In This Chapter
- Collecting items to include in your canine first-aid kit
- Handling common first-aid emergencies
- Deciding when to call for help
You can handle some of your Boston Terrier’s medical emergencies; for more serious matters, you’ll need to seek immediate veterinary attention. Used appropriately, first aid can spare your Boston further injury and pain as you transport her to a medical facility. Most importantly, first aid can save your dog’s life.
Your home should have a first-aid kit that contains a variety of commonly used tools and supplies. You should also know how to perform some basic tasks that allow you to stabilize your dog until you can get her to the veterinarian. You can find out more about these essentials in this chapter.
In addition to having the tools and the knowledge to care for your Boston during her time of need, you also need to have ready access to your vet’s office and after-hours emergency numbers. Having these numbers handy will save you time when you need it most.
First-Aid Kit Essentials
Just as you have a human first-aid kit ready for handling common emergencies, you should also have a canine first-aid kit available for when your Boston cuts herself, gets into a skirmish, or heavenforbid, breaks a bone or goes into shock.
You can find prepackaged first-aid kits at your pet specialty store, or you can gather these items yourself and keep them in a prominently labeled, water-tight container in an accessible spot or alongside your human first-aid kit. Let your family — and your pet sitter — know where it is and what it contains, and make sure everyone knows how to use each item.
Your first-aid kit should include:
- Small nail clippers for small dogs or cats
- Rectal thermometer
- Bandages (butterfly and standard)
- Elastic bandages
- Rolls of gauze
- Gauze pads of varying sizes, including eye pads
- Cotton balls or cotton swabs
- Instant cold compress or plastic bag for ice pack
- Antiseptic cleansing wipes
- Alcohol pads
- Saline eye wash
- Hydrogen peroxide, 3 percent (to disinfect wounds)
- Styptic powder (to stop bleeding)
- Benadryl tablets (to stop an allergic reaction)
- Syrup of ipecac (to induce vomiting)
- Kaopectate tablets or liquid (to treat diarrhea)
- Iodine (to sterilize wounds)
- Antibiotic ointment
- Bottle of water
- Pen and paper
- Old blanket or sheet
- An extra leash and collar
- Pen light
- Pet first-aid book, such as the American Red Cross’s Pet First Aid: Cats and Dogs, by Bobbie Mammato, DVM, MPH (C.V. Mosby)
Check this kit often and replace supplies that have been used or medications that have expired. If you don’t know how to use these items, enroll in a basic first-aid course. The Red Cross offers a firstaid course for dog owners. If that’s not available in your area, ask your veterinarian for advice.
If you travel with your dog, carry a portable first-aid kit with you in your car or suitcase, as well. Find out more about traveling with your dog in Chapter Traveling with (Or without) Your Boston
Knowing Normal Vitals
In emergencies, you’ll need to check your Boston’s vital signs, which include her pulse, temperature, mucous membrane color, and breathing rate. In the upcoming sections, I outline how to check these vital signs and what your dog’s normal ranges should be.
Take time while your Boston is healthy to familiarize yourself with her typical vital signs. Then if an emergency arises, you’ll know how to take her vital signs and how far from the norm they are.
A dog’s normal heart rate can range from 60 to 140 beats per minute. The pulse, or heart beat, should be strong and robust. An abnormally low heart rate, which can cause the dog to faint or lose consciousness, should always be evaluated by a veterinarian. An abnormally high heart rate may indicate that your dog is sick, in pain, or under stress, and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Your Boston’s heart rate can be determined by palpating (feeling with your hands and fingers) the lower chest wall behind the shoulder or by feeling the pulse in the femoral artery, which is located high on the inside of each thigh.
Normal body temperature for dogs ranges from 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t begin to reach dangerous levels until it exceeds 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Your dog’s temperature will rise when she has a fever (an increase in body temperature due to disease) or if she is hyperthermic (unable to release heat as fast as she gains it).
Dogs with a fever will try to conserve heat by seeking a warm environment or by sleeping in a curled-up position; dogs who are hyperthermic will pant excessively and seek a cool environment.
You can check your Boston’s temperature by using a small thermometer well lubricated with petroleum jelly and inserted into the rectum for about one minute.
Mucous membrane color
Mucous membranes line the surface of internal body cavities, such as the gums in the mouth. Blood vessels in the mucous membranes give them a pink hue (for resting dogs) or red hue (for active dogs).
When a dog experiences shock, blood loss, or anemia (low red blood cell count), the gums appear pale or white. Gray or blue gums can indicate low blood oxygen levels or other respiratory problems.
Check your dog’s gums periodically to see what her normal coloring is. When you exercise your dog or spend time outdoors, keep an eye on her mucous membrane color to be sure she isn’t overheating or experiencing breathing difficulties.
The normal breathing rate for a dog at rest can range from 12 breaths per minute up to about 20 breaths per minute. Your dog’s breathing rate indicates how well her respiratory system is functioning.
