April is National Pet First Aid Awareness Month. So, since emergencies can and do happen unexpectedly, here are key things you should know about 6 of the most common emergency situations. Of course, you should always contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice that something is wrong with your pet. The tips below are great for providing short term aid until you can get your pet to a professional, but please do not try to fix the problem yourself!
1. Choking or Airway Obstruction.
Airway obstruction is one of the most common pet emergencies. Sometimes there are obvious signs, such as extreme difficulty breathing, gagging, or coughing. In other cases the symptoms may be more subtle, like excessive pawing at the mouth. Although you don't want to waste time if your pet is in serious distress, the first step is to look into your pet's mouth to see if you can spot any foreign objects blocking her airway. If you see something and your pet can still pass some air, call your vet for advice. They may recommend that you try to gently remove the object with tweezers or pliers, but be very careful! You don't want to push the object further down or put your fingers in your pet's mouth where you might getting bitten.
If no air is passing through, you can attempt to dislodge the object with a few sharp whacks between the shoulderblades or quick abdominal thrusts, similar to the human Heimlich maneuver. If you have a small dog or cat, carefully inverting your pet so her hind end is upward and her head is down will allow gravity to help you out as well. Don't want waste too much time trying to solve the problem on your own, however, if your pet is in distress. Your best bet is to seek immediate medical attention.
Severe lameness or the outright inability to use a limb is usually the first sign of a fracture. Pets with potential fractures should be seen immediately, especially if you notice any bleeding! If you suspect a fracture, muzzle your pet before you try to move him or her. If you don't have a muzzle, some old pantyhose or the sleeve of a sweatshirt can do the trick. Fractures are extremely painful and may cause even a docile dog to try to bite. Then, call your vet and head right over. Try to move the fractured area as little as possible. A stretcher (or a makeshift stretcher out of a door or a rubbermade container lid) may come in handy.
Seizures look really scary, but your best course of action is to let the seizure run its course. Move away any hard or heavy objects, like tables or bookshelves, so your pet doesn't bump into them and comfort him by resting a hand on his side. You can also place towels or blankets near him for added protection. DO NOT attempt to restrain your pet or reach into his mouth, as this may cause injury to one or the both of you. Seizuring pets are in no danger of choking on their tongue. However, they may flail or unintentionally bite you since all of their muscles clamp down tightly during a seizure. Do your best to remember key details about your pet's behavior during the seizure so you can inform your vet: What did it look like? Was your pet paddling, drooling, stiff? How long did the seizure last? It often feels like seizures last for hours, but the more accurately you can time them, the better. As soon as it’s over, call your veterinarian to get instructions on what to do next.
Muzzle your pet first, then try to examine the injured area. It is important to keep your pet as calm as possible, as the more active he is the more he will bleed. Apply firm pressure to the affected area using gauze or clean towels for at least 3 minutes or until bleeding stops. If there is severe bleeding from one of your pet's legs, you can try to use an elastic band around a clean t-shirt as a tourniquet (place it above the wound) while applying direct pressure to the wound itself. Once you’ve stopped the bleeding, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Poisoning is much more difficult to identify, as there are a wide range of symptoms depending on the toxin. Vomiting, convulsions, diarrhea, and weakness are some of the most common symptoms. Take action right away and call your local veterinarian or ASPCA Poison Control if you have any suspicions that your pet may have gotten into something he shouldn't have. If you know the source of the poisoning, bring it with you to the vet or snap a picture of the product label. It is very important to provide your vet with as many details as possible, including the exact product name, how much your pet may have ingested (and how long ago), and a list of active ingredients, among others.
If you discover your pet to be unconscious, administering CPR can save his life. First, look/listen to see if your pet is breathing. If not, begin rescue breaths by placing him on his right side, gently extending his neck, holding his jaws closed, and forming a seal by placing your mouth over his nose (or nose and mouth, for small dogs and cats). Blow into his nostrils every 3 seconds, enough so you see his chest rise. Make sure that no air escapes between his mouth and nose.
If you also don’t feel a heartbeat, deliver chest compressions over the left side of his chest (feel for the heartbeat along the left side of his chest just behind his elbow or on the inside of his rear leg where it meets the body). Give 3 chest compressions every two seconds, aiming to depress the chest 1/4 - 1/2 way down each time. DO NOT attempt chest compressions if there is a heartbeat! Continue alternating chest compressions with rescue breaths, about 10-15 compressions between each breath, as you travel to the nearest animal hospital or until your pet begins breathing again on his own.
Most information gathered from the American Red Cross article "Pet CPR" originally published http://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr/perfoming-cpr/pet-cpr