Dog First Aid

Dog First Aid


Do you think dog first aid is only for veterinarians to understand? Why would a dog owner want to know CPR or the Heimlich maneuver for a dog or what blood in the urine might mean? Isn’t that for the emergency vet?

No, it’s not! You love your dog and would be lost without her/him. Accidents and illnesses occur without warning. Chances are you don’t have a vet living in your house.

The only way to save your dog or at least make her comfortable is to know some basic first aid for dogs — at least enough to get her to the vet or veterinary hospital in salvageable shape.

Some Dog Symptoms - Signs of Illness Include:

  • Loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss.
  • Diarrhea, vomiting
  • Change in urinary habits, also stool habits and color/quality.
  • Blood in urine or stools.
  • Straining to urinate or defecate.
  • Choking, retching. belching, excess gas.
  • Lethargy, depression.
  • Trouble walking, refusal to go up steps, limping, holding 1 leg up.
  • Mucous membranes that are any color except pink.
  • Bumping into things, rubbing eyes with paw.
  • A temperature outside the range of 100 to 102.5 degrees F. for adults
  • Persistent cough, or unusually noisy breathing can suggest problems too.
You need to know the dog symptoms before you can figure out what the illness might be and the appropriate dog first aid.

Want a complete list of dog poisoning products? -- Things to keep out of reach of your dog or cat? There's a lot of harmful stuff around the house and a glance at the page is a good idea. (Link opens new window) Dog care includes keeping your pets safe.

Blood in the dog's urine is often asked about so here's a short discussion dealing with Blood in the urine. (Link opens window)

Also, a dangerous, life-threatening condition known as "bloat" or "Gastric Torsion" is also a common and deadly problem. Here is a short article on Dog Bloat and Gastric Torsion.(Link opens window)

An example is my Mini Schnauzer. She developed a tremendous thirst, frequent urination and kidney problems. It was diabetes but the vet also checked for liver problems. Later she started vomiting. The vet looked at all the evidence and diagnosed pancreatitis. Our dog first aid knowledge in both cases suggested these dog symptoms were beyond our reach and a qualified vet was needed.

Some dogs will refuse to move when sick or hurting. A constant cough suggests heart or lung problems, but also heart worm, kennel cough and other diseases. Consistent scratching suggests a skin infection, dry skin, atopic dermatitis, an insect bite and other problems. Limping could come from numerous things like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, an injury to a paw, or a leg problem, even bone cancer.

This Shepherd tore
her hip open when running through a barbed-wire fence-->

Dog first aid is varied and extensive so you need to be prepared.

Could you help your dog if she cut her hip or leg and was bleeding profusely, ate something poisonous,-- choked on a piece of corn or had a heart attack?

  • Do you know Canine CPR?
  • Can you clear the airway in a dog that’s choking to death?
  • Can you take the pulse of a dog? It’s basic dog first aid.
  • Do you have a Dog First Aid Kit made up and know how to use it?
  • Can you spot serious health problems early and prevent euthanasia?
If you’re like most people, you would have answered “no” to most or all the above. What this means is your best friend could die at home or on the way to the veterinarian This, unfortunately, happens every day because pet owners are not prepared.

Basic Dog First Aid

Observe Your Healthy Dog

  • OBSERVE your dog closely when she is well and healthy. Watch everything like how she eats, runs, walks, barks, sleeps, snores, scratches (or not), plays, etc.

  • This gives you a “base” to judge him by later on. Does he normally belch while or after eating like my Yorkie mix does? Does he normally favor a front leg when he runs, and so on. This knowledge will tell you when his actions are NOT normal.


    Learn The A B C's of First Aid For Dogs

    The rest of this page are things the emergency vet would do.

    Know A = Airway, B = Breathing C = Circulation, (ABC’s)plus Rescue Breathing, CPR and the Heimlich maneuver for a dog in trouble.

    You come home and find your dog (or a stray) on his side in the yard and not moving. What do you do for a sick dog?

    1. Quickly check the area. Is there another dog lingering that might have attacked your dog? Maybe some form of poison, rancid food, bits and pieces the dog could have choked on? Only take a few seconds to glance around for clues.

    2. Restrain the dog. You can't perform dog first aid on an animal that's going to maul you. Whether it’s your dog or a stray, regardless of how calm the dog normally is, with pain and agony, the can and likely will try to bite you, not out of hatred, but out of fear and pain. Use a muzzle, wrap some gauze around his muzzle, thread a leash around it—anything to keep him from biting you!

