Browsing tag: first aid

Don’t Panic! – What to do in a Vet Emergency

Don’t Panic!

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS

Thankfully, medical emergencies don’t happen very often with our pets, however, when they do occur they can be very frightening and it is easy to panic when a beloved animal is seriously ill. This article will hopefully help you by explaining some common emergency situations and what to do.

Firstly, all vets have to provide an emergency service out-of-hours, so you will always be able to contact a vet if you need one. Some practices run their out-of-hours and others will use a separate, dedicated emergency clinic. It is useful to know your vet’s arrangements before you need them but usually a quick call to the surgery will give an answer-phone message with the instructions you need (so remember to have a pen close to hand if you call!) The best place for a sick pet to be seen is the surgery and although sometimes your vet may be able to visit, it is likely you will need to take them in, so make sure you have some arrangements in place, especially if you have a large dog who you might not be able to carry if they collapsed.

Cuts and bleeding wounds are a common problem, particularly in dogs who don’t aways look before they leap! Firstly, identify where the wound is, and if it is bleeding, stem the flow with constant, even pressure using a clean towel. If the blood is oozing from the wound it is unlikely in the short term there will be significant blood loss but if it is dripping quickly or pumping out, then pressure application is vital, even if your pet resents it. Resist the temptation to check if the bleeding has stopped, just keep the pressure on and pick up the phone! If the wound isn’t bleeding badly your vet may advise you to wait until normal opening hours but to keep it covered so your pet can’t lick it and don’t apply any wound powders or gels as these can make stitching the skin more difficult.

Dogs having epileptic fits are a frequent reason for calls to the out-of-hours services (they can occur in cats but are very rare). When they happen they are usually unexpected and very frightening to watch. However, they normally only last a minute or so and usually by the time you get in touch with a vet, your pet is already coming round. During a classic fit, the dog will fall on their side, shake violently and sometimes lose control of their bowels or bladder. The best thing you can do is turn off the lights, TV or radio, stay calm and move anything your pet could hurt themselves on. You can hold them gently but be aware some dogs are very disorientated when they come out of the fit and may snap at you. Continue to keep the environment dark and quiet and then call for more advice.

Road traffic accidents are extremely scary and often cause very painful injuries. If you see it happen, make sure your pet is under control (when they are frightened and hurt, animals have a tendancy to run away if they can), keep them warm with a coat or blanket and get them to the vet as soon as possible. If you have to lift or move them do so as gently as possible, keeping the body level and avoiding any obviously damaged areas. It is a very good idea to tie something dogs noses, like a scarf, or cover cat’s heads before moving them as pets who are in pain have a tendency to lash out, even towards people they know.

A very common opener to a call to the emergency vet is ‘I’ve just realised my pet has eaten………’, and again it is usually dogs! Unfortunately there are many things around our houses and gardens which are toxic to our pets. If an animal has eaten something they shouldn’t, even if you are not sure it is poisonous, the best approach is to call the vet straight away and make sure you keep all the packaging so you can tell them exactly what it is and it’s active ingredients.

Upset tummies are a regular occurrence at any time but many pets wait until the middle of the night before vomiting or having diarrhoea all over the carpets! In many cases they can be safely left until morning but if they are passing blood (from either end), are vomiting continually, or you know they have swallowed something solid (such as a toy, stone or bones), you should call the vets immediately for advice.

Other problems which should definitely trigger a call to your vets regardless of the time of day include any animal which is collapsed, has very pale gums, a rapidly expanding stomach, especially in large breed dogs, being unable to stand on a leg and any bitch giving birth who appears to be struggling.

Hopefully an animal emergency will never happen to you but if it does remember, keep calm, take steps to ensure both your pet and yourself are as safe as possible, stem any bleeding with pressure, keep them comfortable and ring your vet as soon as possible. Even if it isn’t an obvious emergency, it is never the wrong decision to call for some advice, you won’t be charged and while you may just need your mind putting at ease, you might just be saving your pet’s life!

If you are unsure if you are dealing with a genuine emergency you can use this free interactive pet symptom checker written by UK vets.

Equine ER – Dealing with traumatic injuries

I recently had to stop on the side of the road to help out a family whose trailer had rolled over, trapping their horse inside. By the time I’d got past the queue of stationary holiday traffic, they’d already done the first aid basics, and it was great to see how well they’d coped. However, it made me think about what owners can do in emergency situations for shock, trauma and blood loss in horses.

Not an emergency! I like to use ketchup and a good natured pony for Pony Club First Aid Training. If you want to know more, contact your vet - many practices run great first aid training courses for clients.

Not an emergency! I like to use ketchup and a good natured pony for Pony Club First Aid Training. If you want to know more, contact your vet - many practices run great first aid training courses for clients

In serious accidents, the most common injuries are probably bruises and lacerations – jagged cuts, caused by broken metal and debris cutting through the skin. However, puncture wounds and broken bones are also not uncommon, and it can be really difficult to determine what’s a mild graze, and what’s a deep, dangerous puncture wound in the field, let alone by the side of a busy road! If you’re faced with a real emergency like this, remember three things – first, make sure you and anyone else around are not at risk. Second, get someone to call a vet and any other emergency services (e.g. the police to close the road, the fire brigade to cut horses and people out of the wreckage, and of course ambulances for any human casualties). Finally, assess the horse(s) and do what first aid you can at the scene.