Pain, fever, fear, excitement, or respiratory disease will cause an increase in her breathing rate. A dog with difficult breathing may refuse to lie down and will often look anxious. If you notice a change in your dog’s normal breathing pattern, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Managing First-Aid Emergencies
If your Boston is in trouble, you’ll need to think and act quickly. A Boston who is bleeding, going into shock, or overheating will rely on you for emergency care. Your prompt, decisive reactions can make the difference between life and death.
You should seek professional help in life-threatening situations like severe injury or trauma. Do everything you can to stabilize the dog by getting her out of danger, and then contact your veterinarian for advice. You could save your Boston’s life.
In an emergency, always call ahead to describe the nature of the problem and to let the staff know that you’re on your way. You should keep the telephone numbers of your veterinarian, emergency clinic, and poison control center accessible at all times.
The emergency guidelines in this section should not replace emergency veterinary care. They are intended to assist you in caring for your Boston until you can get her to appropriate emergency care.
Restraining your Boston
An injured Boston is not a happy dog. She’ll often panic, thrash, fight restraints, bite, and claw anyone who touches her. Your loving dog will turn into a frightened beast who isn’t thinking clearly. She only wants to get away from the pain. In an emergency situation, you’ll need to know how to restrain her so you can prevent her from hurting herself further, and so you can protect yourself. A muzzle can help in these situations.
You can make a muzzle out of pantyhose, a cotton bandage, a necktie, or any 2-foot-long piece of fabric. Here’s what to do:
1. Tie a loose knot in the middle of the fabric, leaving a large loop.
2. Pass the loop over the dog’s muzzle and cinch it tight over the bridge of the dog’s nose.
3. Bring the ends of the fabric under the chin, tie a knot, and draw the ends behind the ears, and tie again.
4. Take one of the ends of the fabric from behind the ears, pass it over the dog’s forehead, and slip it under the loop around the nose. Bring it back over the forehead.
This step ensures that the restraint won’t slip off your Boston’s short snout.
5. Tie the two ends together firmly behind the ears but not so tight that the muzzle interferes with your dog’s breathing.
If possible, practice muzzling your dog in nonemergency situations so you know what to do if the time comes. She won’t like it, but you don’t want to be fumbling with the fabric during a critical time!
Transporting an injured dog
Your Boston is a small dog, so you’ll likely be able to transport her in your arms, in her kennel, or in a sturdy container, like a laundry basket or a cardboard box.
Practice by picking her up and rolling her onto her back so her belly is up and her face is looking at yours. Cradle her in your arms, supporting her hips with your hand and her head in your forearm. Wrap her gently in a towel or blanket. If you need to put her in a box, pick her up and carefully place her in a sturdy box lined with an old blanket or towel.
Administering artificial respiration
If your dog isn’t breathing, you must perform mouth-to-nose artificial respiration. Take a deep breath and follow these steps:
1. Lay your Boston on her right side and clear any obstructions from her mouth. Gently pull her tongue out to the side of her mouth so her airway isn’t blocked.
2. Clasp both hands around the dog’s muzzle, leaving her mouth closed yet allowing access to her nostrils.
3. Extend the dog’s head (stretch her head and neck forward from the body), inhale, and exhale gently into your Boston’s nostrils, making an airtight seal between your lips and your hands.
Make sure that the air doesn’t leak out and that her chest rises and falls as you exhale.
4. Repeat every five to six seconds. Continue this process until the dog breathes on her own or you can get her to a clinic.
Performing heart massage (CPR)
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be performed if your dog’s heart has stopped beating. The signs of cardiac arrest include
- Stopped breathing
- Stopped heartbeat
- White or blue gums
- Wide dilation of her pupils
When performed properly, CPR can help restore breathing and cardiac function in an emergency situation. Here’s what to do:
1. Lay your dog down on a flat, hard surface that won’t bend when the chest is compressed.
2. Apply pressure with the flat part of your hand directly over the heart area (just behind the front legs in the lower half of the chest) with a force that’s appropriate for your dog, and press firmly at a rate of about 70 times per minute, being careful not to break her ribs.
The compression force should be enough to cause the dog’s chest wall to compress about 50 percent.
3. Release the compression completely for a brief period each time to allow the blood to flow back into the chest.
4. Check the color of the dog’s gums.
If the procedure is producing blood flow, you should see her mucus membrane color turn from white or gray to pink or red. Also check for your dog’s femoral arterial pulse, which is located high on the inside of each thigh.
5. Enlist the help of a second person to perform artificial respiration after every three chest compressions.
6. If the heart hasn’t begun to beat after 5 to 10 minutes, it’s probably not helpful to continue.
In the hospital setting, CPR is rarely performed after 30 minutes.
Common canine emergencies
Not all injuries require veterinary treatment. You can often handle scrapes, superficial wounds, insect bites, and bruises at home. You can observe your dog if she is experiencing mild vomiting and diarrhea, monitoring the situation if it worsens.
Some medical emergencies, however, will require veterinary care. Here, I list common medical emergencies that you can stabilize at home before taking your pet to the emergency veterinary clinic.
