Common Pet Injuries
It is inevitable. At some point in our pet's life, they will suffer some sort of boo-boo. While the majority are minor and easily handled, some injuries are more serious, and knowing what to do during emergency situations can help not only reduce the pain your pet experiences, but also promote a quicker recovery and even save their life.
By always keeping a well-stocked pet first aid kit in an easily accessible place, you are helping to make sure you are best equipped to handle any emergencies that may come up. Learn more about what to include in the first aid kit and about how to read your pet's vital signs.
Build or buy a pet first aid kit...
If your pet experiences an injury
FIRST: Stay calm and controlled
Small cuts and upset tummies? No problem... But staying calm and controlled is much more difficult when the unthinkable has happened and your beloved pet has suffered a serious injury. Your immediate actions and how you approach the situation can mean the difference between the life and death of your pet. Remain as calm as possible, and focus 100% of your attention on the task at hand as much as you can, not on panic or fear.
THEN: Take appropriate action
As the term implies "first" aid is the first treatment you give your pet when an incident occurs. First aid varies depending on what happened. Usually, your goal is to call a vet or take your pet to a vet as soon as possible. But sometimes, there are immediate actions (see below) you can take yourself to prevent further damage from the injury before you can reach a vet. Examples include inducing vomiting if your dog has swallowed a poisonous substance, or relieving a blocked windpipe from a swallowed object. These treatments can save your pet's life.
Understand that when a pet is scared or in pain, they may unintentionally bite and may need to be muzzled for both their own safety and yours why you apply first aid.
Let's take a look at some of the most common pet injuries and how we can best treat them.
Limping & Foot Pad Injuries...
If your dog begins to limp, hold up their paw, or begin ravenously licking any part of their paw, check it out. Look for burrs, small stones, thorns, or other debris that needs to be dislodged or removed. Carefully check the webbing between each toe.
If you see a cut or scrape that is bleeding:
- Gently rinse the area with water and apply Vetericyn or betadine/iodine.
- Apply an antibacterial ointment (e.g. Bacitracin) and place a gauze pad pad on the cut. If using Vetericyn, applying this ointment is not necessary.
- If the bleeding does not stop within 2-3 mins, wrap the area with a light bandage and secure in place with a self-adhesive bandage cover.
- If the cut is on the pad or around the base of the foot, cover the bandage with a dog bootie.
Change the bandage at least once daily (or if it gets soiled or wet), and remove completely if the wound has sealed. If the wound continues seeping, head to the vet. If you notice swelling, a foul odor, or a painful reaction, there may be an infection requiring your vet's attention.
If your pet can place some weight on the paw, but still limps
- First check to see that no debris such as a small stone or thorn is the culprit. If you do not see any visible debris, quieten your pet and monitor their movement closely for the first few minutes. Often, it is a little twist that quickly resolves itself.
- If your pet is still able to put some weight on the paw but continues to limp, limit all activities. Do your best to encourage rest. If you begin to see improvement, continue to limit their activity until the limp completely disappears. If you see no improvement by the following day, head to the vet.
If your pet cannot place any weight on the paw and is in obvious pain
- It is time for help. DO NOT try to set what may be a fracture or break unless you have the medical experience to do so, because a badly-placed splint can cause more harm than good. Head for the vet, and during transport, use a firm surface to act as a stretcher, or use a blanket as a sling. If you are alone in the car with your pet, secure them as best as possible, making sure you do not put pressure on the injured area.
Your goal is to gently restrain your pet and support the injured part as best as you can.
Overweight and obese dogs are more at risk for injuries than dogs of a healthy weight. If your pup is overweight, it is a good time to start a healthy diet and exercise program.
Cuts & Wounds...
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
- If the wound is small, such as a surface wound, gently clean the wound with Vetericyn, Betadine, or iodine. After cleaning, apply a topical ointment such as Bacitracin twice daily until healed (Vetericyn acts as both a cleaning agent and a topical ointment).
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
- To stop the bleeding, apply firm, direct pressure over the area until bleeding stops. HOLD THE PRESSURE CONTINUOUSLY for at least 5-7 minutes (if you keep releasing the pressure to check whether the wound is still bleeding, you will slow down the blood clotting).
- If you can control the bleeding, very gently clean the wound of any debris with Vetericyn, Betadine, or iodine, and place a large gauze pad over the wound. Check the wound twice daily until healed.
- Wrap in a bandage and secure with a self-adhesive bandage.
- If the cut is deep, head to your vet as soon as possible as deep cuts may require stitches, and may become infected. They can also be extremely painful for your pet.