      A is for Airway.

      Is the airway unrestricted? If not—With the dog’s mouth closed, put your mouth over his nose and gently exhale into the nose. His chest should rise a little. (called “rescue breathing”) Try several rescue breaths again,

      1. Lay the dog down on either side.

      2. Gently tilt the head back to extend the neck and head.

      3. Pull tongue as far forward between the teeth as you can.

      4. If the dog is unconscious, use finger to remove any foreign material from mouth and throat.

      If The Dog Is Choking

      Use the Canine Heimlich maneuver.

      Now is not the time to read your dog first aid manual. Practice this ahead of time.

      1. Lock your hands with arms around the dog while facing him. Your locked fist should be below the belly, just at the rear of the ribcage.

      2. Pull forward and up with four or five quick “jerks.” Be careful, as you could dislodge a rib. Stop and try to find what he was choking on. If not, try again.

      3. If the above fails, pick the dog up by the rear legs like a wheelbarrow with his face down to the floor. Hold rear legs high. Try again to locate the choking item in his mouth.

      4. If you need to try another approach, or if the dog is too large to pick up by the rear legs, lay him on his side. Move the head back to a neutral position and give 5 abdominal thrusts just behind the ribcage but this time coming down on him from his side. Use a penlight to check the mouth for the foreign object.

      5. Perform rescue breathing and CPR if necessary once the airway is cleared. See below.

      B is for Breathing.

      Does the chest rise and fall? If not sure, use a small piece of cotton or gauze in front of the dog’s nose and see if it moves with breath. A small piece of glass in front of the nose of the sick dog should fog up a little if breathing is present. If not breathing, START RESCUE BREATHING:

      1. Small dogs less than 30 pounds and puppies—Cover and seal the dog’s entire snout with your mouth. Exhale air into the nose/mouth until you see the chest rise.

        Medium, large and giant dogs over 30 pounds, hold the muzzle closed and cover the nose with your mouth. Exhale gently until you see the chest rise.

      2. Give 4 or 5 breaths rapidly, then check to see if the dog is breathing on his own. If the breathing is irregular or shallow, or if it does not start at all, continue giving mouth-to-nose breaths for up to 20 minutes on the way to the veterinary hospital. There is little chance of reviving the sick dog after 20 minutes.

      3. Breathing rate, dogs under 30 pounds = 1 BREATH then 5 COMPRESSIONS and repeat, etc.(see item C below)

      4. Breathing rate, dogs over 30 pounds = Same as above for a single person.

      5. Breathing rate, dogs over 90 pounds = 1 BREATH then 10 COMPRESSIONS.

        Refer to the American Red Cross book “Dog First Aid” book for instructions for two rescuers on one dog.

        NOTE— Do not try this on a conscious dog.

      C is for Circulation.

      Is there a heartbeat and a pulse? If “yes” you’re okay.

      If not, you have a very sick dog and need to go to your dog first aid basics and start chest compressions immediately. NOTE—This will accompany the rescue breathing above which amounts to CPR. (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, really basic dog first aid!)

      1. For Small Dogs Under 30 Pounds

      2. With dog lying on right side, kneel with chest facing you.

      3. Place palm of one hand over the ribs at point where the dog’s elbow touches the chest just behind the front leg.

      4. Place your other hand under her right side

      5. Compress the chest 1/2 to 1” (inch) Your elbows should be softly locked during compressions. Give 100—120 compressions per minute or 2—3 per second on small dogs.

      Medium and Large Dogs Over 30 Pounds
      1. Place sick dog on his right side.

      2. If you’re alone, have dog’s chest facing you. If you have a helper, stand or kneel with the dog’s back toward you while the other person gives rescue breaths through the nose.

      3. Extend your arms at the elbows.

      4. Cup your hands over each other.

      5. Compress the chest where the left elbow touches the chest when pulled back, or at the widest part of the ribcage.

      6. Compress chest 1—3 inches with each compression. Rate should be about 100 compressions per minute or 2 per second for no more than 20 minutes.

        Remember, If there is an open airway but no heartbeat, pulse or breathing, start CPR and continue it on the way to the emergency vet. This is a very sick dog and you need the emergency vet NOW!.

    This information is taken directly from the Dog First Aid handbo9ok by the American Red Cross.


