Dog Emergency & Disaster Preparedness

Your dog is a beloved member of the family, so knowing how to take care of him in a crisis is extremely important. With some basic tools under your belt, you and your furry friend can weather the most intimidating medical emergency or natural disaster together.

Medical Emergencies

Purchase a canine first-aid manual and read it thoroughly. Don't wait for an emergency to happen before you read up on what to do. Keep the telephone number and driving directions of the nearest after-hours veterinary facility handy, or even better, make a practice run yourself to make sure that you understand the directions.

The following are some of the most common canine emergencies with which you should be familiar.


If your dog suffers an injury that results in profuse bleeding, you can prevent excessive blood loss by putting a clean cloth or towel over the wound and applying pressure to the wound with your hand. Then immediately transport your dog to a veterinary facility.

A tourniquet may be applied in the case of a serious wound to a limb, but this should only be done if blood loss is considered life threatening. A rope or strip of cloth can be tied around the limb above the wound to cut off the blood supply to the injury. Unfortunately, this cuts off blood to the entire limb and increases the risk of possible amputation. To minimize this risk, the tourniquet should be loosened for 20 seconds every 15 minutes.

Bleeding from the nose or coughing up blood may be signs of internal bleeding. If you believe that your dog has suffered internal damage, wrap him in a blanket to keep him warm and transport him to a veterinarian immediately.


Burns can be caused by contact with a heat source, an electrical source, or a caustic chemical, but all these situations are treated similarly. In the case of a chemical burn, the area must be flushed with lots of cold water to remove as much chemical residue as possible and to cool the skin. Heat and electrical burns should also be flushed with cold water to cool the skin quickly and prevent further damage to tissues. You can then apply cold compresses on your way to the veterinarian's office. (An ice pack wrapped in a towel works well for this.)


Fractures can be very painful, so you may have to use methods of restraint before handling your dog. If he is unable to walk, transport him on a stretcher. You can prevent your dog from struggling and causing additional injury to himself by using a body wrap. If a splint is necessary to stabilize the broken limb, roll newspaper around the limb and tape it securely. The splint should cover the joints both above and below the fracture.


Frostbite can affect a dog's extremities, like the toes and ears. The skin becomes pale as the blood supply to the affected area diminishes. It then turns red, swells, and becomes itchy and painful when blood circulation returns during treatment. If frostbite isn't readily treated, amputation of the affected limb and even death can ensue.

To treat frostbite, apply towels soaked in lukewarm water to the affected areas for about 15 to 20 minutes. Avoid rubbing or squeezing. If the area doesn't return to normal, seek immediate veterinary attention.


Dogs don't sweat like humans, but they do have their own cooling system. Although they perspire a little through their paws, panting is their primary cooling method, exchanging hot air for cool. The tongue swells to increase the surface area and allow more cooling air to pass over it. Blood vessels in the tongue then transport the cooled blood throughout the body. On sweltering days when there isn't much cool ambient air, panting can be ineffective, leaving a dog susceptible to heatstroke.

Your dog may be suffering from heatstroke if he is exposed to very hot temperatures and you observe the following symptoms:

  • dazed expression
  • increased heart/pulse rate
  • moisture accumulating on feet
  • rapid mouth breathing
  • reddened gums
  • thickened saliva
  • vomiting

Immediate action will save your dog's life. For mild cases, move him to a cooler environment and give him cool water to drink. If he seems unsteady, place him in a cool bath or shower. Don't make it too cold or peripheral blood vessels may constrict, slowing the cooling process. If you suspect heatstroke and are unsure of the severity, don't take chances. Call your vet immediately.


Poisoning can occur any time your dog consumes a substance that is toxic to his system. Cleaning products, antifreeze, medications, and toxic plants are common causes of pet poisonings. Symptoms of poisoning can include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, excessive salivation, or seizures.

Never attempt to induce vomiting without first contacting your veterinarian or calling the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Hotline at (888) 426-4435. If you know what substance caused the poisoning, have the product information available when you seek professional advice. It is always a good practice to keep hydrogen peroxide or syrup of ipecac on hand in case you are instructed to induce vomiting.

Disaster Preparedness

As we've seen in the news media, disaster preparedness doesn't always take pets into consideration. Many evacuation shelters do not allow animals, posing a problem for families with pets. It goes without saying that a pet should never be left behind to fend for himself in the event of an evacuation. Before disaster strikes, have a plan in place that provides a safe haven for your dog. This includes a disaster kit that contains:

  • four days' worth of easily stored dog food that doesn't need refrigeration
  • four days' worth of water from your home or commercially bottled water
  • copies of all your dog's documentation: vaccination certificates, licenses, registrations, prescriptions, etc.
  • any medications your dog may require
  • extra collar and leash, with identification
  • first-aid kit that includes self-adhesive bandage webbing, tweezers, hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls, aspirin, antibacterial ointment, anti-diarrhea medicine, towel, scissors, gauze pads, latex gloves
  • blanket or bedding
  • waste clean-up supplies
  • small toy or chew bone, like a Nylabone  

Excerpted and adapted from: Terra-Nova The Doberman Pinscher by Janice Biniok, © 2010 The Staffordshire Bull Terrier by Cynthia P. Gallagher, © 2008.


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