- VERY gently clean away any debris and immerse the area in cold water. An ice pack can also be applied for several minutes, but do NOT place an ice pack directly against the skin surface as it can cause an ice burn. Wrap it in a thin SMOOTH cloth or similar non-abrasive material.
- Pat the area dry and place a gauze pad on the wound. Wrap with a light bandage to hold it in place, and secure with a self-adhesive bandage.
- Check on the wound and replace the gauze pad at least once daily. If you see any signs of infection, head to your vet immediately.
These wounds have penetrated the surface of the skin and are extremely painful. They are considered very serious and should be treated by your vet as soon as possible, especially as the pain can send your pet into shock. Do not try to touch or clean the wound. Simply place a soft, clean (very important!), loose cloth over the entire area and head straight to the vet.
- If your dog suffers a chemical burn, immediately rinse the area with water to remove the chemical. If you know the chemical is acidic, it can be neutralized by applying a mixture of baking soda and water. If you know the chemical is alkaline, then apply a mixture of vinegar and water. Most household cleaners are alkaline (including windex, most bleaches, household chlorine bleach, drano, lysol, and ammonia) unless the label indicates the product is acidic. If you are not sure, use plain water.
- Head to your vet immediately.
|Less serious symptoms||Very serious symptoms|
Hives (little red bumps on skin)
- Remove the embedded stinger with tweezers, or using a flat edge (such as a credit card) to carefully scrape it out. DO NOT squeeze the stinger as you may cause more of the toxin to be released.
- Apply an antihistamine cream such as Benadryl or Vetericyn, followed by a cold pack to the sting area (wrap the cold pack in a towel to prevent ice burns).
- If your dog has been stung in the mouth, they will "paw" at their mouth or make excessive noises to give you an indication that something is wrong.
- If stung by a bee, apply baking soda diluted with water.
- If stung by a wasp, apply vinegar diluted with water.
An easy way to remember the difference is B = Bee = Baking Soda.
- Look into their mouth and throat to see if the object is visible. If someone else is present, one should hold the dog's mouth open while the other looks inside for the object. (see image)
- With one hand, hold the upper jaw. With the other hand, force the lower jaw down and using your index finger, and sweep the back of their mouth to try and dislodge the object and bring it out. Be careful NOT to push it further down the throat. (see image)
- If the object is lodged too deep and your dog is small, hold him upside down with your arms around his abdomen and gently sway him. This position can also be used for larger dogs, holding the hind legs high so that the dog is upside down like a wheelbarrow. (see image)
Stand or kneel behind your dog. Grasp around their body, place your hands on the bottom of both sides of the rib cage and apply repeated firm, quick pressure 3-5 times to help eject the object from the throat. Repeat until the object is dislodged. Applying sudden and repeated pressure to the shoulder blades with the base of your palm can also help dislodge the item. If it is still stuck in the throat and you have the available help, repeat these movements until you arrive at your vet's office. (see image)
If unable to stand, lie your dog on his side with a pillow or blanket under the hind quarters (so that the front part of the body is lower than the back, and with your hands under the center of the rib cage, press in and up 4-5 times in a thrusting motion. For smaller dogs, use only one hand. Be careful you do not apply too much pressure and damage the ribs!
Once the object has been dislodged, take precautions as your dog may try to bite you.
The beautiful and very helpful images used here are sourced from the Kurgo website, who offers some fantastic supplies for dogs, especially for outdoor gear and travelling. We highly recommend them!
If Breathing Has Stopped...
- Lay them on a firm surface with the left side up. Check for a heartbeat by listening at the area where the elbow touches the chest (where their heart is located).
- If you hear a heartbeat but there is no breathing, close the animal's mouth and breathe directly into their nose until the chest expands. Repeat 12-15 times per minute (about once every 5 seconds). If the breath won't go in, the airway may be blocked.
- If there is NO heartbeat, close their mouth and breathe into their nose once. Then place one hand underneath their chest for support and place the other hand over the heart, and press down in a rhythmic manner. Rhythmically alternate 1 breath of air followed by 5 chest compressions until heartbeat has been regained and breathing has started.
- For medium-sized dogs, press gently on their heart about 1 inch
- Press harder for larger dogs
- Use less force for smaller dogs.
For cats and other very small pets, cradle your hand around the chest so that your thumb is on the left side of the chest and your fingers are on the right side of the chest, and compress the chest by squeezing it gently between your thumb and fingers.
DO NOT GIVE COMPRESSION IF YOUR PET HAS A HEARTBEAT.
It goes without saying, head straight to the vet.
If your pet is poisoned, timing is critical for successful treatment. Try to remain calm, as any panic you show will cause further distress to your pet.
If they have eaten something that you suspect is toxic, seek emergency assistance regardless of whether you see adverse effects. Whether calling a hotline or heading to your vet, quickly collect as much information as possible about what substance has been eaten and in what quantity. Include information on any product packaging or labels if you have it.
