Here are some tips and insider information that you need to know to keep your dog safe in case of emergencies: overheating, injury, choking, bites, and more.

A man holds his dog close.
Your best friend depends on you. Be sure to keep your dog safe
Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Dog owners would do anything to keep their fur babies happy and healthy. Accidents happen, but you can minimize risks to help keep your dog safe. All dog owners should prepare ahead and know what they need to do in case of an emergency.

Know How to Get Help

Sign points towards emergency services.
Know how to reach emergency services
Photo by monicore from Pexels

The most important thing to do when an animal is in trouble is to get proper veterinary care as soon as possible. Any time first aid is necessary, a trip to the vet should always be the next step. Know what clinics near you accept emergency patients. Many small clinics are not equipped to handle emergencies, but if it is a real emergency, and there is no other option, they are not likely to turn you away. Once your dog is stable, you may need to transfer to an emergency vet or one with specialized 24-hour care.

If you are traveling or hiking with your dog, it is a good idea to know how to reach the closest vet. If you are hiking or otherwise far away from transportation, consider packing a dog carrying harness along with your first aid kit. If an emergency happens on the trail, you may need to carry your dog back. Keep your vet office’s number on hand, as well as a poison control hotline. Timing is critical! If it is urgent, you may want to call ahead so that the clinic can prepare.

If you are ever in a situation where you are caring for somebody else’s dog, be sure you have their medical information. You should always know what vet that dog goes to, any health conditions it might have, and what medications it may be taking. If the dog is staying at your house, be extra careful. A new environment is exciting and stressful; they may get into things that they usually would leave alone at home.

Prevent and Treat Heatstroke

A dog jumps into a pool
Keep your dogs cool
Photo by Murilo Viviani on Unsplash

Overheating is deadly, and unfortunately, all too common, but it can be prevented. Dogs do not sweat the same way humans do, so they have a more difficult time regulating their temperature. Their best ways to cool down is lying down on a colder surface in the Superman Position and panting.

In situations like a hot car, they have no cool surfaces, and they are panting in warm air. You may have heard dozens of warnings to never leave your dog alone in a car, even “just for a minute,” and it’s true. Cars heat up much faster than you expect them to, and dogs are quick to overheat.

Shaving your dog to give it a cooler summer haircut may not be as effective as you think. A dog’s fur protects it from the sun and helps to regulate their body temperature. Dogs with “double coats” are well insulated against heat. Frequent brushings will improve this insulation, and as a bonus, reduce shedding. Though if you have a long hair breed, you may want to trim the fur around their feet to help their paw pads stay cool. Talk to a professional groomer about what is best for your dog.

Even if they appear to be back to normal once they cool down, heatstroke can cause the dog to go into shock and/or damage internal organs.

If you do notice signs of heatstroke (panting, lethargy, stumbling, and in extreme cases, vomiting and seizures), do not ignore them! Your dog will need help cooling down. Offer them as much room temperature water as they want, but don’t force them to drink. Get the dog into the shade and, if possible, pour water over them. A bath, a few bucketsful of water, or a good shower with a hose are the best ways to cool them off. Take them to the vet as soon as you can and keep the car as cool as possible. Even if they appear to be back to normal once they cool down, heatstroke can cause the dog to go into shock and/or damage internal organs.

As always, prevention is better than treating. Do your best to keep dogs out of hot environments, don’t over-exercise, and make sure they have a cool shady place to lie down. Always have water available. Frozen dog treats and cool stone slabs are great ways to keep your dog cool during the summer.

If Your Dog Gets Injured

A dog sits grumpily wearing a cone of shame.
Take care of injuries quickly
Photo by Michael Kilcoyne on Unsplash

Injuries can happen at any time. Some good supplies to keep on hand are scissors, gauze, general-purpose antibiotic, pet-safe Benadryl, ice and heating packs, and a pet thermometer. The first thing to do before any first-aid care is to muzzle your dog. Even the sweetest dogs can bite when they are in pain. Even if the dog seems too unresponsive to bite, hurt animals are always unpredictable.

Do not muzzle your dog if they have vomited, if they are having trouble breathing, or if they are choking. Make sure they can still breathe through their nose. A simple muzzle can be made by looping a leash, belt, or a thick strip of gauze around their snout. If you have a flat-snouted dog, you may want to consider buying a muzzle that fits.

If your dog is bleeding, gently and carefully clip the hair around the injury. Then apply pressure with the gauze. Unless a tourniquet is necessary, do not tie the bandage around the wound. You do not want to cut off blood pressure or cause unnecessary discomfort. Never use tape or a human bandage. Fur and sticky adhesive patches do not mix well. Keep your dog warm and as calm as possible while you go to the vet.

