Dog First Aid Basics – Cuts, Broken Toenails, Snake bites and More
Boy do dog ears bleed when they’re torn!
If you live in a two (or three or four) dog house then you know that the occasional dog scuffle is nearly inevitable. In my house this has led to the occasional scrape and once even a torn ear – that was STRESSFUL.
Dog’s get into scrapes and situations that require first aid – just like humans do, but they rely on their people to know dog first aid basics.
Dog First Aid Basics
You’ll need a well supplied dog first aid kit and you’ll need to understand what to do in various situations where your dog is injured or at risk. I also recommend getting a good dog first aid book to keep in your kit for a quick reference.
You can also book mark this article, because I go over many different dog first aid tips and what to do in various situations. And remember that there are other conditions a dog can have that aren’t physical – like depression. Here’s how to know if your dog is depressed.
Important: Remember that I’m not a veterinarian, although I have been trained in basic first aid. For any serious injury or illness please take your dog to a vet.
Dog First Aid – Bleeding
Situations where your dog is bleeding are probably the most common reasons to need to know basic first aid techniques. Dogs can bleed for a variety of reasons – cuts, torn ears, broken toenails and torn pads.
For minor bleeding situations, basic first aid using dog first aid equipment will usually be enough. But for more serious situations, the goal is to stabilize your dog until you can get them to a vet.
Dog First Aid for Cuts
Dogs get cuts just like people do, although their fur protects them more than our skin does and you can treat most minor cuts and scrapes at home.
Minor is the key word here. For serious injuries you should always see a vet.
When to see a vet for a dog wound:
According to Pet MD ” Any injury that fully penetrates the skin (e.g., a bite wound) and/or involves a large portion of the body or an especially sensitive area should receive immediate veterinary attention. “
How to Treat a Dog Wound
- Place a small dog on a table or counter in front of you or get down on the ground with a large dog. Have a second person gently restrain the pet if necessary.
- Cover the wound and surrounding area with a water-based lubricant. This makes removing shaved hair from the wound much easier and decreases contamination.
- Use electric clippers to shave the hair from around the wound. Scissors or a disposable razor can be used with extreme caution to avoid cutting the skin.
- Wipe the water-based lubricant and hair away with a clean, dry cloth or paper towel.
- Wash the area with warm water until all visible debris is gone, then pat dry.
- Apply a non-stinging antiseptic solution to the area. Chlorhexidine is cheap, extremely effective, and readily available. I prefer a 2% solution to limit tissue irritation but 4% solutions are also widely used. Chlorhexidine is ideal because it kills the types of bacteria and yeast that are most commonly associated with skin infections in dogs and cats.
- Apply an antimicrobial ointment to the wound. Traumatic injuries are best treated with a broad spectrum topical antibiotic like those containing bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin B. If yeast is of primary concern, for example in dogs with allergies that develop moist dermatitis, miconazole ointment is a good choice.
- Prevent the pet from grooming the ointment off its skin for at least ten minutes; longer is even better. Take a dog for a walk or sit with a cat in your lap but do not apply a bandage over the area.
- Two to three times a day, clean away debris (if necessary) and apply the antiseptic and ointment until the skin is healed.
- If the wound worsens at any time or fails to resolve within a week, consult a veterinarian.
Thanks to Pet MD for these directions.
Dog First Aid – Cut on The Nose
Dog’s noses are tender and they stick them into things all the time, so getting a scraped up nose isn’t unusual.
Here’s what to do if your pup gets a cut on the nose.
- Assess the situation: In the case of any injury, the first thing you need to do is figure out how bad the injury actually is. Some cuts are worse than others.
You may need to use a dog first aid muzzle and a leash to keep your dog still if your dog is particularly sensitive about their nose.
Determine how bad the bleeding is and how deep the cut or scrape is and if they site is still actively bleeding.
- Wash the area with water: If possible wash the area with mild soap and water to help prevent infection.
- Control the bleeding: The next step is to stop any blood loss. If you have a good kit with dog first aid equipment set up then you should have gauze on hand. If you don’t have gauze on hand, then a clean t-shirt, or a menstrual pad can work to slow and stop the bleeding.
