Doggy first aid for the cottage

In the third episode of the Cottage Life Podcast Season 3, Editor Michelle Kelly talks with Dr. Savannah Howes-Smith about how to take care of your pup in the wilderness, including first aid tips. Listen here or visit cottagelife.com for access to all of the episodes.

It’s a peaceful spring evening. We linger over our tea and watch as the sky over the lake turns pink. The dog crunches up the last of his dinner.

Wait. We fed the dog much earlier. I turn to see what, exactly, Zephyr is eating—and leap out of my chair. Somehow we missed a plate of warfarin that we’d put behind the stove for the winter. The dog found it and is now chowing down. I have no idea what to do.

For any pet injury, knowing what to do is only half the battle. Home treatment is only possible if your dog cooperates, notes Lee: “If the dog is panicked and won’t let you near him, put him in a crate and bring him in.” Lucky for us, Zephyr patiently endured the peroxide treatment and, after an anxious 15 minutes that felt like hours, obliging threw up on the dock. He was fine—and, eventually, I was too.

Mouse Poison

This one is a true emergency. While a dog that eats mouse bait will seem fine at first, the poison eventually causes internal bleeding, and unfortunately, symptoms, such as lethargy or bloody urine, may not appear for several weeks.

The dog needs to vomit up the poison ASAP. “Food is usually passed from the stomach within four hours, so vomiting should take place well before this,” says Celia Christensen, a vet at the Kenora Veterinary Clinic.

Kit Lee, of the Parry Sound Animal Hospital, says whether or not to induce vomiting on your own depends on the situation (call the vet for advice first). “If it’s a long way to the vet, or you don’t know when the dog ate the poison, it’s better to induce vomiting right away.” On the other hand, don’t waste a lot of time on unsuccessful attempts when you could be at a nearby clinic. Finally, says Lee, if the dog has heart or swallowing issues or is otherwise frail, it’s better not to DIY.

How to do it: Administer 1 to 2 ml of hydrogen peroxide per kilogram of dog (but don’t exceed 1/2 cup, no matter how big the breed). “Pour or squirt it into the corner of his mouth, and then hold his mouth closed and tilt his head back,” says Lee. After he’s swallowed, chase that with the same amount of water. Alternatively, some dogs will drink the peroxide if you mix it with milk, says Christensen. There will be foaming and retching, hopefully followed by a nice pile of pellets.

Some vets will want to see the dog and administer activated charcoal to help neutralize any remaining poison, even if the dog vomits at home. And regardless, you’ll need to do a follow-up visit (generally within a few days), so the vet can determine if the dog needs any further treatment.


Carol Sanio, of the Minden Animal Hospital, says that if the hook is in the dog’s nose, which is very painful, or embedded in flesh (“It’s barbed, so you can’t pull it back out,”), let a vet freeze the area before removal.

How to do it: If the hook is right through the lip, start with any other exposed barbs if it’s a multi-barbed lure. Use wire cutters to clip them off or wrap the whole cluster in several layers of duct tape. The last thing you want is to get snagged yourself!

Then clip off the barb of the offending hook, and pull it out.

Wildlife woes

Porcupine quills: “Dogs never learn about porcupines,” says Sanio. “I see the same dogs over and over.” If there are only a handful of quills, and there are none near the eyes or inside the mouth (check very carefully), you can try removing them yourself. Otherwise, it’s a midnight run to the pros.

How to do it: Grasp the quill with pliers close to the skin, and pull straight out quickly. Yes, it hurts! Don’t cut the ends off the quills—it only makes them harder to find and grasp.

Skunk spray: Sadly, there’s not much a vet can do about bad smells. You’re on your own with this one.

How to do it: The main problem for the dog is stinging eyes (if Fido’s rubbing his face on the ground or clawing at his eyes, that’s why), so carefully flush them out first using saline solution or clean water. You can buy special ointment from the vet to protect the dog’s eyes from whatever you use on the coat, or smear petroleum jelly around (not in) them. Commercial solutions are available to combat skunk odor, and Lee also suggests this peroxide-baking soda mixture:

  • 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1-2 tsp. liquid soap, shampoo, or dish detergent

Mix together and work into the animal’s coat. Be careful to keep it out of the eyes, nose, and mouth. Let sit for five minutes, and rinse thoroughly. Don’t mix this up ahead of time and store it. Pressure can build up and burst the container.

Bites and Scratches: Never mind bears, even a groundhog, if it’s cornered, can tear a dog’s face to ribbons. But let’s say your dog tangles with something less ferocious and has only minor wounds.

Assuming Fido’s rabies vaccination is up to date (it’s the law, and absolutely essential in critter country), start by searching your dog’s coat carefully, especially anywhere he’s licking, to make sure there are no hidden lacerations or puncture wounds, says Sanio. “You can’t clean a puncture wound properly, so it’s likely to get infected,” she says. “You can wait for regular office hours, but the dog should be seen.” Any deep cuts that may need stitches require attention within 12 hours.

