Do you know that old cliché about people looking like their pets, especially their dogs? Well, I for one have seen it so many times that I know there is a lot of truth to it. Of course, a dog might begin to morph into a “mini me” for so many reasons. As the simplest example, consider the man or woman who likes to be very neatly groomed and somewhat fancily dressed. If they also keep a large poodle, that dog requires the same level of care and can take on the same “coiffed” look as the human.
Naturally, the scruffier person who is not all that tied up in hair, makeup and clothes might keep the fancier poodle, but it is more likely that they’ll veer towards a low-maintenance, even scruffy, puppo.
We share a lot with our dogs beyond appearances, or habits in grooming and upkeep. In fact, a recent study proved we share genes that are often associated with certain health risks. In this article, I want to look at some of the health problems we share with our dogs, and then look at some of the essential health and first aid tactics all dog owners should know. Before finishing up, we’ll also take steps to ensure you have a comprehensive first aid kit for your dog(s) on hand at all times (home and car) to guarantee that you can always provide your dog with optimal health and wellness.
Yes, you can catch certain things from a dog, as well as giving them certain health problems. The technical terminology for this is zoonoses (what pets give to us) and reverse zoonoses (what we give them). Though reverse zoonoses are rare, a recent review of the data indicated that human-to-animal transmission of bacterial issues, viral issues, parasites and fungal issues were all possible. This was true whether it was a pet, farm animal or some wildlife.
For example, ringworm, influenza, mumps, salmonella, giardia, MRSA (a type of staph infection), tuberculosis, and second-hand smoke with all of its risks can all transfer from a human to the animals around them. To reduce the risks, you will always want to wash your hands before you feed or pet your dog after you have used the bathroom. You must also prevent a dog from drinking out of any toilet bowls and licking your face if you know you have one of the transferable conditions. And while many experts are anti-bed sharing, I let my dogs sleep with me and have never (knock wood) had any sort of transfer of health issues (in either direction, unless you count Janice’s frequent bouts of gas that she so gladly shares with everyone!)
The things dogs can transfer to us most commonly include campylbacteriosis, tape worm, hookworm, rabies, roundworm, and on rarer occasions humans have managed to catchbrucellosis, capnyocytophaga, cryptosporidiosis, echinococcosis, ehrlichiosis, giardiasis, leishmaniasis leptospirosis,Lyme disease, MRSA pasteurellosis, plague, ringworm, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, salmonella or mange from their dogs.
The Health Issues Dogs and Humans Have in Common and What to Do About Them
Yet, these are transfers of disease. There are also health issues that the two species just share in common due to certain genetic factors. These include:
- Cancer – This disease comes in many types and yet accounts for around half of dogs’ disease-related deaths. That means that dogs develop cancer at exactly the same amounts as humans. The warning signs are too many to list, but can often include unplanned weight loss, odd lumps anywhere on the body, loss of appetite, and bouts of diarrhea or vomiting. The good news is that there are many cancer treatments that can include surgical intervention, medication, and even chemotherapy. As one expert noted, though, “chances of success depend on how advanced the disease is when treatment begins.” So, if your dog shows any one or more of the symptoms above, it is time to get them checked and treated as quickly as you can.
- Heart disease – If you are interested in dogs, you may already know that some breeds manifest health issues more often than others. You might also know that there are some conditions that occur in dogs more often based on overall size. As an example, small dogs are more prone to dental issues. Unfortunately, they also seem to develop degenerative changes in their heart valves (aka chronic valvular disease) far more often than the bigger puppos. However, the big guys are more prone to enlarged heart chambers and thinning ventricle walls (aka dilated cardiomyopathy). In both instances, these conditions commonly lead to heart failure.
And as is the case with human heart disease, it may not show signs until damage has been done. If your dog suddenly tires easily or seems to struggle to breathe or exercise at their normal level, get them to the vet. If all of this is accompanied by bouts of coughing, it is a medical necessity to get them treated. Many vets use medications on more severe cases, but often, improvements can be gained through the minerals taurine and carnitine being added to your dog’s daily intake.
