by Sandra Murphy
This article was originally published in Animal Wellness Magazine in 2011.
Living with cats and dogs means you’ll have to deal with illness and injury from time to time. The most serious incidents, like the cut that won’t stop bleeding or an out-of-the-blue seizure, always seem to happen after the veterinarian’s office is closed for the day. Knowing how to assess an injury and apply treatment can be a lifesaver—literally.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association, one out of four animals would survive if just one first aid technique was applied prior to getting to an emergency veterinary hospital. A first aid class can help you be prepared and remain calm during a crisis. So who should take a class and where do you find one?
“Learning about first aid isn’t just for family members,” Robyn Elman of Home Pet Services says. “It’s so important for not only pet industry professionals like pet sitters, dog walkers and groomers to learn pet first aid and CPR, but also first responders like police officers and fire fighters.” Elman’s students work with life-size stuffed dogs and cats in a four hour class as they learn the signs of shock, allergic reactions and heatstroke.
The American Red Cross classes use dog and cat manikins to provide hands-on training for CPR. In a survey, 63% of dog people said they would be willing to give CPR to an animal companion while cat people were a little more hesitant—only 53% of them were willing to pucker up. In class you’ll also learn what to do if your cat is choking, has eaten something poisonous, or if your dog has frostbite.
The Red Cross offices are not the only place to take their classes though. Check with your local Humane Society, obedience class, day care or boarding facility and ask your veterinarian. Liz Palika of Kindred Spirits Training teaches the Red Cross first aid class at her training facility. For real hands-on training, her Aussies, Bashir and Archer, volunteer to be the “injured” victims. They’ve learned to hold up a helping paw as students search for a pulse or try to bandage a foot.
Dogma Day Care in Atlanta also offers first aid classes. Trying to move or restrain an injured animal can result in a scratched or bitten person and a traumatized dog or cat. Dogma’s classes include a lesson on how to properly restrain or muzzle a dog and how to confront an injured and aggressive cat. According to their web site, 60% of animal hospital visits are emergency related. A first aid class can’t replace regular vet visits but it could save your cat’s life or prevent further injury to your dog if he panics after being hurt.
Aging affects dogs and cats in many of the same ways as it affects people—eyesight gets worse, hearing starts to go, and the stairs are harder to navigate. Denise Fleck of Sunny Dog Ink not only teaches first aid classes but also a class called Caring for Your Senior Dog and Cat which focuses on non-medical ways to prevent accidents and injuries to make your companion’s life more comfortable.
She suggests lining a dog bed with plastic for easy cleanup and to reduce the chance of either of you slipping on a wet spot on the floor. A dog who no longer can hear you call “Come” during a late night potty break can be trained to respond to a blinking flashlight. Elderly cats will appreciate extra litter boxes spaced throughout the house for easy and fast access.
What can you do to relieve burn pain when a cat jumps on a hot stove or a hungry puppy spills hot grease on himself? Cheryl Hoard of Cheryl’s Herbs in St. Louis wouldn’t be without lavender essential oil as a first aid treatment. Applied quickly, it speeds healing and can even prevent blisters from burns. Hoard says lavender also has a calming effect, good for both human and animal in a stressful situation. It can also slow bleeding. Hoard doesn’t do a formal class on herbal remedies but hosts discussion groups with dog and cat people where each can bring up health concerns and find an herbal solution.
Checking your pet nose-to-tail on a regular basis will help you notice any changes during an illness or after an accident. For instance, pay attention to gum color—if the color is paler than usual, it could indicate internal bleeding or a heart/lung problem. Lumps and bumps can come up quickly and should be examined by your veterinarian with the same speed. Timing the length of a seizure can help your vet determine the cause. Once you establish a baseline of what’s normal for your dog or cat, you’ll be able to focus on what’s different and be able to explain it to your veterinarian upon arrival at the clinic.
Know your vet’s office hours and what to do after hours—is another vet on call or should you go to the emergency hospital? If yes, have the phone number handy and know how to get there. Call ahead so the staff is ready, especially if you’ll need help getting your dog or cat out of the car and into the hospital. This is not the time to get online and ask questions.
Our animal companions depend on us in so many ways. In case of emergency, reassure your cat or dog by remaining calm because you know what to do. Take a first aid class—it could make all the difference.
Look for a class that covers these topics:
CPR and rescue breathing, how to check vital signs, control bleeding, handle and restrain an injured pet, induce vomiting (and when not to), what to do for bite wounds, how to recognize and treat heatstroke and frostbite, how to prevent and treat poisoning, what to do for burns, choking, diarrhea, broken bones, seizures, shock and vomiting.