    Dog First Aid Kit

    • Assemble a Dog First Aid Kit.
      The list we have is provided by the two books sold below, as well as from personal experiences. It’s intended to serve all dogs in almost any emergency where you would be able to help the dog with knowledge and supplies.

    • We recommend the "Dog First Aid" Book by the American Red Cross to travel in your new first aid kit. The book comes with photos of many things described on these pages and a free DVD to add sight and sound to managing your first aid for dogs. The second book, "What's Wrong With My Dog?" is also very good and provided information for this page as well.

    Some of the information on this page was taken directly from the American Red Cross book titled “Dog First Aid.” The book contains photos of what I am trying to describe PLUS the book comes with a DVD that gives an audio and visual approach to learning the material we're covering, plus a whole lot more.

    To name just a few topics, the book covers bite wounds to bleeding to bloat and torsion, CPR, choking, collapse and diarrhea to drowning. Eye emergencies, gunshot wounds, hot spots, kennel cough and broken nails to pad wounds to parasitic disease, poisoning and seizures, and smoke inhalation to suffocation - this book covers a wide range of problems and what you can do to help ease the pain and suffering.

    The book on the right is "What's Wrong With My Dog" and is a 304 page, 5-star rated book that covers 150 of the most common dog first aid problems. The problems are organized by symptoms to make locating the information easy to find. It's a lot thicker than the first book but is possibly more thorough in describing treatments, as well as alternative care and "home cure" remedies. It's a book worth owning.

    These softcover books are worth looking into and buying.

    Click on the COVERS of the books for more information and a book review, especially the 2nd book, "What's Wrong With My Dog?"


    Heart, Pulse Rates For Dogs

    NOTE—Heart rates outside these numbers may be an emergency.
    • Puppy less than 1 year old 120—160 beats per minute (BPM)
    • Small, Toy or medium 30 pounds or less 100—140 BPM.
    • Medium to large dogs over 30 pounds 60—100 BPM.

    Checking Heart, Pulse Rates

    You can feel your dog’s heartbeat at about the point where the left elbow touches the chest, which 8is at about the 5th rib back from the front. Always use a light touch or you will never feel the pulse.

    1. Lay your dog on her right side. Standing is okay if lying down is not feasible.

    2. Gently bend the right front leg at the elbow and bring it back to where it touches the chest and note the location.

    3. Place your hand (or a stethoscope available at pharmacies) over this location. Use your middle and index fingers to feel (or hear) the heartbeats, aka pulse and start counting.

      NOTE—You can do a 15 second count and multiply by 4 = 1 minute if you are careful.
      You can also feel your dog's pulse at these following locations:

      The Inner Thigh

      1. Have your dog lie down on either side.

      2. Gently lift her upper hind leg away from the lower leg.

      3. Place your two fingers as high u-p as possible on the inside of either leg, just where the leg meets the body wall

      4. Feel for a recess in the middle of the leg approximately half way between the front and back; this recess is where the blood vessels run and where you’ll find the pulse.

      Below The Front Wrist

      1. Have the dog sit or lie down.

      2. Locate the point on the under side of either front paw that is just back from the MIDDLE pad. (almost at the joint according to the dog first aid book.)

      3. Lightly lay your middle and index fingers at this point to feel the pulse.

    Normal Breathing Rates

    • 10 to 30 breathes per minute.
    • Up to 200 pants per minute (mouth open, tongue hanging out)

    Checking Breathing Rates

    1. Have the dog lie on her side or sit down.

    2. Count the number of times the chest rises or falls in 1 minute. Use the numbers above as your guide. Remember, if the dog has just eaten, or been running or playing, the breathing will be more rapid than if she just woke up from nap.

    Normal Dog Temperature

    • A temperature of 100 to 102.5 F is NORMAL.

    • A temperature LOWER than 100 F or GREATER than 104 F is AN EMERGENCY. Call the veterinarian! These are dog symptoms you can't ignore.

    Checking Dog Temperature

    1. Properly restrain the dog with a muzzle of your choice.

    2. Use a pediatric digital thermometer (available in any drug store)

    3. Lubricate thermometer with a water-based lubricant or petroleum jelly.

    4. Raise the tail up and insert tip of thermometer in the rectum directly under the tail.

    5. Leave in until thermometer beeps; remove and read.

    Basic Dog First Aid—Observe Mucous Membranes

    This is very important. The color of your dog’s mucous membranes (gums and inner eyelids) will tell you if she is receiving enough oxygen and blood to all the tissues. “Pink” is the magic color and anything other than pink spells trouble.