- Obesity – Veterinarians (just like human doctors) point towards obesity as a top rated health issue for dogs. One of the most common problems, it is the underlying factor in any number of health issues. Heart conditions are a major risk in the obese, including obese canines, so too are issues like joint diseases and diabetes.
The problem is that many owners are unsure of their dog’s ideal weight. A good approach is to stand above your dog and look directly down at their torso. They are supposed to have a general hourglass figure. Not a sharply defined hourglass, but a dip or contour at their “waist” area. There should be minimal fat on the ribs, and most dog breeds should not have a pot belly but one that tucks upward a bit instead.
While keeping a watchful eye on what and how much your dog eats is the number one method of controlling obesity, you should also give serious attention to the amount of exercise your dog’s breed(s) require. For example, almost all dogs should have at least 20 minutes of brisk exercise every day. This does not include things like walks or a few minutes of playing inside the home. A 30-minute, brisk walk in which you are also a bit winded is a good idea of what most dogs need. However, I dislike generalizations and strongly urge every dog owner to speak with their vet about their dog’s specific needs for exercise and caloric intake.
One trick I use for my two dogs (boxers named Janice and Leroy) is to scatter their dry kibble in different areas of the house. They know the locations where I tuck their bowls, but not each bowl is filled each day. This forces my often lazy dogs to go upstairs or the recreation room in the basement to see if I’ve put out some treats or a bit of kibble. Yes, it is a pain, but those two will wolf down whatever is out, whether hungry or just bored. Asking them to do a bit of hunting, remembering the many spots with the bowls and going to find which have been filled gives them mental stimulation and a reason to climb the stairs a few times a day. Naturally, they get lots of exercise too – they are boxers – but I think this is a nice trick to get a lazier pooch up and moving.
If you still struggle to help your dog shed some pounds, ask the vet for further suggestions and help. It could be that your dog has a thyroid issue or another health issue that is causing weight gain or retention.
- Arthritis – The disease known generally as arthritis is typically when a joint in the human body somehow wears our and the lack of cartilage leads to chronic pain and inflammation. You may be unable to move that joint easily and there can be swelling and other issues. This is precisely the same thing that happens to dogs that develop arthritis, and though it is most common in senior dogs it can hit at any age.
There are some warning signs that will indicate your puppo is struggling with this conditions, and these include limping, licking or chewing an area around a joint because it is painful, or difficulty moving or climbing. As soon as such symptoms occur (or if you adopt a dog that is a breed prone to the condition), you can take steps to help them to a great degree. First and foremost is to ensure the dog is always at a healthy weight. Just as overweight humans are more prone to joint disease, so too are dogs. A lower-calorie diet can be a good first step or preventative measure. You also want to look for foods or supplements that are high in antioxidants, glucosamine and the omega 3 fatty acids that can all help the joints.
And as I usually suggest for all dogs, give them a place to rest or sleep that has a bit of padding and warmth. Young, old, healthy or infirm, a dog really appreciates a “dog bed” that cushions their bones from the floor. There are some with heat elements that can be wonderful for a dog developing and/or living with arthritis. If not, you can help out with a simple, old-fashioned heating pad laid on a towel over the affected area. This boosts circulation and feels really good to your dog who might be dealing with chronic pain.
Also, take the now famous lesson from Schoep, the German Shepherd mix photographed with his owner John Unger. In the now globally viral image, Unger is seen neck deep in a lake, with Schoep floating (sound asleep) in his arms, head peacefully on his chest. The pair visited a nearby lake daily to help Schoep’s arthritis symptoms. It was one of the few ways he could get total pain relief and would often nap in total comfort. He lived to be a shocking 20 years old and died a year after becoming an Internet sensation. The lesson? Get your dog into water therapy if they have serious arthritis symptoms as it can help tremendously!
- Dementia – Unfortunately, several studies now prove that dogs can and do develop something known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, which is nearly identical to human dementia. It occurs in around 14% of all dogs (regardless of breed), and in dogs over the age of 15, that rate goes up to a shocking 40%. According to one report on this matter, “experts believe that 68 percent of elderly dogs have some degree of dementia”. And just like in humans, science has yet to fully account for how and why it manifests.
