Treating Dog Injuries

Road Accidents
The first thing to be aware of in this case is to protect yourself and others around from another possible accident. Make sure the road is clear and safe enough to proceed to come close to the dog. Maintaining calm is crucial in this situation as the dog might be under a lot of pain, fear and/or stress. Communicate with the dog and approach it in a gentle and slow manner. In some cases, if the dog seems extremely nervous or has aggressive reactions, but does NOT show signs of neck injuries (bleeding, broken bones), it is advisable to put a lead around its neck or a muzzle (if available) in order to avoid defensive attacks from the dog or extreme sudden movements that can cause you an injury instead.

If the dog is able to walk, it is not a symptom that it does not require medical help; make sure you take it to the vet as there may be internal injuries that are not perceived at first sight. If the dog seems unable to walk, then find the best way to carry it to the nearest vet. Depending on the size of the dog, the way to handle them may be the following:
  • If it’s a small dog, you may gently pick it up with one hand in its chest and the other hand under its hindquarter.
  • If it’s a bigger dog, then you may use a jacket, coat, towel or sheet to lay the dog on top. To do this, place one hand under the dog's chest and the other under its rear; carefully lift or slide the dog onto the sheet.

Note: Under signs of spinal injury, then you may have to find a large rigid object such as wood, and carefully put the dog on top. In any of these situations, preventing the dog from losing body heat is essential, so make sure you find a spare blanket or warm clothing to cover it up while making your way to the vet.

The main reason to apply first aid in every event implying blood injuries is to prevent excessive blood loss. It is very important to keep yourself and the dog calm in this situation because agitation may cause more blood flow, leading to excessive bleeding and promote shock. If you have noticed your dog has pale or white gums, rapid heartbeat or rapid breathing, then the dog might be experiencing a shock. In this case, immediate medical assistance is vital.

The first thing to do is to apply non adhesive dressing on the wound and put on a cotton bandage, a pad or a compression bandage on it or around it in case the area is on the limbs. Cover the whole with adhesive bandage or tape. If blood seems to be soaking through, then apply a layer of clothing or towel on top (or around it) and manually compress the area affected to slow down external bleeding. Apply as many layers as needed. Take the dog to the vet immediately.

If blood spurting is observed, then urgent medical assistance is promptly required as it may be an indication that an artery has been cut.

Note: When bandaging limbs, you must include the foot to prevent swelling. It is NOT recommendable to use tourniquets because they can cut the circulation from the limb. Bandages should be left on for a maximum of 24 hours.

Eye Injuries
Injuries in the dog’s eye require immediate attention. Keep the eye moist, refrain the dog from scratching the eye, and see a vet immediately.

Broken Bones
The most commonly broken bones in a dog’s body are the spine, pelvis, femur and jaw. Some signs of bone fracture can be: swelling of the area affected, bone sticking out through the skin (also called open fracture, which can cause a high chance of infection), twisted or deformed leg, and inability of the dog to stand on its feet, among others. Broken bones are painful, which may provoke the dog to bite in self-defense, therefore, the use of a muzzle is highly recommended.

Treating broken bones is not easy to manage as it may also lead to loss of blood, internal organ distress or shock; therefore, professional assistance is preferred, but here are some of the ways you can help:
  • If it is an open fracture, cover the bone with a sterile dressing and loosely wrap around with as many gauze pads, clean cloths or clean towels as needed. If bleeding persists, apply very gentle compression to the area affected.
  • If it is a closed fracture, splinting may be applied. If you are splinting a limb and loosely wrap it in place (avoid straightening the leg) with a rolled newspaper, magazine or cardboard, and enclose it with tape or a roll of gauze. If the fracture is observed above the knee or elbow, it is best to keep the dog as still as you can and avoid splinting.
  • How to carry a dog with broken bones will depend on the size. If it is a little dog, you may cuddle it in your arms making sure the affected area isn’t touching your body. If it is a larger dog, you may pick it up with one hand in its chest and the other hand under its hindquarter (if the injury is on the limbs), holding it close to your chest to make sure it is supported firmly.
  • All other fractures require special handling and attention. In these cases, it is best to call a veterinary immediately.

Note: If the dog is being transported to the vet, splinting may be required. This can prevent the dog from shock or tissue trauma as well as soothing a bit of pain, however, improper splinting is risky and it may cause more damage. Don’t attempt to splint if you don’t know how or if the dog shows signs of resistance.

Burns can be very painful and, if not treated properly, can cause more damage, or even the death of the dog. Superficial burns are not a major worry; however, first aid should always be applied to relief the dog from feeling pain.
  • If the dog shows red skin, blisters, singed fur, or painful lesions, then we can classify this as a “first degree burn” or “second degree burn”.
  • Apply cold ice packs to the affected area and leave on for at least 15 minutes. Do not let the dog lick the burnt area, if it insists, then cover it with sterile dressing. Never use cotton when treating burns, instead, wrap a towel or rags around the dressing just tight enough to make sure it stays in place. Transport the dog to the vet if necessary, for example, if the burn covers a large part of the body, or if it is affecting vital organs. If unsure, call a vet to ask and clarify.
  • If destruction on the skin area is observed, black or white wounds, absence/weakness of the fur or shock indications (see above under “bleeding”), then this is a sign of a “third degree burn”.
  • If the heartbeat per minute exceeds 150, then the dog is in shock and in this case, place the dog on its side, extend the head and make sure the airways are open by pulling the dogs tongue out gently. Wrap the dog up in warm material, such as a jacket or a towel, to avoid heat loss. Once this is done, go ahead and proceed with the same steps indicated for a first or second degree burn and take the dog for immediate medical assistance.