Apply the gauze to the site of the wound, and if the wound bleeds through apply more gauze and don’t take the original off.
If the wound doesn’t slow down within five minutes go to the animal hospital or your vets office immediately.
- Clean the wound: Once you have the bleeding under control, cleaning the wound will help to keep an infection from forming.
Wipe the cut out gently with povidone iodine or betadine to clean out the area and then use a bit of antibiotic ointment to prevent infection. Remember that your dog will lick her nose, so keep the layer of ointment thin.
You can reapply the antibiotic ointment throughout the day.
- Keep an eye on the cut: It’s almost impossible to bandage a dog’s nose, so it’s extra important to make sure the cut is healing properly and staying healthy.
Like other cuts if there is not noticeable improvement within a week or if the cut starts to appear pussy or starts swelling, take your dog to the vet.
Dog First Aid – Torn Ear
I’ve had to treat this kind of injury myself when my two Rat Terriers decided to fight instead of playing nice. Ears bleed like CRAZY because they have so many blood vessels.
They can also be hard to keep bandages on because dogs shake them about so much.
Here’s the basic first aid for a dog’s torn ear:
- Evaluate the Situation: Whenever your faced with a bleeding situation with your dog, the first step is always to determine just how bad it is.
You need to know what you’re dealing with before you can take action. If the injury is severe you may need to use a muzzle to keep yourself safe as you examine the wound. Scared dogs often bite.
It’s not unusual for an ear tear to need stitches. If the tear looks like it’s more than will heal easily on it’s own make sure you control the bleeding and then take your dog to the vet or the animal hospital.
- Wash the ear: If you can it’s always a good idea to wash the dog’s ear to help prevent problems with infections down the line.
- Stop/Control the Bleeding: Your doggie first aid kit should always contain sterile gauze and medical tape.
The next step is to get the bleeding under control. Use gauze to put pressure on the wound and slow the bleeding down. If the bleeding doesn’t slow down in 5 minutes then get them to professional care.
- Clean up the Ear: Once you have the bleeding under control it’s time to thoroughly wash the wound. Wipe the wound out with povidone iodine or betadine and then apply some antibiotic ointment.
Thankfully ears don’t get licked as much as noses, so it’s easier to keep the antibiotic ointment in place.
- Wrap the Ear: Keeping a dressing on a dog ear can be tough. Some dogs will tolerate it while others won’t. If the ear isn’t actively bleeding then you probably can leave it open and reapply antibiotic ointment several times a day as it heals.
If it is actively bleeding then you should try to keep a dressing on it. Sometimes gauze and medical tape will work and sometimes a snood (also called a dog hoodie) can help you keep the dressing on.
Dog snoods come in a variety of styles from plain to ones with dinosaur ridges down the back.
5. Check Up on the Ear: Always monitor any injuries you’re treating at home. If the wound isn’t showing significant healing in about a week go see a veterinarian.
Dog First Aid – Torn Pad
Every day your dog uses their bare feet for every step they take. Because of that sometimes their foot pads tear on sharp objects or burn if they’ve been exposed to extreme cold, heat or chemicals.
Recommendation: If your dog injures their paw it’s a good idea to take them to the vet after you’ve performed first aid. Dog pads can be difficult to heal because dogs walk on them and veterinary advice is a good idea in this situation – even if the injury isn’t severe.
What to do if your dog tears her foot pads.
- Examine the area: See if there is any debris in the foot pad and look to see how bad the injury is.
- Clean the wound: Rinse the wound out with mild soap and water to help prevent infection.
- Stop the bleeding: Apply pressure to the area that is damaged with sterile gauze. If you don’t have sterile gauze you can use a clean piece of fabric.
- Dress the wound: Apply antibiotic ointment and a band-aid – you’ll most likely need to use medical tape to get the dressing to stay and it’s a good idea to cover the paw in a plastic baggie that’s taped on in order to keep the dressing from getting wet.
If your dog burns his foot pads then you can help soothe the burn the same way you would for a human – with an ice pack or cool water.
For a chemical burn run the paws under cool water until all the chemical is washed away.
