Dogster is the revamped Dog Fancy magazine that caters to the needs of 21st century dogs. I urge you to fetch yourself a copy by clicking here. And, as a special treat, here is the feature I wrote for this issue:
As a master certified pet first aid instructor and the delighted pet parent to a pair of canines named Chipper and Cleo, I’m all about doing my best to keep them out of harm’s way.
Like many of you, I keep a well-stocked pet first aid kit in my home as well as a smaller version in my SUV. When we’re off on a long mountain hike or other outdoor doggy adventure, I pack a mini-pet first aid kit.
But even the most conscious of pet parents among us does not tote a pet first aid kit around 24-7. The sad reality is that injuries and illnesses in our dogs can occur any place, any time – and usually when our pet first aid kit is not nearby.
So, what do you do when your dog gets stung by a bee or cuts his paw on a walk in your neighborhood or suddenly collapses and stops breathing in your living room?
Don’t panic. Help is here. In my classes taught all around the country, I not only train people on the pet first aid basics (like rescue breathing, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, stopping arterial bleeds and more), but also how to unleash their creative “Mutt-gyvers” inside of them. By that, I refer to how to use everyday household items to stabilize and immobilize your dog until he can be safely transported to a veterinary clinic for professional treatment.
Mutt-gyver is my playful canine twist that refers to (and pays homage to) that action-adventure television show of the late 1980s and early 1990s called MacGyver. The show’s hero, Angus MacGyver, relied on his Swiss Army knife, duct tape, shoelaces and other common items within reach to escape from and foil bad guys each episode.
It’s time we used that same “think-outside-the-box” MacGyver mindset when it comes to rendering emergency pet first aid for our dogs. So, here are some situations and common items you may be wearing or have within reach to use as makeshift pet first aid tools:
• Dialing in the many safety features of your cell phone. In addition to taking a hands-on pet first aid class, I encourage you to download a pet first aid app to your cell phone today. Your cell phone is your No. 1 pet first aid tool. The app can provide step-by-step guidance to stabilize your dog. And during a serious emergency, such as if your dog has stopped breathing, you can perform CPR and talk to the nearest veterinarian via the speakerphone setting. Always alert the nearest veterinary clinic that you are en route and your ETA arrival so that they can prepare an exam room. Remember, in a serious pet emergency, every minute counts!
• Safely restraining your injured dog. Even the mellowest of mutts can bite when in pain, so heed Pet First Aid Rule #1: protect yourself first before rendering care. The 6-foot nylon leash can be used as a muzzle restraint to prevent your injured dog from being able to open up his mouth wide enough to bite you. This restraint enables him to still breathe.
The key is to form a noose and make the first tie on the bridge of your dog’s nose. Next, tie under the chin, then tie on the back of the neck below the ears and finish by threading one end under the first tie on the bridge of the nose looped back to the top of the head where you tie it in a bow (never a knot) Please see the photo of my dog, Chipper, sporting this makeshift leash muzzle restraint.
Other Mutt-gyver restraint options: For smaller dogs, you can use the drawstring from a hooded sweatshirt or your sneaker shoelace as a temporary muzzle. Belts may work in some circumstances. For dogs with short muzzles, like pugs, boxers and some pit bulls, consider restraining by rolling a thick bath towel around their necks and grip the ends behind their heads, lifting slightly up to prevent them from being able to open their mouths wide.
• Administering to cut paws. Here’s a lesson I learned a couple years ago when I was on a 6-mile hike with friends and their dogs. A 60-pound dog in our group named Katie badly cut her front paw midway through the hike. She was too heavy to lift on the rocky terrain for the three miles back to our base camp. So, I cleaned her paw with bottled water, used a bandana to apply pressure to stop the bleeding and left the folded bandana on the wound. I then wrapped her paw in a white crew sock (you could also wrap the paw in an unused plastic doggy bag) and tied it snugly using a friend’s hair tie. We were able to safely usher Katie back to camp and then on to the veterinary clinic for professional treatment.
Other Mutt-gyver options: If your dog badly strains or breaks his leg on an outing, limit his movement to prevent him from putting any weight on the injured limb. After applying a restraint muzzle, you can make a makeshift splint by using paint stirrers or Popsicle sticks as splints and wrapping the limb in a water bottle, newspapers or a magazine held in place with shoelaces or a bandana. Dogs too heavy to lift can be placed on your sweatshirt and dragged or carried in a sweatshirt sling.
• Treating bee or wasp stings. Bees, in particular, are driven creatures on pollinating missions. During the heat of the day, they often scurrying from low-level flowers and ground covers. You can reduce your dog’s chance of being stung by steering them away from ground cover on your leashed walks and making sure your dog heeds the “come back” cue from you so he doesn’t inadvertently poke his nose in a bee hive unleashed on a hike.
If you can see the stinger, slide the edge of your credit card or driver’s license against the stinger to usher it out. (Please refer to the photo of my dog, Cleo, going belly up to have me practice on removing a pretend stinger from her belly via my credit card.) Do not use tweezers or your fingernails to attempt to remove the stinger, because you will risk rupturing the poison sac. Keep your dog calm and take him to the veterinary clinic if the area swells and he develops breathing difficulties. If you do have an antihistamine available to give your dog, make sure that the only ingredient is diphenhydramine.
* Treating your dog who gets too hot or too cold. Unlike us, dogs perspire through their paws. On superhot days, keep your dog cool by dipping his paws in cool water. You can pour bottled water into your baseball cap if necessary. On cold days, coat your dog’s paws in petroleum jelly to prevent ice crystals or salt from cutting the paws. And heed the motto to “hug, not rub” to warm your dog who may suffer from frostbite. Place a small dog inside your winter coat to gradually warm up from your body heat. Wrap a large dog in a Mylar blanket, that lightweight shiny blanket that marathon runners and campers use to retain heat.
Household items checklist
Here’s a rundown of everyday items that can be used in a pet first aid situation when the kit is not available:
• 6-foot nylon leash
• Bath towel
• Sneaker shoelaces
• Mylar blanket
• Bottled water
• Baseball cap
• Your credit card or driver’s license
• Your bandana
• Your sweatshirt
• Thick magazine and/or newspaper
• Unused plastic doggy bag
• Your cell phone (with a pet first aid app)
Share some of your “Mutt-gyver” pet safety ideas! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, contact me about teaching veterinarian-approved, hands-on pet first aid/CPR/safety to you and your group. I often am accompanied by Chipper and Casey (my tolerant dog-cat teaching assistants) and we conduct in-service training for pet-related businesses as well as to the general public. Learn more by visiting my pet first aid site by clicking here.