By Amy Marder, VMD
Accidents are the most common cause of injury to pets—getting hit by a car or suffering a wound of some kind are the most frequent types of pet injuries. What you do in the seconds after an accident is crucial to saving your pet’s life. Your job is to get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible without causing additional trauma. Here, we provide the vital tips that will help your pet survive.
Take it slow.
While you might be very upset, approach your pet cautiously, calmly, and slowly. Survey the situation, and make sure that it's safe to approach
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If he's still in the road, you may have to move him out of danger first (see slide 5). But be careful—pain and fright can make even the most loving pet dangerous. Never put your face close to a wounded animal. To handle a dog without being bitten, wear gloves and use a muzzle, or make one with a cord, gauze, or cloth. Use a towel to protect yourself from an injured cat's claws and teeth.
Check for vital signs.
If the animal is not moving after an accident, he may be unconscious. Make sure that his airways are not blocked—remove blood or debris from his mouth and nose, and pull his tongue forward. Next, check for breathing and a heartbeat: Lightly place your hand on his chest right behind the elbow. You should be able to feel the heartbeat, as well as the elevations of the chest that indicate normal breathing. If you aren't sure that he's breathing, place a fine hair or thread in front of his nostrils and watch for motion. If you have doubts about breathing or heartbeat, do animal CPR (see the emergency CPR tips starting on slide 10), and get to a vet immediately.
Stop the bleeding.
If there is severe bleeding, control it with a pressure bandage made of gauze sponges or pieces of cloth. Cover the wound, then use rolled gauze or a strip of cloth to wrap it snugly.
If the wound bleeds through the wrap, add additional layers. If the area that is bleeding can't be bandaged, apply direct pressure over the wound, checking for continued bleeding at 1-minute intervals. Try to maintain the pressure en route to the veterinarian. Do not apply a tourniquet. This could do more damage by cutting off blood-flow to an entire limb.
Move the animal—carefully.
If it's a small dog or a cooperative cat, carefully lift him with both hands onto a towel to support his entire body. For a larger dog, use a blanket as a stretcher. Keep his back straight in case there's been an injury to the spinal column. Twisting could cause more damage to the spine, or even paralysis. If your pet has a broken leg, don't try to splint it. Instead, support his body and let the affected limb dangle. This prevents further damage and unnecessary pain.
Watch for signs of shock.
Shock is a dangerous condition that commonly occurs after serious accidents. An animal in shock is weak, cold to the touch, has pale or grayish gums, and is breathing rapidly. To prevent or minimize the effects of shock, have the animal lie in a comfortable position and keep him warm by loosely wrapping him in a blanket or towel while you transport him to the vet.
It's not uncommon for a pet to suffer bite wounds, especially after a fight. Get him to a vet immediately for any wound that is in or near an eye, exposes underlying tissue, is deep enough to possibly involve an internal organ, or is bleeding heavily.
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Minor wounds are not emergencies—you should be able to treat them easily with an antiseptic solution. But do see your vet soon afterward so that antibiotics can be started to prevent infection.
After an animal fight, examine your pet for puncture wounds, which are often inconspicuous. They can become infected and develop into an abscess in a matter of days. Abscesses cause pain, swelling, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. When an abscess opens, it discharges blood-tinged pus that is often foul smelling. If you suspect an abscess, apply warm compresses (carefully—abscesses are painful), and see your vet as soon as possible.
Emergency CPR tip: Mouth-to-nose respiration.
Remove any mucus or foreign material from the mouth. Pull the tongue forward. If the animal is unconscious, place your mouth over his nostrils and blow a steady stream of air for 2 or 3 seconds. Pause for 2 or 3 seconds to allow air to exit from the lungs.
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Continue in this manner until normal breathing resumes or until you can get the animal to a vet. Feel for a heartbeat, and apply cardiac massage if needed.
Emergency CPR tip: Cardiac massage.
If the animal is unconscious and has no heartbeat, place one of your hands (both hands for larger dogs) on his chest behind the elbow. Press down gently but firmly. Do this five or six times at 1-second intervals.
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Alternate cardiac massage with mouth-to-nose respiration until you can get medical help.
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Emergency CPR tip:
Applying an emergency muzzle
Make a loop with a cloth or cord and gently put it around the dog's snout. Hold the ends, wrap them around the snout again, then tie them behind the back of his head. If the animal is having problems breathing, apply the muzzle loosely.