For potential frost bite on a dog’s paws seek veterinary attention immediately.
Dog First Aid – Broken Toenail
This is one of the more common reasons that dog’s bleed and it’s often because when we are trimming their nails we cut the quick in our dog’s nail bed. This is especially easy to do if you are cutting dog nails that are too long.
Sometimes dogs also break their toenails on their own. If your dog breaks a nail and the quick is exposed there are detailed instructions here.
The easiest way to stop a toenail from bleeding is to use a styptic pencil or styptic powder.
First you apply pressure to the nail with a clean cloth or dressing. Then you wet the styptic pencil or powder and apply to the nail to help stop the bleeding faster
Dog First Aid – Torn Dew Claw
The dew claw is the curved claw that is on the dog’s leg on their front paws. These sometimes get torn as well or cut too short and bleed.
Use the same procedure as for the torn toenail on the dew claw.
If for some reason the bleeding will not stop or slow down over an hour or so, you should consult a veterinarian.
If you smell a bad smell coming from the dog’s toenail, make sure you call a vet. It could be an infection.
Dog First Aid for a Dog Bite
Sometimes dog’s get into fights and get dog bites. It happens fairly frequently and it’s important to keep a cool head and have a plan for what to do in these situations.
IMPORTANT: No matter the severity of the dog bite, you should consider veterinary care after you’ve stabilized your dog with first aid. Dog bites carry high risk of infection and it’s a good idea to get professional care and advice.
Dog Bites Can Be Worse Than They Look
Dr. Callahan adds, “In veterinary school, we are taught that the puncture you see on the outside of the skin is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in a bite wound injury. This is because a bite is both a crushing and shearing injury. Often, tissue can be damaged under the puncture, and a pocket is created. There may be bleeding or nerve damage under the skin that cannot be seen through the puncture. The tooth carries bacteria with it into the pocket and sets up a good environment for an abscess to form.”Dr. Callahan, DVM
Preliminary Precautions with Dog Bites
If your dog has suffered a bite then your first instinct may be to pick him up. But you need to be cautious. Many dogs will bite when they are frightened and you may need a muzzle in order to pick him up.
However, if your dog can walk and isn’t gushing blood you should let him.
“If the dog is able to walk, allow him to do so. This may calm him and will give you an opportunity to observe the dog’s gait and look for any bleeding,” she says.Dr. Morgan Callahan, VMD
If owner of the other dog is around and your dog is stable enough exchange information if possible. It’s especially important to check on whether the other dog is up to date on their rabies shots.
Treating Dog Bites
Dog Bites are puncture wounds, and can be worse then the look. If your dog suffers a dog bite the first thing you need to do is control the bleeding by applying pressure with a clean gauze pad or other dressing.
Then you should take your dog to the vet to make sure there is no damage you can’t see.
Dog First Aid – Bite Wound (Preventing Infection)
Once your dog has seen the vet, you will need to keep the wound clean and make sure they take their full round of antibiotics if they were prescribed.
This is a case where an Elizabethan Collar (cone of shame) is a good idea to keep her from licking and scratching. There are soft versions that are easier for most dogs to deal with.
Depending on where the dog bite is located this surgi shirt may also help them heal, by keeping them from licking and scratching the wound.
Dog First Aid for a Snake Bite
Snake bites in dogs are dangerous – especially if the snake is venomous. They are a true emergency.
Fatal snakebites are more common in dogs than in other domestic animals. Because of the relatively small size of some dogs in proportion to the amount of venom injected, the bite of even a small snake may be fatal. In dogs and cats, mortality is generally higher in bites to the thorax or abdomen than bites to the head or extremities.Merck Veterinary Manual
The ONLY thing you should do if your dog gets bitten by a snake is keep your dog quiet and limit it’s activity and get to a veterinarian or animal hospital immediately.
Also, if you can safely get a picture of the snake that bit your dog, take that with you to the vet.