Do not give any food or liquids other than water, as this can increase the absorption of the poison in the bloodstream.
In the US, there are two poison control centers open 24 hours:
Pet Poison Helpline: (800) 213-6680 - cost is $39/call
ASPCA Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435 - cost is $65/call
Let's take a look at what to do for some common types of poisoning:
When NOT to induce vomiting
- If your pet is already throwing up.
- If your pet has lost consciousness, is very weak, or has trouble standing.
- If your pet has swallowed bleach or highly toxic liquids such as drain cleaners or petroleum products. They will cause additional burns if regurgitated.
- If it has been more than 2 hours since the poison was eaten. It has already reached your pet's small intestine, and vomiting will not remove the toxin.
When to induce vomiting
- If your pet has swallowed rodent poison, mushrooms, berries, chocolate, or other physical substances within the past 2 hours. Newly planted bulbs that your pup has dug up can also be poisonous.
- If your pet has swallowed antifreeze within the past 2 hours.
How to induce vomiting
To induce vomiting in cats, a prescription medication is needed from your vet. To induce vomiting in dogs, take the following steps:
- Immediately open your pet's mouth and sweep your index finger around the back of their throat to remove any remaining poisonous substance.
- The easiest and quickest way to help your pup throw up is to use 3% hydrogen peroxide (the kind you can get from your local pharmacy). Do NOT use anything stronger than 3%. Hydrogen peroxide is an intestinal irritant that causes vomiting within 15 mins or less. Calculate a dose of 1 teaspoon (5ml/CCs in a syringe) per 10 lbs of body weight. Hydrogen peroxide must be given orally, and the easiest way is to use a syringe. You can also mix it with a little food or honey, but when timing is critical, a syringe works far better. After administering the hydrogen peroxide, walk your pup around for several minutes.
- If your pet has not vomited by this time, give a second dose. If this does not do the trick, do not repeat a third time. Instead, head to your vet who will use specific and more vigorous substances to induce vomiting.
- After vomiting has ceased, give your dog by mouth activated charcoal mixed with water to a slurry consistency. The dosage is 1 teaspoon for dogs less than 25 pounds and 2 teaspoons for dogs over 25 pounds (it is also available in capsule form). Activated charcoal binds to poisons to help prevent them from being absorbed by the body.
Hydrogen peroxide is not dangerous when used to induce vomiting. After being swallowed, it breaks down to become oxygen and water and is harmless to your dog. It is one of the best antidotes for phosphorus, which is often used in rat poisons.
While the odd chocolate chip cookie may not cause problems, depending on the weight of your pet and the amount of chocolate eaten, chocolate can cause a fatal reaction in dogs. The chocolate we are referring to is dark chocolate - the darker (bitter) the chocolate, the more toxic it is (including bakers chocolate).
The reason dark chocolate is dangerous to dogs is because it contains methylxanthines that dogs cannot properly metabolize and excrete. White chocolate is not dangerous to dogs as it does not contain these substances. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, inflammation of the pancreas (i.e., pancreatitis), an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and death. A close friend who owned a Sheltie suffered a terrible tragedy after her dog found a box of chocolates and ate several pieces. Despite the best efforts of the vet, she passed away from the poisoning.
For chocolate poisoning, follow the instructions above to induce vomiting, and head to your vet.
The mushrooms we purchase in the grocery store for human consumption are not dangerous to household pets. But mushrooms encountered outdoors should be kept away from pets, unless you are absolutely certain they are safe. Most wild mushrooms cannot be identified by the layperson.
We often assume that only mushrooms exhibiting bright colors are poisonous, but when it comes to mushrooms, some of the most deadly are the small, light brown, and most innocent looking varieties. Fool's Webcap (see image) is a great example of a plain, yet very lethal mushroom. To make it even more confusing, there are some toxic mushrooms that look very similar to the harmless button mushrooms in the produce department.
Many dogs will completely ignore mushrooms in the wild, but some will not hesitate to chow down on something new and unusual that pops up. Inquisitive puppies are especially at risk. Some dogs will eat mushrooms unintentionally as a result of "grazing" on grass.
Take wild mushrooms seriously. Poisonous mushrooms can be fatal. The problem with mushroom poisoning is that symptoms may not be immediately apparent. In fact, there may be no immediate symptoms at all. However, as the day progresses, your pet may experience gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea. Mushroom poisoning can cause liver damage that may take days to become symptomatic, and progress to liver failure.
If you see your pet has eaten a wild mushroom, follow the instructions above to induce vomiting, and head to your vet.
