Some more serious incidents that pet owners may have to deal with and respond to are as follows;
Note: In all emergency situations phone your vet first, let them know you are on your way and get guidance as to what to do in the meantime.
- Car Accidents
This is a very common emergency and, of course, best prevented by keeping your dog on a lead and under control at all times when out of the home. Some dogs rush out the front door as soon as it is opened so get in the habit of putting your dog into a closed room before you answer the door.
If your dog is hit by a car try to stay calm and approach him very slowly and quietly, saying his name. Look to see if he is conscious and if there is any obvious bleeding or fractured limbs. His instinct may be to run and find shelter. If that happens follow him and let him settle, maybe under some bushes in a nearby garden. At least he is off the road. Sit with him and talk gently, reassuring him. Very slowly move your hand towards him and try to apply his lead but be careful handling him in case he may bite due to shock and pain. You may need to apply a muzzle - even a make shift one made by tying his mouth and then tying behind the ears with some bandage, a tape, string, a tie or a scarf. Make sure there are no breathing difficulties. Small dogs may be restrained with a towel over their heads while lifting them from behind.
Phone your vet as soon as possible and tell them you are on your way to the vet surgery. If there is a lot of bleeding, apply a pressure bandage to the wound using a bandage, clean tissue, cloth, or clothing tied tightly around the affected limb, or kept pressed down over a wound on the body. Lift by holding under the chest and the hindquarters. A small dog may be confined in a deep box or pet carrier. A large dog may be rolled onto a coat or blanket as a makeshift stretcher. Do not attempt to splint a fractured limb, just get your dog to the vet for the necessary attention. Use a blanket or a clothes item to cover your dog to maintain some body heat, as shock will make him hypothermic. Even if your dog is walking and seems okay he will still need to be examined by a vet, checked for any internal injuries and treated for shock and bruising.
You may also be shocked, so if somebody else can drive you to the vet surgery all the better. Get a hot cup of sweet tea or coffee into you as soon as you have handed over your pet to the vet’s care. Stay warm and rest until you are feeling better. In the sad case where your pet does not survive the trauma of the accident, or if the vet recommends euthanasia, try to contact other family members or friends to come and support you in deciding what you want to do. Don’t be rushed into making any big decisions on your own while you are shocked and feeling numb, or very distressed. Your pet can be kept sedated and free from pain until you are ready to decide what to do and have had a chance to alert other members of the family who would want to be involved.
If you suspect that your dog has eaten a toxic substance phone your vet immediately and get advice. Find any packaging or look up details of any plant eaten and read the details of the suspected poison to your vet over the phone so that you can get specific advice on what to do next. Do not attempt to make your dog vomit unless the vet says to do so. Get to your vet’s clinic as soon as possible.
- Internal Foreign Bodies
Young, teething dogs tend to chew everything in sight, including socks, underwear, baby soothers, stones, sticks, balls, cuddly toys, T.V remote controls, wool, needles, scavenged items of food, bones, plants etc., etc.!!
This becomes an emergency if a blockage is caused by these items obstructing the passage of food in the stomach or small intestine, or impacting the large intestine and blocking the passage of faeces. Vomiting, dehydration and depression with lack of interest in food are the usual signs and you may have noticed pieces of a chewed up item on the floor, or in your dog’s faeces or vomit. It is important to have your dog examined by your vet as soon as possible in these circumstances. Your vet may need to X ray your dog’s abdomen and, if necessary, perform surgery to confirm the presence of a foreign body and remove it. The longer the item is in your dog’s intestines the more damage it will do, with risks of peritonitis setting in. This is a real medical emergency and costly to treat.
Pieces of wool, thread or string may seem like harmless enough items for your pet to chew on or play with but they can cause some of the worst damage in your pet’s gut. The thread moves on down along the gut (known as a Linear Foreign Body) and as the gut contracts to move food along, the thread acts like a saw, cutting through the soft tissues of the bowel wall. This causes huge damage over a long piece of intestine and there is a high risk of leakage of bowel contents into the abdominal cavity, causing peritonitis. This is a very painful condition and life threatening – so never let your pet play with wool, thread etc.
Avoid these situations by training your dog to be satisfied with chewing Kongs stuffed with food, edible pet ‘chews’ and safe pet toys. Place all risky household items he may tend to chew well out of reach, as you would do to keep a toddler safe!