A dog wears a roomy muzzle.
Many mouth guards give lots of room to breathe while assuring safety.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In case of animal bites or scratches, clean the injury as well as you can with antibacterial soap and warm water, then head to the vet. Bites are puncture wounds that can cause invisible damage by sinking deep beneath the surface of the skin. It is almost always more severe than it appears. Even shallow bites and scratches are loaded with bacteria and need to be looked at by a professional as soon as possible. By getting a bite taken care of quickly, you significantly reduce the chance of infection.

If a wild animal caused the bite, do not try to capture it. Identify it if you can, especially in the case of snakes. But do not waste time or risk your own safety trying to do so. Go to the vet, and make sure your dog is up to date on their shots.

For burns, the same rules apply as with human burns. Run it under water, and clip the nearby fur away from the burn so that it doesn’t get irritated (okay, that one doesn’t apply to humans as much, but you get the point). Wrap it gently in gauze, and try your best to keep the dog from fussing at it. Consult your veterinarian about going in for additional treatment, and ask before applying any cream or lotion.

If Your Dog is Choking or Not Breathing

A Boston terrier looks up at the camera.
Be ready to help choking dogs
Photo by Angelos Michalopoulos on Unsplash

First off, let me say that there is a common thing that dogs do called “reverse sneezing.” It is a series of sharp, rough breaths that sounds a bit like they are trying to inhale a large amount of soap bubbles. It often sounds distressing, and they may look like they are struggling to breathe, but it is painless and harmless. They are just clearing their throats.

A minor irritation usually causes reverse sneezing, and it often starts when they drink too quickly or get overexcited. If a dog suddenly starts to reverse sneeze very, very frequently and for an extended time, it might indicate that an irritant is stuck in their throats and may require a visit to the vet, but not an emergency one.

Unlike reverse sneezing, choking is a severe problem. You should never use a muzzle in this situation and be very careful. A choking dog is likely to be distressed and scared and is most likely to bite. If you feel safe, you may try to open its mouth and look for any foreign object. If the object is right there and you are absolutely certain that you can quickly remove it, you may, but realize that you risk pushing it further into their mouth.

You might be able to dislodge the object by pointing the dog’s nose down, opening the mouth, and gently pulling the tongue out and down. There are several types of Doggie Heimlich Maneuvers, depending on the dog’s size and if they can stand.

  • For a small dog, lay it on its back and press gently, but sharply, on their abdomen, just under the ribs.
  • If a larger dog is standing, stand behind the dog, put your arms around its waist below its ribcage, clasp your hands together to make a fist, and push up and forward.
  • If the dog cannot stand, put it on its side with one hand on its back and one on its stomach, press in on the abdomen–up and forward.
A poster on how to use CPR on a dog.
Poster provided by the American Red Cross

If the dog isn’t breathing, CPR might be necessary. To perform artificial respiration on a dog, stretch it out on its side and extend its head and neck. Hold its snout firmly closed and breathe sharply into its nose. Try to give as much air as you can. If you do not feel a heartbeat, you will need to compress its heart as well. Just like with people, three compressions per breath.

If possible, take the dog to an emergency vet immediately. If you manage to remove the foreign object yourself, you will want to follow up with your veterinarian. It is possible that the dog was deprived of oxygen or sustained injuries to their mouth or throat.

Broken Bones and Minor Problems

A pug cuddles up in a blanket.
Be alert for broken bones and small injuries
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

If you suspect a broken bone, try to keep your dog from moving. If possible, carry them on a stretcher or flat surface. A dog may hop around fine on three legs, but it is only risking more damage. Bones that aren’t appropriately set are likely to heal poorly and may cripple your dog. As usual, take the dog directly to the vet.

Minor issues such as bug bites, ear mites, fleas, ticks, and rashes can become much bigger problems if ignored. Even if you explain it to them clearly, dogs usually don’t understand that leaving a bug bite alone is the best option. They will usually chew and scratch at the itch. This chewing can irritate it further, risk infection, and even break the skin and bleed. Apply some Benadryl, and keep your dog distracted until the itch relief kicks in.

Check your dog for ticks often, especially if you live or walk in a wooded area. Ticks frequently hide between their toes and in their ears, as these are difficult places for the dog to reach. Not only do they deal with the discomfort of ticks, but they will cause themselves more pain by chewing and scratching at their skin.

You may want to buy a tick remover because carelessly pulling out a tick might leave its head embedded in the skin. If you do notice an imbedded tick head, do not try to remove it. That will only increase the chance for infection, and the skin will eventually get rid of it without your help.

Zoey, author's dog. A very good girl.
Author’s dog, Zoey, is very spoiled

Your dog depends on you for all the love and care that you can give. There is a lot you can do to prevent needless injury to your dog and many situations where you can save their lives if needed. Be sure that you have the knowledge and the supplies to deal with an emergency. If you want to know more, talk to your local veterinarian and consider taking a class in animal CPR.