It also behaves in ways similarly to that in humans, and you can often see its early signs and note its progression. For example, dogs often initially suffer sleep and wake cycle disruption or a general anxiety and this eventually worsens into aggression, lethargy or decreased activity, inappropriate vocalizing, pacing or other repetitive behaviors, eliminating indoors, vacant staring, no social interaction and even disorientation. Changes in hearing and vision are some of the earliest warning signs, but the good news is that catching it early can help you to manage a dog’s anxiety, get them on proven medications and developing a routine that helps them from becoming confused easily.
- Diabetes – A hormonal disease affecting 8% of the human population of the U.S., it also strikes one of every 150 dogs. It is a chronic issue that often occurs as a direct result of obesity. Signs that your dog has a blood sugar issue include weight loss, fatigue, frequent urination and thirst, and irritability. You’ll need to get their blood and urine tested and use many of the same methods of treatment as humans. A better diet, more exercise, and medications (oral or injectable). And treat it you must! A lot of pet owners don’t feel diabetes is all that serious, but it can cause everything from blindness to rapid death.
- Hypertension – AKA high blood pressure, this is a growing concern in the dog population due to obesity and heart disease. Very few dogs show signs that they have high blood pressure, and it is described in the same terms as it is in human populations, i.e. a silent killer. However, dogs will also suffer similar warning signs of trouble that include kidney and heart issues, vision issues, strokes or mini-strokes and fatigue. Regular health checks (at least twice per year) can catch this quickly and get your dog on a low-sodium diet, medication regimens and a new exercise routine that will all help.
- IBS – In my teens, I had a cat with IBS and it was awful to see him experience bouts of it. It is heartbreaking to think of our pets going through this severe discomfort and pain and hearing we have to “wait it out” with them from the vet. If your pup has bloating, is often very gassy, or seems to go through bouts of diarrhea and vomiting as well as weight loss, it could be time to speak to the vet about it. There are some medications and dietary changes that can help.
- Glaucoma – Pure breed dogs are often plagued with this eye problem. You can tell almost right away if it is occurring because the dog’s vision will seem to fail or their eyeball (one or both) may swell or protrude slightly. If they are also inflamed and red in color, it is important to get them to the vet. The first thing is to reduce pressure in the eye and then discuss further options.
And though that seems like a lot, there is also epilepsy, chronic flatulence, joint injuries like ACL or cruciate ligament injuries, allergies, bladder and kidney diseases, hearing loss and anxiety/depression, too.
As you can see, dogs can often develop similar health issues to humans. Sadly, a lot of research shows that dogs develop conditions because their owners might also have them, or because of their owner’s lifestyle. The sedentary person who carries a lot of extra weight is often likely to have an obese dog. Since this condition sets the stage for further health issues (such as heart disease, arthritis and even some forms of cancer), it is entirely possible that both you and your pooch can suffer further health issues that mirror one another. The answer is to address those conditions as quickly as you can – after all, you want both of you to enjoy a long, happy and healthy life together!
And though those issues are often preventable (dementia and cancer are exceptions, naturally), there are some dog health issues that are not. Because of that, I want to go over some of the most important dog first aid and DIY treatments to ensure you can keep your beloved puppo as healthy as possible, even after an injury or emergency. These are the same sorts of tactics and techniques you would use with people who are injured and in need of expert medical care. In other words, these are emergency methods to use until you can get your dog to the vet.
Even if an injury is minor, though, I always visit the vet to ensure nothing undetected or problematic has occurred. For example, it can seem that a toenail issue is a minor one. It isn’t. Always get your dog in for a medical exam after even the slightest injury or glitch.
And with that in mind, let’s learn some of the key ways to help your dog(s) if injured.
15 Important First Aid Tactics for Dogs
So, the first step in administering first aid to your dog (or any dog, for that matter) is to be prepared to do so. At the end of this article, we will look at the “must have” items in a first aid kit for dogs, and I strongly urge you to keep one in your home, another in the car, and a miniature version in your pack if you go out hiking with a dog.
