For first aid advice
None of us wish to consider our pets in need of emergency veterinary care, but some preparation is sensible in order that owners are aware what they can do to help before arrival at the veterinary clinic and therefore maximise the chances of survival.
These notes aim to give an overview of first aid for animals to inform owners how best to act at what will be a stressful time for them. Hopefully, as an individual pet owner, you will never have cause to use the information.
General aspects of emergency action
All the specific knowledge in the world is useless if we forget the basics and the following points are useful to bear in mind long before an emergency arises.
You need to have the means to restrain your pet which means either a normal dog lead, an improvised dog lead such as a belt. In a stressful situation, an animal’s natural tendency is for fight or flight, so we always insist on dogs being on leads and cats being in baskets within the clinic and its car park. The potential for escape is heightened during an emergency as the animal may be in pain, disorientated or scared – natural instinct will often make them want to escape from humans.
From a similar point of view, it is sensible to have the cat basket in a handy location so that it is available in an emergency rather than necessitating scrambling into the recesses of the loft or moving half the contents of the garage to get it. It is also important that all family members know where that location is rather than not being able to find it because the person who last put it away after the cattery is not there.
The basic rule of human First Aid is to not endanger yourself whilst trying to help others and this is applicable to animal First Aid. Going into the stormy sea or onto a frozen lake to rescue a pet should never be undertaken. You may not want to lose them, but that will little comfort to your relatives if you succumb too and they often manage to escape. The same would apply with respect to venturing on to a motorway, busy road or rail track, as well as going back into a burning house, or fending off an adder or swarm of bees. Less life-threatening risks involve trying to break up a dog or cat fight, or being bitten or scratched by a nervous or seizuring animal.
Finally, drive to the clinic sensibly – the few seconds or minutes saved by speeding or jumping a red light will not make any difference to the chances of survival, but may compound the situation by causing an accident.
We are often asked to attend emergency patients away from the clinic and, whilst we are willing to do this where options to get the pet to the clinic are infeasible, it is essential to remember that we have much more diagnostic equipment and treatments available at the clinic and so if there is anyway you can transfer the patient yourself rather than lose time by us coming to you first then this is preferable. More information on specific emergencies is given below, but in general any risk of moving the animal is outweighed by the benefits of getting to the clinic more quickly.
In general, it is very difficult to successfully carry out mouth to nose ventilation and/or chest compressions on an animal, in the same way as a human casualty would be treated, before it arrives at a veterinary clinic. It is arguable that attempts to perform CPR are futile outside the veterinary clinic, compared to inside where we have oxygen, breathing tubes and drug treatments available.