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Basic Canine First Aid

Be prepared and keep your family pet healthy and safe with these first-aid tips.

In this article, you will find:

Poisoning, fractures

Basic Canine First Aid

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Telephone numbers that may be useful in an emergency:

  • Your own numbers away from home—work, cell phone, and pager.
  • A friend or relative to contact if you aren't available.
  • Your dog's regular veterinarian.
  • An alternate veterinarian who can board your dog if necessary—25 to 50 miles away.
  • The local boarding kennel.
  • A boarding kennel 25 to 50 miles away.
  • The local animal shelter and animal control.
  • The local health department.
  • The local Red Cross chapter.

Many, many things can happen to our dogs. Knowing how to respond if your dog becomes sick or injured will help you breathe easier and could make a life-and-death difference for your dog.

We have room here for only the basics, so consider purchasing a good veterinary first-aid book to keep on hand. You might also consider taking a pet first-aid or CPR class. They're offered from time to time by some college continuing education programs, veterinary schools, vet clinics, and the Red Cross.

Poisons and Poisoning

A surprising number of things we keep around our homes are potentially toxic to dogs. Unfortunately, many of them are also attractive to dogs, so it's up to us to keep them out of reach of curious canines. Here are some of them, and some tips on how to respond if your dog gets past your precautions.


If you suspect or know that your dog has eaten or been exposed to a poison, contact your veterinarian, emergency clinic, or animal poison center immediately even if your dog doesn't show any symptoms. The effects of some poisons are slow, so don't assume that if you don't see symptoms your dog is okay. A quick response may save your dog's life.

Medications, both prescription and nonprescription, can be deadly, especially in larger-than-normal quantities or in some combinations. Chocolate can kill a dog. More than 700 types of plants, many of them common garden and house plants, are poisonous. Garden chemicals, including fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides, also pose hazards. Slug bait, ant poisons, and mouse or rat poisons are made to taste good to attract their intended prey, and they'll attract your dog. Some puppies and dogs eat the darndest things, and lead poisoning can occur in dogs who ingest lead paint chips or dust, toys, drapery weights, fishing weights, lead shot, some tiles, and some types of insulation. Lead poisoning can also occur in dogs that drink from improperly glazed ceramic bowls, or who drink water that's passed through lead pipes.


Antifreeze is sweet and attractive to pets. It is also lethal. If you notice antifreeze on your garage floor or driveway, clean the area thoroughly. If your dog ingests antifreeze, get him to a veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, swelling of the tongue and other mouth tissues, excessive salivation, or seizures. If your dog has any of these symptoms, get him to the vet as quickly as possible. Effective treatment depends in part on promptness, and in part on knowing what he has ingested.

Some common garden dwellers can also be hazardous. Some dogs are allergic to bee stings—and to complicate matters, many dogs snap at the buzzing. I had a dog who liked to eat bees for the sweet nectar they carried! Some spider bites are poisonous, and in some parts of the country scorpions and snakes may be a threat. If you notice sudden swelling around your dog's face or body, get him to the vet.



A closed fracture is one in which the bone is fractured, but the skin over the break is unbroken. In a compound fracture, the broken bone protrudes through the skin, creating risk of infection. Epiphyseal fractures occur in the growth plates or epiphyseal plates of young dogs that are still growing. If the bone is cracked but not broken, the dog has a greenstick fracture.

Four types of fractures are commonly seen in dogs: closed, compound, epiphyseal, and greenstick. All fractures should be treated immediately to prevent further damage and to control pain. Treatment depends on the type, location, and severity of the fracture and the dog's age. Just as in human medicine, splints, casts, pins, steel plates, and screws can be used to realign the bone and allow healing.

A dog usually will not step on a broken leg, although that's not always the case. If you know or suspect that your dog has a fracture, you need to keep him quiet so that he doesn't cause more damage to the bone or surrounding tissue, nerves, and blood vessels. If the fracture is in a leg, apply a splint if possible. Two straight pieces of wood or metal, one placed on each side of the leg, and wrapped with a bandage (not too tight—you don't want to cut off circulation), should do the job temporarily. If the fracture is on his body or head, slide or roll your dog onto a stretcher (a blanket or board will work), and use that to carry him to your car. If possible, have someone drive while you stroke and quiet your dog so that he doesn't move around too much or become more frightened.

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