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Learn the basics of dog first aid

Hi, I’m Jo from Dog First Aid Franchise Limited and this is Marvel, the collie. We have deliberately chosen a black dog today because black dogs get overlooked in rescues so often.

So, we wanted to promote how amazing black dogs are and how there are so many out there in rescue looking for homes. Please don’t overlook them and please do check them out in your local rescue centre.

We are not going to push Marvel to have any areas examined that he does not want to be examined as you should never force a dog to have a full body examination done. You might have seen that he just had a little lick lip, and again there, good boy.

When you’re doing a full body examination, initially you’re just going to do a visual examination. Check the dog’s body language, posture and make sure that they’re not acting in a way that’s isn’t normal for that individual dog. For example, if they’re walking with their elbows held out it could be an indication of chest pain or if they’re unable to rest or lie down it may be that they’re suffering from some discomfort. So, we are looking at Marvel’s eyes and checking that they’re nice, bright, clear and healthy. We are going to check his ears to make sure they’re nice and clean and that there’s no discharge. When you go over Marvel’s coat you want to be checking that there are no foreign bodies, no grass seeds and no splinters.

You need to get used to your dog’s skin colour all over, because if there’s a change to your dog’s skin colour then it means something, and you would need to get it checked out. You need to be checking the skin colour all over and make sure that you get your dog used to having an examination.

You can check your dog’s paws, paw pads and in between the paws in the webbing area and make sure that no claws have split.

Checking inside your dog’s mouth is something you need to build up to with time. So, you need to familiarise yourself with the dog’s gums and make sure that they are a good and healthy colour. If you press the dog’s gum above the tooth, the colour should blanch and come straight back to show that the dog has got good circulation. If the dog’s gums are excessively pale, it could indicate that the dog is going into shock. If the dog’s gums are dark red and tacky that could be an indication of heatstroke so it’s important to be able to read your dog’s gums and assess them.

You can also check in the mouth for anything going on with the gums and teeth, like plaque or any teeth that may be decaying and need attention. Of course, you don’t want to be putting your face in the dog’s face as you’re asking to get bitten because you’re invading their personal space. Always invite the dog into your space to get these checks done.

When you’re practising these checks, make sure you’re reading the dog’s body language all the time and look out for:

  • Lip licking
  • Panting
  • Tail position
  • Ear position
  • Stress signs

To take a dog’s pulse, we take it in the groin area in their femoral artery. It can be on either side of the dog’s body, so either groin, and you want to find a big vein sticking out. Once you’ve found the femoral artery you want to hold your finger still on it and you’ll feel the pulse coming through. When you feel that pulse coming through, you’re going to count for 15 seconds and times that reading by 4 so that you get your beats per minute.

When you’re taking a pulse, make sure you keep your thumb clear because your thumb has your own pulse in it and you don’t want to confuse the reading and confuse your pulse with the dog’s pulse.

To do the breaths per minute you just need to watch the dog’s chest area rise and fall and count to 15 seconds and times by 4 to get your breaths per minute reading. You need to make sure you know your dog’s normal resting rate breaths per minute and pulse rate so that you have a base rate so that in an emergency situation you can check and compare the readings.

About Jo Middleton

Dog first aid trainer and founder of Dog First Aid Franchise Ltd – an organisation with a veterinary team boasting over 50 years experience.