    • Lift the upper or lower side of the dog’s mouth to view the inner side of the lip and side of the gums. They should be a shade of pink.

    • If the dog has black pigmented mucous membranes, place your thumb on the skin just under the lower eyelid, gently pull down, and observe the inner eyelid membrane color. It should be PINK! That tells you the tissues are getting enough oxygen and you can move on.

    • If the mucous membranes are blue, yellow, cherry red, brick red, pale, white, or brown, THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. Call your veterinarian immediately. If the membranes are any other color, check for poisoning.

    Basic Dog First Aid - Capillary Refill Time

    If you watch how fast the gums or inner lips return to a normal pink color after you press on them, you can learn how well the blood is circulating in the dog’s system.

    1. After checking the mucous membrane color (above) press lightly on the gum or inner lip.

    2. Watch the color as it turns white and back to pink. The pink color should return after 1 or 2 seconds.

    3. Call your vet right away if the color returns in LESS than 1 second or MORE than 3 seconds. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!

    Restrain The Dog —Be On Guard!

    Whenever approaching a sick animal, be careful. Dogs in pain or sick dogs tend to bite out of fear and discomfort. Always be sure the dog knows where you are so you don’t surprise it. A dog can lie perfectly still and appear dead, but try to move him and watch out! Dog first aid requires common sense.

    The goal is to check the dog by doing all we have just discussed above and more. You will have little time to capture the animal, as the dog may be dying. What do you do?

    First, here is some body language dogs use—Warning Signs:

    • Ears moved forward, tail wagging slightly.
    • Low growling with fur standing up on shoulders, back and hind end.
    • Snarling with upper lip lifted and teeth exposed.

    • Crouching with tail between legs.
    • Ears held straight back or against the head.

    • Assuming submissive posture”
    • Lying on side with belly exposed.
    • Making licking gestures or urinating.
    A normally submissive dog can quickly become a biting dog and so can your favorite pooch that you’ve had for 10 years.

    A Beagle wears an elizabethan cone
    after surgery so he can't remove the stitches.


    Basic Dog First Aid—Ways To Capture Dogs

    (As recommended by the "Dog First Aid" book from the American Red Cross from which this information is coming. The book has photos which makes all this much easier to describe!)

    Use A Leash

    1. Dogs without collars—Take the end of a leash that normally hooks to the dog collar and feed it up through the loop in the “:handle:” of the leash. You now have a large “loop” like a cowboy’s lasso.

    2. Stand next to or just behind the dog and drop the large loop down over his face. And draw back over his neck.

    3. Now tighten the loop around the neck and you have the dog on leash without using a collar.

    Large Towel Or Blanket

    If the dog is small, less than 30 pounds, you can sometimes capture her by dropping a large towel or blanket over her.

    1. Observe the position of the dog so you don’t put your hands near her mouth.

    2. Drop a large towel or blanket from above or behind the dog.

    3. Grasp the scruff of her neck so she can’t turn around to bite through the towel. Now you can transport the dog or examine her.

    Make A Muzzle

    If you don't already have a muzzle suited to the kind of dog you are trying to capture and control, here are some suggestions:

    1. Get a piece of material about 18 inches long. Gauze works well. Also, a necktie, stocking or two socks tied together soft rope, or piece of cloth can work depending on the dog’s size.

    2. Make a loop large enough to drop over the dog’s nose while keeping enough distance between you and the dog’s mouth so she can’t turn and bite you.

    3. Slip the loop over the dog’s nose from above and behind. Always allow the dog to know where you are. No surprises.

    4. Tighten the loop on the nose so the dog can not open her mouth to bite anyone. Don't get it TOO tight!. Don’t interfere with her breathing!

    5. Pull the ends down and crisscross under the chin and bring them back behind the ears where you will tie the two ends together. This way the makeshift muzzle can’t slip off the front.


    The book “Dog First Aid” not only has photos of much of this, but it has 5 pages dealing with capturing and restraining dogs. I’ve given you the basics.

    You Now Know How To Check Your Dog—The Basics of Dog First Aid

    • Restrain the dog
    • Learn A B C’s and apply them (next page)
    • Heart rate and pulse—how to take them
    • Breathing rate—How to check it.
    • Temperature, how to take.
    • Mucous Membrane Color—What to look for.
    • Capillary Refill Time—What it means, how to do it.

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