First aid for dogs | Gelert Behaviour

As an RVN who’s worked a lot in out of hours emergency clinics, I feel very strongly that dog owners should all have good first aid knowledge.

The very obvious reason is that in some circumstances, good knowledge and practical skills could literally save your dog’s life.  I have a very clear memory of a lovely lady bringing in her dog with an awful cut on his leg – she’d wrapped it all up in her bra, a genius method of applying pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding, it worked perfectly.  The less obvious reason is you could often save yourself a vet’s bill.

Many of the common reasons we see dogs out of hours are, of course, very serious, and need immediate veterinary attention.  One of the things taught on a good canine first aid course is how to spot things these things at an early stage, before they become life threatening and to take action to prevent the situation become worse whilst you seek help.

On the other hand, a lot of things are trivial and could easily be dealt with at home.  Others do need attention, but not necessarily overnight.  I have worked for different types of out of hours practices – not all of them allow staff to give common sense reassurance in these situations which as an honest professional person is very challenging.

Of course, if you are at all unsure what is going on with your dog, you must seek advice from your vet, that goes without saying.  However, there are lots of opportunities to increase your knowledge, and a first aid course would be top of my list for any dog owner.

That said, not all first aid courses are equal.  I would for preference, choose one run by an experienced vet or nurse – they will have dealt with all of the injuries and ailments they are talking about. 

My favourite first aid tutor is Rachel Bean RVN.  Her teaching comes from years of experience as a vet nurse including working with rescue dogs in Thailand, not an easy situation at all but excellent for developing creative solutions to common problems.  Rachel’s teaching style is very practical and great fun, and her own dog is an excellent assistant to her teaching (incredibly tolerant of having multiple body parts bandaged, the joys of being a vet nurse’s dog!)  Practising on a toy dog is a useful starting point, but if your dog is injured, they are unlikely to be this cooperative!  I bandage my dogs as a game – that might sound mad, but it “normalises” the process, so if I had to, in an emergency, or after surgery, they are used to it.

Rachel is based in the north west, but travels all over to provide workshops hosted by various organisations.  Once lockdown allows, I hope to be hosting her again.

If you use a dog walker or day care for your dog, it’s worth checking that they have an up to date first aid certificate, specifically for dogs.  The most awful thing I can imagine is having something happen to a dog, and not knowing what to do to help. It’s really important to have good knowledge and practical skills – any dog at all can cut itself on hazards that no one could possibly see in advance. 

Such knowledge is like an insurance policy – you hope you never need it, but it’s best to have it there, just in case.