While hopefully you will never have to deal with a critically injured dog, it is better to be aware of how to best help if you ever do find yourself in that position. There are a few important steps to take in order to keep both you and the dog safe and calm.
Remember to Breathe and Don’t Panic
An emergency situation can be overwhelming. The first thing to remember is to take a deep breath, try not to panic, and take a moment to assess the situation. For example, if you are beside a road or railway track, you don’t want to cause an accident by running into traffic. If the dog is trapped in icy water, don’t go in after him—that often ends with the dog getting out and the owner getting into trouble. Your instinct may be to help no matter what, but you are not helping yourself or the dog if you put yourself at risk.
Approaching an Injured Dog
It is not uncommon for a severely injured dog to lash out aggressively. Even if they are usually calm and gentle. His pain, heightened adrenaline levels, and fear can lead him to exhibit unpredictable behavior.
It is always best to approach injured dogs with caution. Rushing in is likely to frighten them, especially if you are not a familiar face. Make sure that you carefully observe the dog's body language. If he is feeling threatened, he may crouch down, have his ears flat against his head, have his tail tucked between his legs, and he may show his teeth, growl, bark, give you an intense stare, or have whale eye (where the whites of the dog's eyes show).
You can use a barrier such as a pillow or a trunk cover from a car if you are concerned when approaching. Always move forward in a quiet, calm manner, without making direct eye contact and talking in a soft and soothing tone.
If the dog is behaving extremely aggressively, don’t put yourself at risk. Apart from anything else, he needs you to be able to get additional help. If you are unable to get close, try to keep him contained and make his immediate environment as safe as possible while waiting for more assistance.
When Is Muzzling Appropriate?
If you can touch the dog but she becomes aggressive when you try to move or examine her, muzzling her may make the situation safer.
Muzzling is only appropriate in certain circumstances. If the dog is vomiting, having respiratory issues, has a chest injury or a short nose as brachycephalic breeds do, then it is not recommended.
If you don’t have a muzzle or it is not an appropriate size, you could try to fashion one. Stockings, a tie, or a piece of bandage or gauze could work. Make a knot in the middle of the fabric and then loop it around the dog’s muzzle before bringing it up under the chin to tie behind the ears. Make sure that it is not so tight that it is impeding breathing; a dog often pants more when in pain or distress.
Sometimes gently covering a dog’s head with a towel or blanket can calm her enough to let you check her over.
How Do I Check a Dog for Signs of Injury?
If you are assessing the dog for injuries, it must be done with great care. Try not to move her too much, especially if she has an injury to the head, neck, or back.
If you see any signs of bleeding, use a clean towel or other suitable material to apply pressure to the wound to stop the flow. If blood begins to seep through, place another layer of fabric over the existing one. Don’t lift off the first bandage as this could cause the wound to bleed more. If you can, keep the wound area elevated.
Only administer first aid if you are sure of what you are doing, guesswork could cause more problems for the dog. Check with your veterinarian before applying antibiotic ointments like Neosporin; dogs tend to lick their wounds and they can be toxic if ingested. Getting them to a vet safely and quickly is the most important thing.
What Is the Best Way for Me to Move an Injured Dog?
While splinting can sometimes help minimize leg injury discomfort when moving, if it is a bad break, splinting could be too painful and possibly cause further problems.
Providing the dog with as much stability as possible is the key when transporting him. If you are not on your own then using a large, strong towel or blanket as a makeshift stretcher could work if all the sides are supported. Other flat surfaces that could work include the trunk cover of a car, a plastic sled, or a rug.
When the dog is in the car, he should be kept as secure as possible. Pillows or rolled up towels can provide him with padding and support. You may also want to cover the dog in a blanket; if he is going into shock, he can quickly become cold. Small dogs can be wrapped in a towel and held gently and stable in your arms if this is not too distressing for them.
How Can I Comfort an Injured Dog?
While some dogs will prefer to have minimal contact when injured, if they appear to be comforted by your presence then sit quietly beside them and speak in soothing tones. Do not try to hug them; not only could you hurt them further but, if they are in pain, they may lash out.
Understanding Canine Facial Expressions and Body Postures. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
Emergency Care for Dogs and Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Antibiotics. Animal Poison Control Center.
Fractured Limbs. American College of Veterinary Surgeons.