Basics for Dogs and Cats
A Rodale Press contribution
can't always be prevented (that's why they're called accidents), but by being
prepared you can help keep small problems from turning into big ones.
a first-aid kit at home can be of substantial assistance," says Michael
Schaer, D.V.M., professor of medicine and associate chief of staff at the
University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville.
buy first-aid kits at pet stores. Or you can stock your own. Here's what it
Injuries - First Aid
In your view, she may be
man's best friend, and he may be the purr-fect pet. Unfortunately, the other
critters in your neighborhood may not hold your four-legged companions in the
same high regard. That's why, sometimes, dog literally tries to eat dog -- or at
least attempts to take out a hearty chunk. And those nightly cat fights can
occasionally take on the proportions of an Ali-Frazier duel.
Add to that the reality of
accidents, abrasions and other mishaps and you've got the makings of some nasty
wounds, abscesses and bleeding. So here's what you can do.
For Dogs and Cats
Most experts recommend muzzling a dog or cat before trying to treat injuries.
"If you touch the area that gives them the most discomfort, they're going
to bite you," warns Alan Lipowitz, D.V.M., professor of small animal
surgery at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in St.
If you don't have a muzzle
handy, you can improvise one from a roll of gauze or a length of rope, Dr.
Lipowitz says. Just wrap it firmly several times around the animal's muzzle,
then pull the ends back and tie them behind her ears. But keep a pair of
scissors handy, he adds. If your pet starts to vomit, you'll want to remove the
muzzle promptly to prevent her from choking.
Try wrapping her up.
If your pet is too small to wear a muzzle, you can wrap her head in a
pillowcase, towel or blanket before beginning treatment, advises C. B. Chastain,
D.V.M., associate dean for academic affairs and professor of veterinary medicine
and surgery at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in
Columbia. To avoid making it difficult for her to breathe, however, don't wrap
her too tightly or for too long.
First aid comes first.
"Stopping the bleeding is number one," says William D. Fortney, D.V.M.,
assistant professor of small animal medicine in the Department of Clinical
Sciences at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine in
Manhattan, Kansas. As soon as possible, apply firm pressure to the wound with
your hand or a clean piece of gauze or cloth. Maintain the pressure until the
bleeding stops, usually within a few minutes. If the bleeding doesn't stop, get
your pet to a vet right away, he advises. (For more information, see Bleeding.)
Make the fur fly.
Once bleeding is under control, the next step is to clean the wound thoroughly.
Start by trimming away the fur surrounding the area. Scissors are fine, but vets
usually recommend using electric clippers. "You need to keep that hair away
from the wound, because if it mats down it keeps the infection in there,"
says Wayne Wingfield, D.V.M., chief of emergency critical care medicine at the
Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins.
But first, paste on
prevent freshly clipped hairs from falling into the wound, Dr. Lipowitz
recommends coating it with a thin layer of water-soluble K-Y Jelly. The hairs
will adhere to the jelly, which then can be easily washed away.
Do some deep cleaning.
It's especially important to flush deep cuts or punctures with water to expel
germ-covered hair or debris that might contaminate the wound. "Soap and
water are the very best antiseptics to use," says Dr. Wingfield. You may
also want to apply an antibacterial ointment.
Bubbles mean trouble.
Although doing a thorough cleaning is critical, veterinarians generally don't
recommend applying antiseptics like hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol because
they can further irritate injured tissue.
Let 'em lick.
When dogs or cats get injured, their tongues automatically go to work. Don't
interfere with Nature's plan. Licking does no harm, and it may actually help the
healing process because it mechanically cleans the wound of debris, says Dr.
Although some licking may be good for a wound, dogs or cats that have gotten
stitches will often try to lick or chew them loose. To prevent this, your vet
may recommend fitting your pet with an Elizabethan collar, a conical plastic
shell that fits around your pet's head and prevents her from licking her wounds.
"Sometimes collars are
put on automatically when maybe they're not necessary," adds Dr. Wingfield.
He generally counsels a wait-and-see approach. If your dog or cat isn't worrying
about the wound excessively, she'll probably do fine without the collar.
Let the sunshine in.
Although a firmly tied bandage can help slow bleeding soon after an injury
occurs, in most cases it isn't necessary and can actually be harmful, says Dr.
Wingfield. "We do know the more material you put on a wound, the slower the
Watch out for abscesses.
While most minor wounds will heal on their own, occasionally an abscess will
form. An abscess is a pocket of pus beneath the skin that indicates an infection
is gathering strength. "Because it does not drain, the infection is much
more likely to spread internally," Dr. Fortney says.
Once your pet has an
abscess, she'll probably need to have it drained. In addition, your vet may
recommend that she take oral antibiotics. Don't try to treat an abscess
yourself, says Dr. Fortney. If you do, he says, "you've probably lost
When to See the Vet
While most wounds can be
managed at home, deep cuts or scrapes are going to need an expert's care. This
is particularly true when the wound is deep or bleeding heavily or seems to be
unusually painful, says Wayne Wingfield, D.V.M., chief of emergency critical
care medicine at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in
"If the laceration is
deep enough to involve tendons or muscle, you should seek some kind of
professional care," he says. Deep cuts often require anesthesia and
stitches. Even scrapes can be dangerous if there's been a lot of blood loss or
if infection sets in.
In fact, infection is the
main risk from most wounds, experts say. Danger signs include pus, redness,
swelling or tenderness that doesn't go away. Infections are particularly common
in bite wounds, especially those caused by cats, because a cat's mouth is
teeming with bacteria, and his sharp, pointed canines can cause deep puncture
"If it's a severe bite wound or puncture wound, you probably ought to see somebody and get antibiotics," advises Alan Lipowitz, D.V.M., professor of small animal surgery at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in St. Paul.
[Source: PAWSPECTIVES,a PetSmart.com e-newsletter]