What you should avoid:
The following commonly touted measures are ineffective and can be potentially harmful: use of ice, cold packs, or sprays; incision and suction; tourniquets; electric shock; hot packs; and delay in presentation for medical treatment (waiting until problems develop).Merck Manual of Veterinary Medicine
Dog First Aid – Puncture Wound
It’s not unusual for dogs to get puncture wounds. I’ve already covered dog bites, but dogs also get puncture wounds from stickers, splinters, glass, porcupine quills, metal, and sometimes bullets (this is more common in hunting dogs).
There are other ways dogs can get puncture wounds, but these are the most common.
IMPORTANT: Anytime your dog has a puncture wound make sure that she gets a tetanus shot. Tetanus is less common in dogs than in humans, but can still cause problems.
Immediate First Aid for Puncture Wounds:
In all cases:
- Only bandage a puncture wound if it is in the chest, if it is bleeding profusely, or if there’s still an object lodged in the dog’s body.
- Calm the dog. Restrain and/or muzzle her, if necessary.
- Do not put yourself at risk if the dog is panicking, excited, or in pain.
- Do not wash puncture wounds to the chest or abdomen with antiseptics or disinfectants.
- Always contact your vet to check for tetanus.
For animal bites:
- Make sure the dog cannot harm you – he may be excited, in pain or panicking.
- If the dog’s chest is punctured, cover the wound with a clean, damp cloth and bandage the chest tightly enough to seal it.
- Check for signs of shock.
- Perform CPR (if needed) and take the dog to a vet immediately.
- If a muscle has been punctured, clean with water. Watch for signs of shock and keep the dog warm while you get immediate veterinary assistance.
- If the abdomen is punctured and internal organs are exposed, don’t let the dog lick at them.
- Wash the exposed organs immediately in clean water if you can. Use a warm, damp sheet to wrap the dog’s abdomen and take it to a vet urgently.
- Wash the affected area with warm, soapy water.
- Use tweezers to remove the splinter.
- Wash the affected area again, either with warm, soapy water or a disinfectant.
For gunshot wounds:
- Treat bleeding and other obvious effects immediately.
- Check for shock.
- Take the dog to a vet immediately.
For arrow wounds:
- Do not pull the arrow out. Instead, cut the shaft about two inches (five centimeters) from the body and bandage the entry point tightly to keep the arrow from moving.
- Check for shock.
- Take the dog to a vet immediately.
For porcupine quills:
- Ideally, quills should be removed by a vet, under anesthesia.
- Therefore, if possible, take the dog to a vet immediately .
- If this is not possible and there are only a few quills embedded, you can remove them using long-nosed pliers. Pull each quill individually, following the angle of entry.
Thank you to PET MD for this list.
Dog First Aid – Wound Care
I’ve talked a lot so far about stopping bleeding and the initial treatment of a variety of dog wounds, but wound care after the injury is just as important at preventing infections and further complications.
This is true if you treat your dog at home for a minor injury or are treating your dog after veterinary care for a more serious injury.
Here are the steps to wound care at home:
- If your dog has been prescribed antibiotics make sure you administer ALL OF THEM. This helps to prevent infection and can keep problems from recurring.
- Gently clean the wound using a warm salt solution or plain warm tap water to remove any sticky or crusty debris.
- Do NOT allow your dog to lick, chew or scratch the wound. You can use Elizabethan collars (cones of shame) or surgi shirts – if the shirt covers the wound area to keep your dog from bothering it. Some people find the most success using both.
- If your dog has had an abscess, check with your vet on making sure it’s not closing too fast and follow their instructions to keep it open long enough to heal properly.
What you should NOT do:
DO NOT use soaps, shampoos, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, herbal preparations, tea tree oil, or any other product to clean an open wound, unless specifically instructed to do so by your veterinarian. Some of these products are toxic if taken internally, while others can actually delay healing.VCAhospitals.com
First Aid for Dog Poisoning
When it comes to dog poisoning the basic rule of thumb is if it is poisonous to humans it’s probably also poisonous to pets. This can include items like:
- Cleaning products
- Rodent poisons
There are also some houseplants and common human foods that are poisonous to pets. You can find an excellent resource by the American Veterinary Medical Association here.
IMPORTANT: First aid can help save your vets life, but poisoning is an emergency and in all cases you should seek veterinary care immediately.