If your dog seems to lose balance, falls over and can’t get back up, or starts to have convulsions with muscular contractions of his limbs, do your best to stay calm and make sure there is nothing close by that may injure him. Call your vet immediately and get advice on what to do next.
If he is convulsing do not try to touch him or move him as any stimulation can make things worse. Check the time and see how long the seizure lasts and, if possible, video it so you can show your vet exactly what was happening. Keep in phone contact with your vet or vet nurse for guidance. Place newspaper/pieces of kitchen roll or an old towel near his rear end in case he goes to the toilet, and remove this so he won’t roll into it. When the seizure ends give him some time to get over his disorientation and gradually get to his feet again. Speak softly to him and pet him when he is more aware of your presence. He may gradually return to his normal self and start to move around. At that stage you can bring him to your vet to be assessed and to discuss the possible causes. If you are aware of anything unusual he may have eaten - a plant, some medication, any weed killers or pesticides used in the locality etc., give your vet as much details as possible. If the seizure is prolonged stay in touch with your vet practice on the phone and be guided by them until a vet can come to your home and give the required treatment.
There are many causes of seizures in dogs and your vet will need to do some blood tests and other investigations to rule out possible causes. If no clear cause is revealed it may be that your dog has epilepsy and may need to take anti epileptic drugs to manage the risk of recurring seizures.
Collapse may be due to many conditions and certain breeds of dog are more likely to be affected, due to heart defects, brachyocephalic obstructive airway disease (flat nosed breeds), neurological conditions etc.
Collapse may also be due to heat stroke on a hot summer’s day if your pet has been exercising a lot and unable to cool down sufficiently by panting – especially if he is a short-nosed breed. Use tepid water to wipe him down rather than cold water, which will cause the blood vessels in his skin to constrict, slowing down heat loss. Get him to a vet as soon as possible.
If your dog collapses and there are no muscle spasms/convulsions first check for responsiveness – is he aware of your presence, your voice, your touch?
Then check his breathing. Pulling the tongue forwards opens up the passage of air through the throat. Watch for the chest and abdomen rising and falling with each breath. Check the colour of his tongue and gums. If they have a pale and blue-ish colour as opposed to a normal strong pink colour it means there is a lack of oxygen in the blood.
This may be caused by an obstruction to the airways. Check the back of the throat for any visible object that might be causing a blockage and remove this if possible.
If you think your pet is not breathing, check with a piece of cotton wool or fur at the nostrils to see if there is a flow of air.
If not, you can attempt resuscitation.
Lie your dog on their right side.
Extend their head forwards.
Open the mouth and pull the tongue forwards.
Check for any obstruction and remove if possible.
A sharp application of pressure behind the last rib may expel a foreign body lodged deep in the throat.
If breathing does not start hold the mouth closed and blow into the nose every 3 seconds – 20 times per minute.
If you cannot feel a heartbeat behind the left elbow, try pushing down on the chest wall in this area every second, and blow twice into the nose for every 15 compressions.
Hopefully your dog will respond and breathing will resume.
Phone your vet and get your pet there as soon as possible for urgent treatment and investigation.
- Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV)
This is another emergency situation that it is important to know about in advance. It occurs most frequently in large, deep chested dogs and the risk increases with increasing age and if a close family member has suffered from this condition. Classically it occurs after a large meal followed by exercise but this is not always the case. The stomach becomes distended and full of gas (gastric dilation) and then may rotate and twist on itself (volvulus), causing obstruction to its own blood supply. It also causes compression of the main veins in the abdomen, leading to reduced blood flow back to the heart. This causes reduced cardiac output resulting in lack of oxygen to all organs and tissues, shock, and death.
The affected dog will be restless and anxious, may have a distended gassy abdomen, and may vomit, followed by dry retching. They may salivate a lot and be depressed followed by weakness, pale gums and collapse. Phone your vet and warn them of the symptoms before getting your pet to the vet surgery for urgent, lifesaving treatment. Your pet will need to be on a drip to raise the blood volume. Their stomach will need to be decompressed using a stomach tube or a cannula directly into the stomach. They will also need surgery to correct the volvulus or twist and to try to prevent further episodes. It is a high risk procedure and your dog will need hospitalisation and monitoring after surgery.