Guest Post: Pet First Aid Tips from Dr. Rex Riggs

Pet First AidIn an effort to make things safer for both pet and pet parent, we asked Dr. Rex Riggs what points about first aid he would most want to share with his clients. While some of his reminders may seem like common sense, it’s good to have these as mental notes in the event that you’re in an emergency situation.

Safety First When It Comes To First Aid

The first tenet of first aid for your pet is safety, for your pet and for you. Animals in distress will act with fear and no matter how much they love you, and how much you love them, they will bite and scratch. They are put in a flight or fight mentality. I have seen many clients who have sustained serious injury trying to help an injured animal. So be careful!

Before handling an injured dog, make sure you muzzle them, even if it’s just with a length of gauze, a tie, a sock, etc.

For a cat, drape a large towel over the cat, loosely. Don’t try to wrap the cat tightly (aka “kitty burrito”), because this can make the cat panic more. Just put the towel over the entire body and scoop the cat up, keeping the towel between you and the cat’s various pointy sharp things. Remember, if a cat wants to get you, it will, so use caution.

Poison: Under Control

There are some myths about what is/isn’t safe for pets to eat. For example, we have all heard about how poinsettias are toxic to animals, when in fact they are only mildly toxic and just causes minor nausea. (Plants that are really toxic to animals are mistletoe and any of the lily family of plants. Other common dangers include chocolate, raisins, and macadamia nuts.) But, it’s not necessary for you to know each danger, because there is the Animal Poison Control Center. Obviously, know the big ones, but it’s more important that you just store the number - (888) 426-4435 - in your cell. Call them and they can help you decide what steps, if any, to take.

For example, in some cases they may suggest you induce vomiting, but in other cases that would cause more harm. So call poison control, get a plan of action, and decide with them as to whether your pet needs further care at your vet.

On inducing vomiting: If you need to induce vomiting, you won’t want to use Syrup of Ipecac. It does not work in dogs or cats. Instead, you can use a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide at the base of the tongue. Normally this works, but you do not want to repeat. (Don’t use salt, another misconception). If you can get the pet to vomit in an hour to even three hours, it can make a difference. Obviously the sooner the better.

What If Your Pet Is Choking?

If you think your animal is choking on something you can do the doggie Heimlich by exerting pushing thrusts on each side of the chest, in a manner similar that you would for a person, but on the sides, not around the waist.

Seizing the Moment

Unfortunately, seizures are fairly common in our pets. It is not easy to watch your animal go through these, but try to remember, the actual seizure normally lasts for less than a minute. The best thing to do is put a blanket or towel over them so that they don’t thrash around and hurt themselves. A dog will not swallow his tongue, so stay away from the mouth and nails, even as they are coming back around. They are scared and will often bite at anyone. 25% of seizures are caused by something abnormal, so it is important to follow up with your vet. In the past, we would tell clients to wait to see if the animal would have another seizure before we saw them, but now we realize, it is important to see them right away.

Scuff Ups

If your animal cuts themselves, just hold a compress on the area for a full 5 minutes. If the animal’s clotting system is normal, the bleeding will stop or slow down. Be careful when applying a tourniquet, if left on too long it can cause problems.

Know Who To Call

Know where your closest emergency vet is and have their number in your phone. It’s a run you hope you’ll never need to make, but there’s peace of mind in knowing where to go.

There are things you can do to help your pets in an emergency, but be careful. A fearful animal is one to fear.


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

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