Pet First Aid: how one hour could save your dog’s life

I know a dog named Scrappy. Ol’ Scrappy has a knack for outwitting sealed garbage cans, scaling furniture, and traversing with Spiderman-like stealth across any surface, to get to the object of his desire. Naturally, said object is never dog friendly, where would the fun be in that? On one particular occasion Scrappy sucked something back before anyone even knew… and subsequently started choking. Lucky for him, his mom knows a little basic pet first aid. While the story of him being upended like a wheelbarrow and hanging upside down made for a great story in hindsight – it also made me acutely aware that I have zero first aid training experience. For humans or pets. And, since I tend to like animals more than people, I decided to start there. Conveniently, The Dog Spot, my local dog store, sponsored a one hour workshop in Grimsby recently. So, on a cold and snowy February morning, I headed out to aquire some Pet First Aid knowledge. I’d encourage you to talk to your favourite dog spot and ask them to organize something similar.

Here’s what I learned in an hour:

Assessing the Situation:

If you come across a medical emergency, before you race off to the vet, take a deep breath. Try to stay calm and assess the situation: is your dog awake, or unconscious? Has she urinated, defecated or vomited? Are there obvious signs of blood and/or wounds? Is she growling or are her hackles raised? Is she whimpering? All of these will help give you some idea of what you might be facing and will help you give your vet a better picture of the situation. In fact, if someone else is there with you, get them to take pictures while you continue. If your dog appears unconscious, approach cautiously and gently nudge him to see if he awakens, softly speak to him to see if you get any reaction. By now you should know if this is a 911 moment. If there are open wounds put gauze pads on them and apply pressure – be sure to only add to them, don’t try to remove that first pad if it becomes saturated to replace it.

How to deal with choking, not breathing, and CPR:

Since I am notoriously bad at note taking, I thought it would be infinitely better to share these videos on Choking and CPR that I found online. What Melanie Monteiro is demonstrating in these is practically verbatim what we covered – our ratio of breathe to compressions was a bit different but I’m not going to muddy the waters, what matters is keeping your dog’s heart beating and oxygen moving through the body. We were also told that when performing CPR on puppies or smaller dogs (like Jacks) you can place your left hand under your dog’s chest for support and just use your right for compressions. Here is a remarkable real life example of CPR being administered to a boxer, it’s probably not textbook perfect but I certainly learned from seeing an actual situation unfold. Especially the importance or remaining calm (and that is no slight on the woman in the video).

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These were my 5 aha! moments:

  1. I had always heard that you could use hydrogen peroxide to clean or flush a wound. But that is actually a big No No. It’s actually toxic to tissue and has little or no value as an antiseptic.
  2. Having a baseline of your dog’s pulse, temperature and breathing rate will help you, and more importantly your vet, know when he or she is in distress. It’s such a no brainer yet it never would have occurred to me.
    • The easiest place to get a pulse is the inside of the thigh. Count for 15 seconds then multiply by 4 to get the count for a minute.
    • Watch your dog at rest to see how many breaths / minute he takes. Normal is 10 – 35 times per minute.
    • For temperature, yup, ye olde rectal thermometer is a good bet. Normal temperature for a dog is between 100 – 102.5°. If the temperature is above or below, call your vet and note: 104° is in fatal territory.
  3. Your dog’s gums should be pink, and changes in that can indicate shock, systemic infection or even exposure to a toxin. Press on the gum with your finger and the gum should briefly be white but should return to pink within 2 seconds. What if your dog’s gums are naturally dark-pigmented? Pull the lower eye lid out gently and see if the tissue there is pink. Just do a visual check, don’t touch.
  4. You need a Disaster Kit and plan for your fur babies (any and all pets in fact)! The recent ice storm is a great example of how we need to prepare for our pets. Do you know what your options are in terms of Pet Friendly Shelters? Also, depending on the disaster, returning home could be traumatic and potentially dangerous. Make sure you understand what you can do to ensure a stress-free return for all your family, before a disaster strikes. Click here to download the checklist.
  5. Things I didn’t think of including in a Pet First Aid kit:
    • benadryl for allergic reactions,
    • latex gloves to reduce the possibility of infection if your dog is cut (some of you will think I’m mad that I didn’t think of it, but I didn’t!)
    • KY Jelly or other water-based sterile lubricant, for your rectal thermometer, to keep fur away from a wound, or to cover wounds and eye injuries
    • a penlight with batteries
    • and a muzzle, just in case – when in pain or disoriented, even your own dog could bite

Here is a full list of items recommended by the Red Cross for your Pet First Aid Kit. Wow! looks like you’d need a suitcase to hold all this! It’s also recommended to have one in your car, your cottage or your cabin.

There really IS an app for that:

If you are in the US, you can download: Pet First Aid by American Red Cross (unfortunately this isn’t available in Canada) There are several available through iTunes in Canada, I opted to try a paid app because the idea of having ads when I’m in an emergency situation doesn’t cut it. What apps have you tried or would you recommend?

Was it worth an hour of my time?

Unequivocally yes. At the end of the hour, all the attendees begged Wes at The Dog Spot to arrange with ProVision for the more in-depth training at a later date, this time at our own expense. If you’re interested in having your local store, or anyone for that matter, set up a free hour long workshop like the one I went to, have them contact or call Michelle Madderson at 905.317.9116. It’s an information packed hour and it just might save your “Scrappy”s life one day!

Contributed by Indy’s mom, Karen Black
If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.
– Will Rogers


2 responses to “Pet First Aid: how one hour could save your dog’s life

  1. becky mossor February 22, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Packed with valuable information on pet care. Truly amazing. Thanks for sharing. Visit my pet care platform at

    • jrtro July 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Becky! I realize this is a little late, but I’m hoping that better late than never applies here to your kind words, will check out your platform! Cheers!

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