buddy experienced a medical emergency that required immediate attention, would you know what to do? 

Boston terrier visiting a veterinarian
Dog first aid can buy time and keep your dog comfortable until you can get them to a veterinarian.

First aid isn’t just for humans. Knowing how to stop bleeding or react to choking can save your dog’s life. In addition to knowledge, you’ll need the right supplies. Before we dive into how to help your dog in an emergency, let’s discuss what items you’ll want to keep in their first aid kit.

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What to Put in Your Dog First Aid Kit

A basic dog first aid kit will look similar to a human one, including a few pet-specific supplies. You’ll want to include nitrile or latex gloves, hand sanitizer, a leash, and a muzzle to protect yourself. Even if your pet is generally friendly, they are more likely to bite or become aggressive when in pain. 

Your kit should also contain an antiseptic solution, antibiotic ointment, hydrogen peroxide, saline solution, oral syringe, alcohol wipes, emergency warming blankets, instant cold packs, a towel, flashlight, blunt-tip scissors, tweezers, styptic powder, cotton balls, sterile gauze pads, self-adhering bandages, super glue, and bandage tape. These items will help you clean and dress your pup’s wounds. 

Dog First Aid Kit: How To Make One & How To Use It

We also recommend keeping copies of your dog’s medical and vaccination records with the first aid kit. If an emergency arises, locating these records is one less thing you’ll have to worry about. 

Pro Tip: Your pet’s safety is key. If you plan to travel with your furry friend, make sure you know Is It Illegal to Leave Your Dog in Your Vehicle before you go.

Dog First Aid: What to Do If…

Before we go any further, we want to clarify that dog first aid is intermediate care and is not a substitute for medical treatment from a veterinarian. After administering first aid, always have your pet’s health concerns examined by a professional.

Let’s look at seven common injuries and medical conditions your dog may face and what steps you should take to remedy each one.

Your Dog Has a Seizure

Your dog may be having a seizure if they fall over and twitch or become stiff or rigid. They may also drool, urinate, or defecate uncontrollably. Some dogs will not fall over but will stare blankly into space instead. 

puppy laying on its side
Dogs will often fall over when having a seizure.

Avoid putting your hands anywhere near your pet’s mouth for your safety. It’s not uncommon for a dog to accidentally bite its owner during a seizure. Additionally, you don’t want to restrain them.

Make sure your dog is in a safe location until the seizure has passed. For example, if they are near stairs, gently move them further away. If you don’t feel safe moving them, place something in the way to prevent your pet from falling. 

Always see a vet as soon as possible to determine the seizure’s cause and develop a treatment plan. Time the episode if you can, as the vet will likely want to know how long it lasted. 

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Your Dog Is Bleeding

Administering dog first aid for minor external bleeding is relatively straightforward. Apply direct pressure to the wound using gauze pads. If the blood soaks through, add more gauze and continue applying pressure until the bleeding stops. 

bandaging a dog paw
If your dog is wounded, use gauze and gently apply pressure to stop the bleeding.

When a wound is on your dog’s legs or foot, elevating the limb while applying pressure can help slow the bleeding. Never try to elevate the leg if you suspect a broken bone.

Pro Tip: Consider investing in a pair of dog hiking boots to protect their paws when walking on rough surfaces.

If you cannot stop the external bleeding or believe your dog is bleeding internally, seek veterinary help right away. 

Your Dog Is Burned

Burns are complicated as they can range from mild to severe and cover small or large areas of the body. Typically, applying dog first aid to a mild burn (often called a “first-degree” or “superficial” burn) involves running cold water over the affected area for several minutes. 

Keep your dog’s body warm with a towel or blanket while cooling the burned area. This will prevent them from going into shock. If there are burns in a large area, do not immerse your pup’s entire body in water. It’s better to apply a cold compress directly to the burned area to prevent overcooling the body. White or pale gums are a good indicator that your dog is in shock.

Cait giving Mocha a bath
Run cool water over a mild burn for several minutes.

Deep burns (often called “second-degree” or “third-degree” burns) may look blistered or charred and include fur loss. You should not try to treat these burns with first aid without seeking advice from a veterinarian. Most likely, you’ll need to bring your dog to a vet for immediate care.

Lastly, never apply ointments, creams, or any other topical solution to the burn unless directed by your veterinarian. Only use cold water until you can get professional help.

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Your Dog Is Choking

Whether it’s a bone, ball, or other foreign object lodged in your dog’s throat, you must react to choking immediately with first aid to clear the airway. First, open your pet’s mouth and see if you can locate the object. If it’s visible, use your finger to sweep the item out from the back of the throat. Be careful not to push it deeper.

If you cannot dislodge the object with your finger, you’ll want to perform a maneuver similar to the Heimlich. Start by standing behind your dog and wrapping your arms around the stomach.

Place your hands just under the rib cage with one balled into a fist and the other hand on top. Then, push inwards and upwards in a thrusting motion toward the head. Do this several times until the object dislodges. 

Choking Dog? How To Do The Heimlich

You can also use the palm of your hand to pat your dog’s back firmly between the shoulder blades. This action can help dislodge the object if abdominal thrusts alone aren’t working. 

