Canine First-Aid – Some Basic Tips

canine first aidJust like humans, dogs sometimes get into trouble and need help. If your dog has an accident, knowing some basic canine first aid could save your pet’s life, or at the very least ensure that the right things are done in the critical first few moments after the accident. There are plenty of canine first aid courses running around the country, which will give you an in-depth idea of what to do should you encounter a dog in need, but in the meantime, here are some basic tips. Remember, before you start administering any first aid it is very important to stay calm, to contact a veterinarian if necessary, and to muzzle the dog (this can be done gently with cloth if there is no muzzle available) if there is a chance that it may bite you in its distress.


If your dog is bleeding badly then it is a very good idea to staunch the bleeding as quickly as possible. If your dog loses too much blood then this spells ill for their health, and it will be much harder to heal them. There are canine blood banks within the US, but canine blood transfusions are nonetheless an expensive procedure using a relatively rare resource, and if your dog has to have a blood transfusion it’s likely that your insurers will think twice before offering an inexpensive pet premium again. A pet which is losing a lot of blood needs to get to a veterinarian quickly, but you can help by bandaging the wound. Keeping the dog as calm as you can (this will be helped enormously if you yourself are acting in a calm and reassuring manner), wrap clean cloth around the wound, applying an extra layer if blood seeps through. Only use a tourniquet if arterial blood is spurting and you absolutely have to, as there is a lot of potential for a tourniquet to go wrong. If you cannot bandage the wound, press a pad over it and hold it in place until veterinary help arrives. Sterile bandaging materials are ideal. If you have these to hand, cover the wound with a non-adhesive dressing, and then cover that with cotton bandage. Layer cotton wool in and cover with more bandage. If you have to bandage a leg, include the paw or it could potentially swell up.


Canine resuscitation can save lives, and has done so on many occasions in the past. If your dog has stopped breathing, lie it on its side and check to make sure that there is definitely no breath (you can do this by holding a mirror to their muzzle – if it steams up, the dog is breathing). If the injury has occurred due to partial drowning, hold them upside down if possible to allow water to drain out of their lungs before putting them on their side. If the dog is definitely not breathing, open their mouth, pull out their tongue, and clean out any obstructions within their mouth and airway. If this does not encourage breathing, extend the dog’s head, hold the mouth closed, and blow into the nostrils about 20 times per minute. If the dog also lacks a heartbeat, press on the dog’s chest (just behind the armpits). Don’t worry about doing this too hard – it is worth cracking a rib to get the heart started again. Give two breaths into the nose for every fifteen or so chest compressions.

Sudden Belly Swelling

If this happens in a deep-chested breed (a boxer or pointer, for example), and is accompanied by dribbling, gulping, and retching then it is absolutely imperative that the dog receives veterinary attention as soon as possible. They may be suffering from a twisted stomach, or ‘gastric dilation-volvulus‘, which can kill even the healthiest dogs within hours. If your dog has a twisted stomach, it will need an emergency operation to correct it. The best thing you can do for your pet in this situation is phone the veterinarian and rush them to the operating theater.


Dogs love to eat strange things, and aren’t particularly discriminate about it. It’s not uncommon, therefore, for them to make themselves ill with something they’ve consumed. If you know what it is that they’ve poisoned themselves with, tell the veterinarian. If it’s something from a packet, bring the packet. It may be advisable to induce vomiting – if your dog has eaten antifreeze within the last two hours then throwing it up is a good idea – but DO NOT try to make your dog vomit unless a veterinarian has recommended that you to do so. To get a dog to vomit, administer 3% hydrogen peroxide – nothing stronger – at a rate of roughly one teaspoon per pound of your dog’s weight. Encourage the dog to walk around to get its metabolism moving. If after 15 minutes your dog has not vomited, give another peroxide dose. If this still does not work, call a veterinarian rather than giving your dog more peroxide.

This post was submitted by freelance writer Anne McIver

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