Some species of toad, especially in the more tropical regions such a South America, Florida, and in parts of Australia, produce toxins that are very poisonous to other animals. Immediate symptoms depend on the amount of toxin absorbed, but a dog will often drool or froth at the mouth, and then may experience muscle tremors that progress to seizures. If your dog is found licking or trying to eat a toad:
- IMMEDIATELY begin washing out their mouth with either a hose or a bottle of water. The goal is to rinse out their mouth, but not cause the water to go down their throat.
- Intermittently use a fresh, wet cloth and wipe their gums, tongue, and roof of their mouth every few minutes, remembering to either use a fresh cloth each time, or thoroughly rinse out the cloth you are using.
- Keep your pet confined and monitor them closely. If there are any symptoms of concern, such as shivers or tremors or muscle stiffness, head to the vet immediately.
Poisonous Snakes & Spiders
When animals are bitten by snakes, it is generally around the mouth area, head, or the paws. Puncture wounds may or may not be visible depending on their size and the thickness of fur. Symptoms include painful swelling at the bite site, drooling, trembling, paralysis, collapse, vomiting, and dilated pupils. Poisonous spiders can cause severe pain at the bite location, and may or may not cause other symptoms.
If you suspect your pet is a victim of a poisonous snake or spider bite:
- MINIMIZE any movement - the more your pet moves around, the faster the poison will spread throughout their body. IMMOBILIZE any joint that has been bitten to slow the spread of poison.
- Do not try to suck or squeeze the venom out.
- Firmly bandage the area, which will help slow the spread of the poison.
- See your vet immediately. Call ahead to see if your vet has antivenin - not all do and they may refer you to another local area vet who does.
Your vet may or may not administer an antivenin. To be most effective, antivenin should be administered within 4 hours of the bite, as it becomes less and less effective as time passes. Your vet will likely also administer IV fluids and antibiotics.
If a snake has bitten your pet and you are not sure whether it is poisonous or not, even if your pet exhibits no symptoms whatsoever, please still call your vet with a description of the snake and monitor your pet closely for the next 48-72 hours. Keep an eye on the bite area for any signs of infection. Some poisons may not have immediate or apparent symptoms but may cause internal injuries such as organ damage. There are many harmless snakes, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Extreme Weather & Overheating...
During summer months
- Watch the clock during summer months. Even if your pet loves being outside, in extreme temperatures, always ensure your pet can come indoors and has access to plenty of fresh water.
- If you notice excessive panting, move your dog to a shaded area.
- Pets with darker fur will absorb more of the sun's rays and overheat quicker.
- Watch out for the ground being too hot for your pet to walk on. Above 80º, sand, concrete, and tarmac can heat to temperatures that burn their paw pads. There are mesh paw protectors that can be purchased from pet stores and online that are very similar to human water shoes.
NEVER, EVER, EVER leave your pet in the car
on a hot day, even with the windows open.
Temperatures can rise extremely quickly,
killing your dog or cat in a matter of MINUTES.
85° outside = < 10 mins to reach 102° in a car
85° outside = < 20 mins to reach 111° in a car
HUNDREDS OF DOGS DIE EVERY YEAR IN HOT CARS
Even short-haired pets overheat quickly in cars and can suffer serious, or fatal consequences. If you are traveling with your pet on a hot day, make sure that the air conditioning is on in the car, and remember, if you are hot, your furry friend is definitely hotter than you are.
Pets can succumb to heatstroke very easily and must be treated as soon as possible to give them the best chance of survival. Animals can sustain brain damage and can die in just 15 minutes from heatstroke.
If you are unable to head immediately to the vet:
- Move your pet to a shaded area out of direct sunlight.
- Place a cool or cold, wet towel around their neck.
- Every few minutes, re-wet the towel, wring it out, and reapply it.
- If you have access to a hose, pour running water over their body, especially between the hind legs and on the tummy area.
- Head to the vet as soon as you can.
Human Foods Toxic to Pets
Here are some of the common foods we may love to eat but which are not healthy for our pets. These include:
- Dark & milk chocolate (the darker, the more toxic - see above)
- Yeast dough
- Macadamia nuts
- Onions (garlic is NOT toxic for cats or dogs(1) ...read more)
- Healthy & balanced pet diet
- Why pets are getting sicker
- Bones - nature's toothbrush
- Pet food recalls
- Fleas, ticks, & mosquitoes
- Natural dog grooming
- Pet dental care
- Pet vaccinations
View Sources & References
- (1) Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, by authors R. H. Pitcairn & S. H. Pitcairn
- Images in "choking" section sourced from: Kurgo Store
- SPCA of Texas
- Greencross Vets
- Pet Poison Helpline
- American Veterinary Medical Association