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Basic Canine First Aid

Cuts, Bites, and Bleeding

If your dog is cut and bleeding, clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide or water and evaluate how serious it is. Some parts of the body, such as the nose and tongue, contain many blood vessels, and even a tiny nick will bleed profusely. In such a case, clean the area, and apply pressure with a clean towel or gauze pad until the bleeding slows or stops. Then apply a topical antibiotic ointment. Keep an eye on the area for a few days in case of infection.

If the wound is deep or long and is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean towel, cloth, or gauze pad and get your dog to your veterinarian. He may need stitches and an oral antibiotic.

If your dog is bitten by another dog (or any animal), clean the wound, stop the bleeding if necessary, and call your vet. Bite wounds are always at risk of infection because the mouth contains lots of bacteria. Your vet will likely prescribe an oral antibiotic, even if the wound itself doesn't require her attention.

Heatstroke (Hyperthermia)


A dog's normal temperature is 99.5°F to 102.8°F. A dog's normal heart rate is 60 to 120 beats per minute. A dog normally takes 14 to 22 breaths per minute.

Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature rises beyond a safe range. Because dogs don't sweat, they can't cool themselves as efficiently as we do. They can easily overheat. Symptoms of heatstroke include red or pale gums; a bright red tongue; sticky, thick saliva; rapid panting; and vomiting and/or diarrhea. The dog may act dizzy or weak, and may go into shock.


Heatstroke is a potentially deadly condition. Never leave your dog in a car on a warm day, even for a few minutes. In hot weather, don't leave him outside without shade, or on concrete or asphalt. Make sure he always has access to clean, cool water. Restrict his exercise during the hot part of the day. If he has breathing problems, a history of heatstroke, or is elderly or ill, keep him indoors and cool.

A dog with moderate heatstroke (body temperature from 104° to 106°F) will probably recover if given first aid immediately. If he displays any of the symptoms, take his temperature if possible. Use a hose, shower, or tub of cold water to wet and cool him. Check his temperature every 10 minutes and continue the cooling process until his temperature is down to 103°F. Give him a rehydration fluid (such as a sports drink with electrolytes) or water.

Severe heatstroke (body temperature over 106°F) can cause death or permanent damage, and it requires immediate first-aid and veterinary treatment. If your dog's temperature is 106°F or higher, he needs to get to a vet as quickly as possible. If you're more than 5 minutes from the vet and your dog is conscious, follow the cooling procedures outlined previously until his temperature is down to 106°F. Then wrap him in a cool, wet towel or blanket and proceed to the vet.

Dogs with moderate heatstroke usually recover fully. If your dog has had severe heatstroke, he may have suffered organ damage. Your vet will advise you about ongoing care. A dog that has had heatstroke once is at risk of getting it again, so take special care not to put him in risky situations.


Bloat is the common term for gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), a potentially deadly condition in which the stomach fills with air (gastric dilatation), putting pressure on the other organs and the diaphragm. Once it's filled with air, the stomach may rotate on itself (volvulus). The rotation of the stomach cuts off the blood supply, causing the stomach tissue to die. Even with treatment (surgery), about a third of dogs with bloat don't survive. But knowing the symptoms of bloat and the need for immediate veterinary treatment will greatly increase your dog's chances if he does bloat.

Symptoms of bloat include restlessness, reluctance to lie down, pacing, rapid swelling of the abdomen, rapid and shallow breathing, and nonproductive vomiting and retching. As the pain increases, the dog may salivate heavily. The dog may go into shock, and the heart rate may become rapid and the pulse weak.

Although bloat can occur in many breeds, it's most common in large, deep-chested dogs, and males are more susceptible than females. Nervous dogs and underweight dogs are more at risk, as are those that eat only one meal a day and those that gulp their food.

These are just a few of the more common hazards that pet dogs may encounter. Other situations may also call for immediate first aid and prompt veterinary care. If you and your dog participate in athletic activities or spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, you both encounter dangers. That's just part of life. If you're alert to sudden changes in your dog's behavior or appearance, and prepared to respond, you can usually avert disaster.

More on: Pets

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog © 2003 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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