Bleeding can occur from just about any injury. How you treat it depends on the wound and its severity.
– A bruise: Apply an ice pack to the area in 15-minute intervals (15 minutes on, 15 minutes off) until the swelling subsides.
– Minor cuts and scrapes: Wipe the wound clean with an alcohol pad and apply pressure with a gauze pad until the bleeding stops. Cover the cut with a bandage to keep it clean, changing it as needed.
– Severe wounds: Apply several layers of gauze and bandage snugly, being careful not to secure it too tight. If direct pressure fails to slow the rate of bleeding, you may need to apply a tourniquet. Using a length of gauze or cloth, tie the tourniquet on the limb between the injury and the heart. The tourniquet must be loosened for several minutes approximately every 10 minutes to allow blood flow to the tissue.
Severe wounds should be evaluated by a veterinarian, so as soon as you control the bleeding, call your vet and take your dog to the closest emergency veterinary clinic.
Shock occurs after a traumatic injury or during a serious, sudden illness like heat stroke or accidental poisoning. It’s characterized by the collapse of the cardiovascular system. Dogs in shock show the following signs:
- They appear weak and listless.
- Their pupils may be dilated.
- Their pulse is weak and rapid.
- Their gums are pale.
- Their skin color is slow to return when pressed with a finger.
If you suspect your Boston is in shock, treat any visible injuries. Keep her still, bundled in a blanket, and get her to a veterinarian immediately. Shock is life-threatening, and when combined with a traumatic injury, your dog could be in serious danger of dying.
Fractures require immediate attention. A dog with a fractured or broken bone will hold its limb in an unnatural position. Sometimes a broken bone is visible through the skin. Muzzle your dog (see the “Restraining your Boston” section earlier in the chapter for the how-to), moving her as little as possible, and place her in a stable box to transport her to the veterinarian. Try to support the broken limb with a rolled-up magazine or cushion, if possible.
Common in warm climates, dehydration or heat stroke can occur when dogs are overexercised during hot temperatures. It can also occur when dogs are left in cars on warm days or when kennel areas aren’t ventilated properly.
A dog with heat stroke breathes rapidly, has a rapid heartbeat, and has a high body temperature (104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher). Depending on the severity, she may also be in shock. A dangerously overheated dog will likely die without proper veterinary treatment.
Immediately spray your Boston with cool water, and pack ice in the groin and around her head and neck. Wrap the dog in cold, wet towels, and seek professional care immediately.
To prevent heat stroke, never leave your Boston alone inside a closed car or in a poorly ventilated kennel on a hot day. Instead, be sure she has fresh air, fresh water, and sufficient shade.
Vomiting and diarrhea
An indicator of problems with your dog’s digestive system, vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by anything from spicy food to poison. Mild cases can be watched; contact a veterinarian if the situation worsens.
Excessive vomiting or diarrhea can cause dehydration, and that can happen quickly in a small dog like your Boston, so make sure she drinks plenty of water. If the condition doesn’t seem severe, feed your dog a bland diet of plain cooked chicken and rice for the first 12 hours. If her condition doesn’t improve, contact your vet.
If you suspect that your Boston has been stung by a bee or a wasp, first determine where the sting happened and remove the stinger by scraping it out or removing it with tweezers. Shave the area if you need to so you can see the sting. Wash the area thoroughly, bathe it with hydrogen peroxide, and watch for swelling.
Play fighting and wrestling with other dogs can sometimes get out of hand, resulting in a small puncture wound or superficial injury. If this happens, simply clean the wound and keep an eye on it. Check with the owner of the other dog to be sure that the dog is vaccinated. Any signs of infection warrant a call to the veterinarian.
If your Boston is attacked by a larger dog or an unknown dog, however, call your veterinarian right away. Some bites may require special treatment, like antibiotics. The attack may have caused internal injuries or bleeding that needs to be treated immediately.
Attacks by cats or wild animals also necessitate a call to the vet. Cat bites frequently cause infections, and bites from raccoons or other wild creatures can put your Boston at risk for rabies.
Dogs love to explore and taste just about everything they come across, but sometimes their curiosity gets them into trouble. They may ingest something poisonous that they find in the garage, in the yard, or in the house.
Symptoms of poisoning vary and depend on what substance your Boston ate. Common signs include extreme salivation and drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle tremors. The dog’s eyes may be dilated, or she may suffer seizures. Rat poisons and other oral rodenticides can produce internal bleeding, convulsions, and death if not treated immediately.
Common household poisons
Store these and other common household poisons well out of your Boston’s reach:
- Antifreeze and other car fluids
- Bleach and other cleaning fluids
- Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or prescription medications
- Insecticides and herbicides
- Rat, roach, or snail poison
If you suspect that your dog has ingested a poisonous substance, call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888-426-4435 (you may be charged a $55 consultation fee) and contact your veterinarian immediately. The longer the poison is in her system, the more extensive the damage may be.
by Wendy Bedwell-Wilson