Do you know how to handle a pet medical emergency?
There’s absolutely no worse feeling for a dog parent than when something happens to our pets. Whether our dogs suffer an accident or suddenly fall ill, not knowing what to do can be gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.
As a dog mom, I know the heartache when something happened to my dog, and I had no idea how to handle a pet emergency or what I could do. It sucks seeing your dog looking to you for help and not knowing what to do.
April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month, and part of being a responsible dog parent is learning about pet first aid and how to handle a pet emergency.
This blog is all about how to handle a pet emergency like a pro.
How to Handle a Pet Emergency Like a Pro
Take the time and really get to know your dog.
Really knowing your dog is super important for recognizing a pet medical emergency and if your dog needs help. When you take your dog to the vet when they’re not feeling well, isn’t one of the first questions asked by staff what signs your dog demonstrated before bringing them in? Was their behavior normal, or were they acting differently?
Knowing your dog’s personality, daily behavior, eating habits, bathroom schedule, and sleep routine helps more than you know when a medical emergency is developing. Recognizing dog emergency symptoms is critical for pet parents to learn to distinguish when it’s time to take a trip to the emergency vet or wait till morning to call them to set up an appointment.
Learn How to Check Your Dog’s Pulse
Do you know how or where to check for your dog’s pulse? If you don’t, no worries, you’re not alone. It’s not on many dog parents’ radar, but it should be.
Depending on the severity of the pet’s medical emergency, you might need to check for your dog’s pulse as part of the medical assessment of your dog’s condition. One of the critical steps during a dog medical emergency, like finding them on the floor unresponsive, is to check for their pulse to see if further action, like Pet CPR, is needed.
If you’re on the phone with your vet, they can ask you to check your dog’s pulse and tell them the pulse rate to know what steps to proceed with and instruct you on what to look out for.
It might be a scary concept, but checking for your dog’s pulse is not hard at all. Take two fingers and place them inside of your dog’s inner back (rear) leg, where the leg meets the hip in the groin area. You should feel the artery pulsing at this point of the body.
When checking for your dog’s pulse, do not use your thumb. Human thumbs have a strong pulse, and you could mix up your pulse rate for your dog’s pulse rate.
If you need to calculate your dog’s pulse rate, time your dog’s pulse for 15 seconds, then multiply by the number four to get the number of beats per minute.
I highly recommend practicing and checking for your dog’s pulse; that way, you’re not scrambling to find their pulse when an emergency happens.
Be prepared to muzzle your dog
No matter how sweet, loving, and friendly your dog is, pain and stress can easily trigger their animal instincts and cause them to lash out to bite you.
It’s crucial to try to remain calm and keep yourself safe during your pup’s medical emergency. There’s no sense in putting yourself at risk of getting bit or severely injured when you’re trying to help administer first aid to your dog.
If you get hurt, you’re no good to your dog, and you could be wasting valuable life-saving time for your dog because now you have to stop and get medical attention yourself.
Not everyone has a muzzle in their arsenal of dog supplies at home. Still, you can channel your inner “MacGyver” and make an emergency improvised muzzle for your dog by using a bandage, scarf, tie, leash, or any soft material you may have access to.
You might find this “makeshift muzzle” doesn’t quite work for your flatter-faced pup (i.e., Pug, French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Shih Tzu, etc.) as it is challenging to wrap anything around their super small snout. If this is the case, it’s best to seek your veterinarian’s advice on how to safely muzzle your dog in a medical emergency or look into purchasing a unique muzzle dedicated to their breed to have as part of your emergency pet first aid kit.
Recognize when your dog is choking and how to perform the Heimlich maneuver
Choking happens when your dog gets something stuck in its airway, like a ball or rawhide. Every second counts when your dog cannot breathe and getting them help before the worst can happen…and yes, I mean death.
Dog emergency symptoms your dog is choking:
- panic or stress behavior (like pacing or running around)
- difficulty breathing
- pawing at their mouth
- inner cheeks/gums turning blue
If your dog displays any of these signs, stop whatever you’re doing and help them out. Immediately check their airway by opening your dog’s mouth, pulling their tongue forward, and see if there are any visible objects lodged in their throat. If you see something, use your finger to swipe the thing out or pull extremely carefully, but take caution not to push at the object as this could wedge the item further down their throat.
If you can’t get the object out, you can use good old gravity as a tool to try to help you out. It sounds weird, but holding your dog upside-down sometimes helps dislodge objects enough for you to pull them out of their throats.
If gravity isn’t doing its part, then it’s time to administer the Heimlich maneuver. Check out the TikTok video from Dr. Frank Bozelka (TikTok @dr.bozelkaervet), Emergency Vet at VCA Arboretum View Animal Hospital in Illinois, to demonstrate the various ways to you can perform this technique.
Now the Heimlich maneuver can come across as a little bit tricky, especially when handling dogs of different sizes, but here’s another video from Dr. Bozelka to give a little more details with hand placements and how to identify the proper area to administer the technique.
During my research on what to do if your dog is choking and how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking dog, I came across another interesting TikTok video from Dr. Adam Christman (TikTok @dr.adamchristman52) Chief Veterinary Officer at MJH Life Sciences in New Jersey.
Dr. Christman shared a quick video that demonstrates how you can dislodge a ball from the throat of your dog. Disclaimer before you watch, no dogs were harmed in the making of the video and the “dog” used in the demo is a pet first aid artificial dog (like the CPR dummies in human first aid classes).
Taking quick actions makes all the difference when your dog is choking. If you’re trying everything and can’t get the object out, immediately take your dog to the nearest emergency pet hospital.
If you successfully clear the object from your dog’s airway, take your dog to the vet to be checked out for any damage to their throat or the inside of their mouth.
Learn when and how to do Pet CPR on your dog
Like in humans, CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) is performed to help keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and vital organs when your dog is not breathing and has no heartbeat. CPR can increase your dog’s chance of survival. However, CPR is not always guaranteed to work as sometimes the injuries or medical issues may be too severe for your dog to survive.
If your dog is unresponsive, has stopped breathing, and you cannot detect a pulse, start CPR immediately and call the nearest emergency pet hospital. But before you start CPR, don’t forget that it’s essential to determine if CPR is needed and that you know what you’re doing.
Before beginning CPR, be sure to check your dog’s ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation). If your dog has a pulse, do not perform chest compressions.
Here’s another TikTok video from Dr. Bozelka with some helpful tips on performing CPR on your pet.
A couple of other things about pet CPR is that it is typically performed until a pulse returns or 10-20 minutes have gone by. It’s a sad fact, but if no oxygenated blood is flowing to the brain for more than 10 minutes, brain damage has most likely set in, and the chance of recovery/survival is impossible.
Know who to call during a pet medical emergency
You should know who to call if your dog has a medical emergency. A pet in need of emergency medical care is not the time to Google “Emergency vet near me.”
Program the nearest 24-hour emergency vet hospital into your phone to avoid figuring out where to take your dog when they need help. This is especially important if your current veterinary clinic does not provide emergency pet services. Confirm if your pet’s veterinary clinic provides 24-hour emergency pet care or has limited pet urgent care services. You want to know exactly where to take your dog when a pet medical emergency strikes.
Remember that a dog medical emergency will happen when you least expect it and not always at home, so it’s crucial to be prepared and make necessary plans.
After reading this blog, you know what to do, when to do things, and what to expect during a pet medical emergency.