How to do it: Same as for people: Stop the bleeding with direct pressure (if you can’t, it’s off to the vet). For scratches and shallow lacerations, wash with an antiseptic cleaner or antibacterial soap, trimming the fur around the wound if needed for good access. Keep the wound clean and dry, and watch for fever or other signs of infection, such as swelling, heat, or pus at the site of the injury.

Insect predators

Bees, wasps, blackflies: As with humans, the danger of insect stings is allergic reaction, and in extreme cases anaphylaxis. “Typically their eyelids and lips swell up, sometimes alarmingly,” says Jeff Simmons, a vet with the Peterborough Pet Hospital. Antihistamine (such as Benadryl) is the first line of defence. Give a dose right away for a bee sting in the mouth, or multiple stings (the dosage depends on the size of the dog—call your vet for instructions). Otherwise, administer it if you see severe swelling or the dog just seems unwell.

Watch carefully. Call for advice if you don’t see improvement within 30 minutes. (Your dog may be sleepy from the antihistamine—that’s okay.) And “if the dog is having trouble breathing, get him to a vet,” says Simmons. If necessary, you can help open the airway by “extending the neck and pulling out the tongue,” advises Christensen.

How to do it: It may not be easy to get a dog with a swelled-up tongue to take a pill. Liquid antihistamine paired with a medicine syringe or eyedropper is a good alternative—just trickle it into the pocket inside his cheek.

Ticks: The trick with ticks is to get the insect’s head and jaws out, not just the body. This is especially important with deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, says Simmons. “If there’s been Lyme disease in your area, learn to identify the ticks that carry it,” he suggests. “And know the symptoms to watch for: Within days of being bitten, an animal with Lyme disease will have painful joints and fever.” If your energetic, active dog starts easing up carefully from his bed, hesitating at stairs and walking stiffly, phone the vet.

How to do it: “Grab the tick right at the head, close to the skin, with tweezers, and pull straight out,” says Lee. Another effective option is an inexpensive gadget called a Tick Twister. It gets the head out easily and is worth buying for frequent flyers or the simply squeamish (twist-it-out.com). “They work really nicely,” says Lee.

Sun Stroke

Hyperthermia is a real danger for animals, who can’t cool off by sweating, says Simmons. “The mistake people make is they throw the ball for the dog to swim after, thinking that’s going to cool him off. But on really hot days, a dog’s body temperature will continue to rise while he’s swimming.”

A dog that’s in shock from hyperthermia becomes lethargic and unresponsive. “The animal needs to be cooled down fast,” says Simmons. You need to get to the vet but, “if the vet’s an hour away and the car’s hot, cool him down first.”

How do to it: Lower the dog’s core temperature by covering him in cool (not cold) wet towels, and applying wet cloths to the pads of his paws. “If you can get his temp down to 39ºC within an hour, he’ll usually be okay,” says Simmons. By the way, dogs (especially white dogs or those with scanty fur) can get sunburn too. Sanio recommends a thick zinc oxide ointment such as Penaten for vulnerable areas—the top of the nose, for example. And don’t let Fido snooze in the noon sun with his bare belly exposed.

Swimmer’s tail

Your dog (typically a lab or other sporting breed) is ecstatic to be back at the lake, and swims his noble heart out all day. The next morning, he can’t sit down, holds his tail tightly against his body, and yelps in pain when he tries to give you a friendly wag. “They use their tails as a rudder,” Sanio explains. “It’s like doing nothing all winter, and then running a marathon.” This can be very painful, so check in with your vet about pain relief. Otherwise, keep the dog out of the water until he’s better, and then make him build up more gradually.

Cat calamaties

In general cats are less accident-prone than dogs. The same mishaps can happen, though. The treatment, in most cases, is the same—just make sure that any medication you administer is safe for cats.

Are you prepared for a pet emergency?

A little advance prep can save you a world of worry. Here’s what to do before the yelping starts:

  • Know who to call. Find your nearest vet and phone. Ask what kind of emergency/after-hours services are available in your area. Post the info.
  • Learn about the hazards. Ask which infections and diseases have been cropping up in your geographical area, for example, blastomycosis (potentially fatal and caused by breathing in fungus spores) or leptospirosis (often from bacteria in contaminated water). Find out how to prevent exposure.
  • Know your doses. How much antihistamine or peroxide is correct for your dog’s size? Ask your vet and write it down.
  • Stock up. Your doggy first-aid supplies should include:
    • Benadryl or another antihistamine recommended by your vet
    • Hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting
    • De-skunking kit: peroxide (lots of it) and baking soda, or a commercial solution, and ointment to protect the eyes
    • Strong tweezers or Tick Twister for ticks
    • Pliers and wire-cutters
  • Antiseptic cleaner
  • Penaten or another thick zinc oxide ointment
  • A self-adhesive wrap bandage for covering a cut foot