Once you’ve successfully cleared the airway, take your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Getting prompt medical treatment is especially critical when your pup has been without oxygen for several minutes. Dogs can sustain injuries to the throat and mouth during choking episodes, so you’ll want to have these areas examined. 

Your Dog Is Not Breathing

It’s terrifying to find your four-legged friend not breathing. However, it’s best to remain calm to execute dog first aid effectively. 

Check their “ABCs,” or airway, breathing, and circulation. First, look for objects that might be blocking the airway. Second, check for signs of breathing, such as the rising and falling of the chest. You can also use your hand to feel for air exiting your dog’s nose. Lastly, check for a heartbeat, indicating that oxygenated blood is still circulating through the body.

Dog CPR - How to resuscitate your pet | First Aid for Pets

If your dog’s airway is blocked, refer to the steps above to dislodge the object. If you cannot detect breathing or a heartbeat, you’ll need to perform pet CPR. As you would in a human emergency, ask someone nearby to call a veterinarian while you perform CPR.

Pet CPR in dog first aid involves a series of chest compressions and rescue breaths. You’ll want to lay your pup on their right side and apply compressions to the widest part of the left rib cage just above the heart. Perform 30 compressions at a rate of about 15 compressions per 10 seconds.

After each set of 30 compressions, pause and give two rescue breaths. Close your dog’s mouth completely, place your mouth over the nose, and exhale until the chest expands. Repeat the compressions and rescue breaths, checking for breathing and circulation every two minutes. Continue this process until your dog resumes breathing or you arrive at a veterinary hospital. 

Your Dog Has a Fracture

Your dog may have a fracture if you notice them limping or not putting weight on one of their legs. The limb might swell, and your pup may also whine or yelp in pain when the area is touched.

Pro Tip: Using a dog ramp at the entrance to your camper may help prevent your pup from injuring themselves on traditional RV steps.

Dog with fractured leg
Carefully transport your dog to a veterinarian for medical treatment if you suspect a fracture.

In this situation, you’ll need to seek veterinary care right away. Do not try to treat a broken bone yourself. Instead, keep your dog calm and still. Carry them very carefully to your vehicle and go to the vet. Take care to lay them on their non-injured side in the car. 

It might also help to transport your dog in a crate or pet carrier. However, you should do what is safest and most comfortable based on the injury. 

Your Dog Has Heatstroke

Just like humans, dogs can overheat and experience heatstroke. Panting, drooling, vomiting, lethargy, collapsing, an increased heart rate, and elevated body temperature are all indicators of heatstroke.

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The first thing you should do is move your buddy to a shaded or air-conditioned area. Then spray or pour cool water over them. You can also wrap them in a wet towel. Do not use ice-cold water, which could send your pup into shock. 

Give your dog cool water to drink, and take them to the vet for examination.

dog drinking from a water bottle
Use cool (not cold) water to help your pup rehydrate and to slowly bring down their body temperature.

➡ Dogs can also experience hypothermia if they get too cold. Learn how cold is too cold, plus ways to keep your dog warm while winter camping: Do Dogs Get Cold Camping?

Who Should You Call in a Pet Emergency?

If you’re close to home and have a pet emergency, you should call your veterinarian. When you’re away from home or if the emergency happens after regular business hours, you’ll want to call the nearest 24-hour emergency animal hospital.

If you suspect your dog has ingested poison, contact the ASPCA’s 24-hour poison control hotline at 888-426-4435.

Do not call 911 for pet emergencies. 911 is for human emergencies only, and the operators have trained accordingly. If you call for your pet, you might not be able to get the help you need.

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Should You Learn How to Do Pet CPR?

We have to be honest and let you know the success rate of pet CPR is only about 5%. However, it’s still a good idea to learn how to do it. The sooner you can initiate CPR after your dog goes into cardiac arrest, the better their chance of survival. If the worst should happen, you’ll want to know you did everything you could to save your precious pal. 

dog receiving first aid
Learning dog first aid and pet CPR can save your dog’s life if they have a medical emergency.

If you want to learn pet CPR, consider taking a class to know how to do it correctly. Trying to perform CPR without proper training can further injure your dog. 

Pro Tip: Losing your furry friend while camping is a terrifying experience! If you’ve lost your pup while RVing, Here’s How To Find Them.

Be Prepared for Anything With Dog First Aid Basics

Every second counts when your dog has a life-threatening emergency, so you don’t want to be scrambling to figure out what to do or who to call. 

Learning dog first aid basics now could save your pup’s life in the future. It’s helpful to prepare a first aid kit and add your vet’s number to your phone contacts. The American Red Cross also offers a free Pet First Aid app, a valuable guide for tending to wounds, accidents, and emergencies. 

It may feel overwhelming to think about something happening to your canine companion, but starting small is better than not starting at all. Commit to learning the dog first aid basics outlined in this article, and you’ll be significantly more prepared for anything that might arise.

Bella running behind truck camper

Accidents happen. But with a little preparation, you can keep your dog safe at home and out on the road. Check out our top tips: Taking a Road Trip With Your Dog? Here are 7 Tips to Avoid Mishaps.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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