Note: In the events of first, second or third degree burns, never use cotton, ointment or butter.

Snake Bites
A snake bite can be poisonous with two “tooth marks” on the skin (symptoms include: pain, swelling, vomiting, hypoventilation, hyperventilation, convulsions, paralysis) or non-poisonous with a noticeable “U-shape” bite. In either case or if unsure you should clip the hair from the affected area and pour plenty of hydrogen peroxide directly on the bite to flush any leftover poison. Take the dog to the vet for immediate medical support. If you have seen the snake, describing its physical appearance to the vet can be very helpful. If the snake has been killed, it is recommendable to take it with you for proper identification.

Dog Fight
After the event of a dog fight, a dog may seem shaken, dreary or distressed, and it may or may not have a wound. Wounds on the head, neck or body requires immediate veterinary assistance. If the affected area is on the limbs, then it is recommendable to apply first aid (see treatments for bleeding explained above) prior to taking the dog to the vet, as antibiotics may be considered necessary.

In the event of poisoning, it is important to act promptly. Attempt to find the packaging or any potential remains of the “poison” and call the vet immediately. If the dog has vomited, save a sample for veterinary assessment.
Note: Do not induce vomiting unless the vet indicates it is safe.

Seizures can be due to epilepsy, lead poisoning, kidney or liver diseases and/or disorders in the brain (encephalitis, brain tumor, brain injuries), among other possible causes. You may notice the dog has seizures by symptoms such as anxiety, crying out, demanding affection and hiding or simply by being restless. This behavior normally lasts a couple of minutes before the dog begins with a rigid extension of its legs, followed by collapsing abruptly. For about 30 seconds the dog stops breathing and remains unconscious until a recurring tweaking of its legs becomes evident.
Once you have recognised the presence of seizures, proceed to move the dog to a quiet, calm and safe place to avoid any disturbance of the seizure that may trigger further seizures and away from walls and furniture to prevent self injuries. As soon as the seizure is over, call the vet for medical advice; if the seizure does not stop within 10 minutes, then transport the dog immediately for veterinary assistance.

Heat Strokes
Heat strokes occur when the dog is unable to maintain balance between its body temperature and the environmental heat. Among the most common symptoms you may find that the dog is drooling, seems uncoordinated and hyperventilating. In this instant, check the dogs body temperature with the rectal thermometer and, if the temperature is high (above 39oC) then immediately take your dog to a cooled or shaded area with enough ventilation. Wet the dogs coat in cold water (with a hose if outside, or immerse it in a cold bath if inside) and place ice packs on its head. Take the dog to the vet as heat strokes with body temperatures over 41oC might cause strict brain damage to the dog and potential death. While being transported, put a cool wet towel over the dog and ice packs on its head.

Naturally dogs are good swimmers, but sometimes they might come across certain situations where they can’t come back to shore or to a shallow enough places where they can walk. In this case, the most important thing to do is to ensure your own safety first.
Pool drowning can be avoided. Prior training is highly recommended. The dog should be able to identify a safe exit point in a pool with an object that it recognises. The marked point is designed to show the dog where it can find its own way out. For example, you should place a brightly coloured object (e.g. a flag or similar) at the exit point such as the stairs leading out of the pool. You should then place your dog in the pool away from the exit point and then encourage it to come to you whilst standing or sitting at the flag. Reward the behaviour. Repeat this until the dog knows where to exit the pool.
Depending on the circumstance, there are different ways you may attempt to rescue if the dog is stuck in a river, a whirlpool or any mass of water with currents. If you are safe from danger, improvise a device that’s long enough to reach the position of the dog so it can grab it with its mouth and get pulled out. Examples can be: a rope, a scarf, a long tree branch or stick, a belt, among others. If the dog cannot be pulled or lifted to safety out of the water, prepare to perform CPR.

Choking may cause a dog to panic, and this may cause more difficulty to breathe. In the event of suffocation or obstruction, it is crucial to clear the dog’s airways. The signs may show the presence of obvious distress, a blue tongue, symptoms of unconsciousness or perhaps the dog might be pawing its mouth. If any of these signs are perceived, then proceed to open the dog’s mouth to take out the object that is causing obstruction.
Open the dog’s mouth firmly and place its lips between its teeth and your fingers to avoid getting bitten. If you see the object, try and use your fingers to remove it. If you cannot see anything obstructing the airways, then hold the dog by its back legs (if it’s small enough to do this) so the dog is upside down, apply rigorous shakes and slap to its back.
If the dog is too big to be lifted, place the dog on its side and press firmly and suddenly on the dog’s stomach just behind the last rib, repeatedly until the object is out. If the dog is not breathing after the object is expelled, then proceed with resuscitation and, if necessary, CPR.

More information on caring for dogs can be found in our Dog Care course.

Or read about dog care in ebook, Dog Health.