What to do When Skin or Eyes are Exposed to a Toxic Product
Check the label of the product and see what it says to do. If the label says to use soap and water if you are exposed then do the same for your pets skin (don’t get it into their ears, eyes, mouth or nose). If the label says to flush the eyes or skin with water then do that.
Most importantly call a veterinarian right away.
Dog Poisoning – What to Do
If you know that your dog ate or drank something toxic like chocolate or if they are showing signs of poisoning such as losing consciousness, difficulty breathing, is unconscious, or is having seizures call your veterinarian, dog hospital, or the Animal Control Poison Center operated by the ASPCA (a fee may apply).
The Animal Control Poison Center Phone Number is 888-426-4435
It helps to have the following information when you call:
- The breed, sex, age, and weight of your dog.
- Any symptoms they are having.
- What they ingested – the more specific you can be on the exact brand, time of exposure, and quantity the better.
- Have the product/package available if you have it.
Take your dog to a vet immediately if possible.
Dog First Aid – Seizures
Dog’s often have seizures in response to poisoning, but they can also develop as a result of epilepsy, low blood sugar and other causes. If your dog has a seizure for any reason make sure you seek veterinary attention.
Symptoms of a Dog Seizure
When most people think of seizures they think of the Grand Mal type in which the dog’s entire body convulses. But seizures can also be localized – these can include rythmic barking or actions and facial tremors.
Dog Seizure Protocol
According to the AKC, this is the protocol to take when your dog is having a seizure.
- Remain calm. This can be difficult, but your dog’s health depends on your ability to focus.
- Check the time. Knowing when your dog’s seizure started and how long it lasted will give your veterinarian important information about your dog’s symptoms. If there is someone else in the room, ask him to film the seizure with his phone so that you can show it to your veterinarian later.
- Know that your dog is not conscious or in pain, even if he sounds or acts like he is.
- Dogs (and people) don’t swallow their tongues during seizures. DO NOT try to grab his tongue, as you could get bitten in the process.
- Seizing dogs may froth at the mouth or drool excessively, but this does not mean they have rabies.
- To prevent your dog from hurting himself during a seizure, keep him away from stairs, cushion his head, and GENTLY hold and comfort him until he begins to regain consciousness.
- Some dogs may urinate or defecate. This does not make the seizure better or worse.
- Seizures that last more than 2-3 minutes can put dogs at risk of hyperthermia(overheating). You can try cooling your dog by applying cold water or wet towels around his groin, neck, paws, and head, but it’s crucial that you get your dog to a veterinarian ASAP.
- Always call your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian after your dog has a seizure, even if your dog seems to be acting normally.
- Start a journal or keep a note on your phone documenting your dog’s seizures, keeping track of the date, time, and length. This will help your veterinarian figure out if there is a pattern to your dog’s seizures.
- Dogs that have more than one seizure in a 24-hour period are experiencing “cluster” seizures. This requires immediate veterinary attention, and you MUST take your dog to a veterinarian right away for examination.
Dog First Aid – Choking
Dogs always have their noses and mouths in everything. That means that they can be at particular risk for choking. Dogs most often choke on small balls. But jerky, rawhide and kids toys are also culprits.
Important: If your dog is choking enough that they need a mouth sweep or a Dog Heimlich maneuver you should take them to the vet once you have removed the object to check for any damage.
Choking Dog Symptoms
When your dog is choking they will look panicked and make retching motions. Often they will be pawing at their mouth and pacing. Your dog may have a heaving chest, but not be making breath sounds.
Step 1: Try to Remove the Object
According to Pet MD you should take the following steps to try to remove the object in your dog’s mouth:
- Use both hands to open the dog’s mouth, with one hand on the upper jaw and the other on the lower.
- Grasping the jaws, press the lips over the dog’s teeth so that they are between the teeth and your fingers. Any dog can bite, so use every precaution.
- Look inside the mouth and remove the obstruction with your fingers. Sweep your finger across the back of the mouth to feel for any obstruction. *If there are bones lodged deep in the dog’s throat, do not try to pull these out. You will need to take your dog to the vet immediately to have him sedated and the object removed safely.