When assessing the injured horse, I find it really useful to look at it in two stages – the Primary and Secondary surveys. The Primary Survey is designed to find injuries that are immediately life-threatening, and need addressing NOW.
This would include serious fractures, significant bleeding, breathing difficulties and any neurological disorders (half a tonne of fitting horse is a danger to itself and everything within ten to twenty feet).

I like to start at the nose and work rapidly to the tail, running my hands over the horse, looking for wounds or areas that don’t feel right, and assessing how the horse responds. If you find a wound that’s gushing blood, it needs to be stopped; a “grating” feeling under your hands when you feel along a canon bone often indicates a fracture, which must be stabilised.

In an emergency situation, the key is to stabilise the horse until it can be moved to a safer location for further workup, and it is vital to be quick, but also smart. Don’t get so bogged down with relatively minor injuries that you miss somethng life-threatening! A wound that that oozes can be left until you’ve finished the primary survey; one that’s running with dark blood needs seeing to, one that’s spurting may kill the horse before you’ve finished unless you address it immediately.

To stop bleeding, apply pressure – even a major arterial bleed can be slowed, if not stopped, by a padded up numnah pushed into the wound by one or two people (ideally two, so you can swap over when you start to get tired). One of my horses was staked on a hack many years ago, when a piece of wood flicked up into his groin and tore the femoral artery. His life was saved by two of the people out riding with him, who pulled off their jackets and forced it into the wound, slowing the bleeding until a vet could arrive to pack it closed. The major risk areas for bleeding are the groin and neck, where major blood vessels run close to the surface and can easily be damaged.

It is really important when doing a primary survey to check for signs of shock – horses are incredibly tough, but they can still suffer internal bleeding and blood loss, even if nothing’s obvious, so roll up the horse’s lip and check the colour of his gums. Then press on them so they go white, and time how long it takes for the colour to return. A normal, healthy horse will have nice, pink gums and a capilliary refill time of less than 2 seconds. White or very pale gums indicate shock, probably from blood loss, as can a prolonged refill time, while blue gums may indicate heart problems.

A horse that is behaving abnormally need to be treated with extreme caution – concussion is uncommon, but it does happen, and is often more dangerous to the people around than it is to the horse! There’s nothing you as an owner can do about it, so make sure you’re ready to jump clear if needed.

A suspected fracture is a nightmare for any horse owner; however, it’s worth remembering that some fractures in some horses can be repaired surgically. The most effective form of first aid is to immobilise the limb with a thick bandage and/or splints – however, unless you know exactly what to do, don’t try to apply splints without a vet’s instructions. Some fractures, sadly, are irreparable – I once got called to a horse that had fallen over trotting across its field, the person who called said it had a “small cut”. When I arrived, his hock was pointing the wrong way round, and sadly I had to tell the owner that there was nothing that I could do, except put him down to remove the suffering.

Once the primary survey is completed, and everything addressed as best you can, you need to consider moving the horse to safety. If possible, wait for the vet to arrive first, but this may not be possible if you are in an unsafe or inaccessible location. Remember, a horse with anything significant on the Primary Survey isn’t fit to be moved anywhere until it has received veterinary treatment! In the case of my roadside horse, we were able to borrow a box to move him off the road to a nearby restaurant car park (I know, not perfect, but we had to improvise at the time!).

As soon as you’ve got him to a safe place, it’s time to carry out a Secondary Survey. When they arrive, the vet will probably repeat what you’re doing – but if you’ve already carried out a survey, you can bring anything important to their attention, speeding up treatment.

The Secondary Survey is a full examination of the horse, checking every lump or bump, scrape or cut for further significance. If a vet is doing it, we’ll often clean up wounds and probe them for depth as we go along; however, please don’t do this yourself! We need to see everything as far as possible as it is if we’re to properly assess it. We’ll always be grateful, though, if you can tell us what there is and where – e.g. “three grazes and a cut on the left flank, swelling over the right eye and a deeper wound on the right hock” allows us to prioritise the swollen eye and the deep wound, before we check over the grazes.
Now is the time to apply pressure to any oozing or dribbling wounds, to check the feet (I’ve seen otherwise apparently normal horses prove to have deep cuts in their soles from climbing over broken metal to escape – and immediately after the incident, appear completely sound under the influence of adrenaline). Periodically, recheck the gums to make sure that the horse isn’t becoming “shocky”.

Remember, horses are almost unbelievably tough – it is amazing what they can survive. My horse who got staked lost about half his total blood volume, but he made a complete recovery and lived for another ten years in excellent health; and the horse in the road accident, despite being thrown across the road, appears to have got away with cuts and bruises.

So, even if it looks a disaster, it’s always worth trying first aid until a vet tells you otherwise, because it really can save a horse’s life.

Check with your vet to find out if they run first aid courses so you can be prepared.

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