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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 6, 2006

Be prepared for a pet emergency

By Dr. Marty Becker
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Today's pets are well-loved and have become treasured members of the family.

Families are extremely committed to keeping these beloved companions safe and happy, which is why I was not surprised when I saw that a local veterinarian was offering a free pet first aid class to the public.

Pets, like people, have a much greater chance of surviving a life-threatening emergency if the proper first aid is administered right away. Emergency situations are frightening for everyone, but are especially difficult if a loved family member is involved. Being prepared for a pet emergency will increase your chances of responding calmly and quickly and could save your pet's life.

For example, what if you're away at work and your house catches on fire?

Even the smartest pet can't dial 911 so, "it's a good idea to pick up several stickers from your veterinarian or local fire department to place on your windows in case of a fire, letting the firefighters know to rescue your dog or cat as well," advises veterinarian Keven Gulikers, an internal medicine specialist in Mesa, Ariz.

Learning basic pet first aid is one more way to help ensure that your pet will be a part of your family for many years to come. So just how do you perform first aid on a pet?

Here are tips to help you get started with your pet first aid education:

  • Traumatic injuries Always approach an injured pet carefully, as animals in pain may reflexively bite or scratch. Keep your pet restrained and warm by wrapping a large towel around her. For dogs, use a muzzle if available or make a muzzle out of nylons, a large sock, or a leash to prevent bites.

    Speak in a gentle voice to help calm her down. Move more severely injured animals carefully using a blanket or board as a makeshift stretcher.

  • Bleeding Have someone help restrain your pet and/or apply a muzzle. Apply direct, firm pressure to bleeding wounds. A bandage may not apply enough pressure to stop the bleeding alone, especially if a blood vessel was injured, but might help decrease the amount of blood lost.

  • Poisoning Do not induce vomiting unless your veterinarian recommends it. If you know what toxin your pet ingested, bring the toxin along with the container with you to the pet hospital to help the veterinarian determine treatment. If your animal ingested a human medication, always bring in the pill vial that contains the name of the medication and the strength. Keep the number of your local veterinary emergency clinic and human poison center near your phone. While many human poison centers are happy to answer questions about pets, one of the best resources is the ASPCA Animal Poison Control (www.aspca.org/apcc)

  • Seizures Although not painful to the pet, seizures are very scary to observe. If you see your pet lose consciousness and begin to convulse the only reason to touch the pet is if there is head wall banging or danger of falling. Pets cannot swallow their tongue, so don't put your hand in a clamping mouth! Once the pet is in a safe place begin to time the seizure. Most last one to three minutes. Before taking the pet to the vet, do a search to determine if the pet might have eaten anything unusual. If so bring the material and the pet the next business day. If the seizures continue for more than 10 minutes by the clock (cumulatively) then make a beeline for the emergency hospital.

  • Preventive Care Preventive care goes beyond treating illness and avoids problems before they happen. Always have your pet vaccinated against life-threatening diseases. Use parasite control for internal parasites (worms) and external parasites like fleas and ticks year-round. Keep your dog on leash around busy streets as many hit-by-car accidents occur when dogs see something across the street and dart across unexpectedly. Never leave your pet in a car on even a moderately sunny day as cars can become ovens in minutes, leading quickly to deadly heat stroke.

  • Seek proper medical attention Get proper medical attention by seeking veterinary care immediately in all emergency situations. Keep a list of emergency numbers on hand, such as your veterinarian and the closest 24-hour emergency care hospital. Giving your pet professional care right away could save her life!

    "Keeping a pet first aid kit alongside your family's kit is a smart way to prepare to handle everyday emergencies that may arise with your pet," said Jennifer Jellison, a veterinarian from Columbus, Ohio. "With the proper pet first aid items, there are a lot of simple, life-saving techniques that you can do on your way to the nearest pet hospital."

    Banfield, The Pet Hospital, where Jellison works, recommends having the following list of items in your pet first aid kit at home:

  • Boards or blankets to use as a stretcher

  • Leash, rope or soft cloth to use as a muzzle

  • Nonstick bandages (Ace bandages, vet-wrap, etc.)

  • 3 percent Hydrogen peroxide and a turkey baster (to induce vomiting)

  • Towels or cloth to control bleeding

  • Gauze and bandage material for wrapping wounds

  • Adhesive medical tape (though duct tape can work during emergencies)

  • Saline eye flush

  • Tweezers or hemostats

  • Clean latex gloves

  • Styptic powder to stop bleeding (flour or cornstarch can be used in an emergency)

  • Bottle of water (to help cool down in event of heat stroke)

    "Remember that animal emergency clinics are available around the clock and on holidays and are happy to answer questions. Always call before giving your pet any over the counter medication," says Beth Davidow, a veterinarian at Animal Critical Care & Emergency Services in Seattle.

    For more information talk to your veterinarian or to find a specialist in your area, please consult the Web sites of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine at www.acvim.org, and the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care at www.acvecc.org.

    Dr. Marty Becker is the veterinary contributor to "Good Morning America" and hosts "Top Vets Talk Pets" on www.healthradionetwork.com. He is also author of "Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together." Write to him in care of McClatchy-Tribune News Service, 700 12th St. NE, STE 1000, Washington, DC 20005.