- If you can’t move the object with your fingers but can see it, call your veterinarian or the emergency clinic right away.
If this doesn’t work then you need to move onto the dog Heimlich.
Small Dog Heimlich Maneuver
Carefully and gently lay your dog on his back. Then apply pressure to his belly where the diaphragm is (just below his rib cage).
Large Dog Heimlich Maneuver
Don’t try to pick up a large dog, instead do the large dog Heimlich.
Standing Dog: Put your arms around her stomach – just under the rib cage and join your hands. Push firmly up and forward. Afterward place your dog on his side.
Dog Lying Down: Hold your dog steady by placing one hand on her back for support. Use the other hand to squeeze up and into the abdomen right behind the rib cage.
Check Your Dog’s Mouth: Use the above steps to check your dog’s mouth and remove any objects that were dislodged.
First Aid for Dog Vomiting
Some dogs will eat anything and get sick on various weird stuff they are eating, other dogs will get sick and vomit from a change in food.
According to the Belle Meade Animal Hospital you should do the following for vomiting:
If your dog or cat vomits for any reason, DO NOT FEED YOUR PET FOR 4 HOURS. At that point, make sure your dog is not allowed to go out unattended. Make sure that he or she cannot get into anything in the yard and also remove any toys, treats, edible bones that might be in the house. You can give very small amounts of water.
If your dog or cat vomits again even while fasting, CALL THE ANIMAL HOSPITAL AND CONTINUE TO WITHHOLD FOOD. About 1/8 to 1/4 cup depending on how big your pet is. If your pet is able to hold down water after 8 hours, then you can feed 1/8 to 1/4 cup of bland food – baked chicken and rice. You can give the same amount again every 2 to 4 hours later. Your pet holds down this food then you can continue to feed a small amount every 2-4 hours. After 24 hours, go back to regular feeding.
There are many causes of vomiting, including anything from acid reflux, pancreatitis, blockage, viral, etc.
The absolute worst thing you can do as a pet parent for your vomiting pet is to feed it or even allow it to smell food, especially if it may have some form of pancreatitis.
- A mild form – vomiting that may resolve on own on with fasting
- A moderate form – when fasting is not enough, they need veterinary care with injections
- A severe hemorrhagic, necrotizing form – that even if with intense IV fluids, hospitalization and transfusion we may not be able to turn around. Hospitalization may be lifesaving. Especially if an owner waits too long to bring the pet in.
Dog First Aid – Heat Stroke
In hot weather dogs can get heat stroke. This can happen if your dog is overheated or if you leave your dog in the car. Common symptoms are:
- Panting heavily
- Drooling excessively
- Appearing drowsy, lethargic, or uncoordinated
- Vomiting or collapsed
The most important thing to do if you suspect your dog may have heat stroke is to cool them down gradually.
According the RSPCA these are the steps to take:
For the best chance of survival, dogs suffering from heatstroke urgently need to have their body temperature lowered gradually.
- Move him/her to a shaded/cool area.
- Immediately douse the dog with cool (not cold) water, to avoid shock. If possible, you can also use wet towels or place him/her in the breeze of a fan.
- Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water.
- Continue to douse the dog with cool water until his/her breathing starts to settle but never so much that he/she begins to shiver.
Once the dog is cool, take him/her to the nearest vet as a matter of urgency.
Summary: Dog First Aid Basics
In order to be able to perform dog first aid effectively you’ll need to have a well stocked dog first aid kit – including a muzzle.
Much dog first aid is similar or the same as human first aid, but it’s good to review what to do in each situation you may encounter before you encounter it so that you can be prepared.
I also recommend that you get the Pet Emergency Pocket Guide to keep with your dog first aid kit. When you need a quick reference in an emergency that is easy to use, this guide is really helpful.
Another health area that people like to know about is home remedies for dog scooting. Dogs often have problems with their anal glands, and these dog scooting treatments show you exactly how to deal with it.
Finally, if you’d like to know more about dental health in oder dogs, please check my article on senior dog tooth extraction.
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