The second tactic is to know what to do in an emergency. As I have written about in the past, keeping a cool head is one way you can be sure you will do everything you can to help or even save an injured or sick dog. think about the approach promoted by the American Red Cross whenever you are offering the most basic first aid:
- Check the scene for any danger (did a branch fall and strike the dog, is the dog in the middle of a busy road, and so on)
- Check the dog to see if it is breathing – If not, you’ll have to begin CPR. If so, you can move on to the next step
- Quickly look to see if the dog is bleeding. If so, you can begin to provide basic care. If not, you can see if the injury is something you can provide a bit of basic first aid for, such as a wounded leg that the dog cannot stand on. If it is something you can provide basic care to treat, do so very carefully. If a dog is conscious, this can be risky because pain makes dogs behave unpredictably, if unconscious, do what you can and then carefully move the dog in order to get help.
- Get professional veterinary care ASAP
That is a very general set of steps, and is effective whether a dog is not breathing, bleeding, or suffering the effects of overheating/animal attack/car strike. However, you should also know what to do if your dog wolfed down a bag of chocolate chips or M&Ms, fell down the stairs, and so on. And I have to reiterate right now that the very first thing you MUST do is stay CALM. Dogs read our body language, tone of voice, and general behaviors and if you are screaming and panicked, it is only going to make things much worse for your dog.
So, take a few deep breaths, and let’s begin…
- No hugs wanted or needed – I love my dogs more than anything, and often say I’d give them each a kidney if they needed one (yes, I know, I have only two myself!). And though they love to get and give hugs, the one thing you must never do in a dog injury situation is attempt any physical comfort. As the American Veterinary Medical Association says, “Never assume that even the gentlest pet will not bite or scratch if injured. Pain and fear can make animals unpredictable or even dangerous. Don’t attempt to hug an injured pet, and always keep your face away from its mouth. Although this may be your first impulse to comfort your pet, it might only scare the animal more or cause them pain.”
- Determine the nature of the situation. You may have to run that basic assessment above (is the scene safe, what’s the most obvious issue, etc.). Stop any physical exams if your dog begins to get very agitated. If the dog is NOT vomiting or excreting anything orally, you may need to use a towel or gauze to create a mild muzzle. Why? As noted above, even the sweetest of sweethearts has been known to nail their owner when injured.
- Know how to move and transport – You must handle any dog super gently when moving them to your car. Small dogs can be wrapped in a towel or blanket, bigger dogs can be carried in a blanket turned into a sling carried by two people. You don’t want to force the carrier on any dog and will instead put them in the back seat or cargo area as you drive (CAREFULLY) to the vets.
- Phone the vet immediately, tell them what’s happening and let them know you are on the way. Do this before you begin driving and never as you drive!
These are the essentials. However, below are the case by case tactics you can use as first aid:
- The dog that is not breathing – You need to do the same things you would do for a person. Is their airway clear? Check to see by gently opening their mouth, holding their tongue and pulling it outward until flat. If there is nothing visible, do “rescue breathing” by holding their mouth closed and breathing into their nose. Watch to see if their chest rises as you do and give breaths every four to five seconds until they recover and begin breathing on their own. You may find you have to alternate between rescue breaths and chest compressions (aka CPR) if your dog has no detectable heartbeat/pulse.
- The dog that does not have a heartbeat – This is going to require chest compressions, but you must never do this until you have done rescue breathing and cleared the dog’s airway. Begin by positioning the dog on its right side (and a firmer surface is best). A dog’s heart is on the lower left-hand side of the chest and typically roughly behind the “elbow” joint of his/her front left leg.
To do compressions, you need to put one of your hands under the dog’s chest as a way of supporting it and the other hand in the area around the hear. Just as human chest compressions vary on the size of the person, you’ll want to depress around an inch for medium sized dogs, a bit more force for the bigger guys, and less for the smaller dogs. Use quick and firm pressure doing 80-120 beats per minute and around 110-150 for the smaller dogs. And just as you do with human CPR, you alternate between compressions and breaths, doing compressions for four to five seconds and then a single rescue breath.
Keep going until your dog’s pulse and breathing are restored or until you can hand them over to the veterinarian who can use other tactics. Try to remember that a dog’s chances of survival once they require CPR are statistically low. Yet, you are their only hope of survival at that point and should feel 100% comfortable performing CPR until your vet says it is no longer effective or possible to save your dog.
- The dog that seems to be chocking on an object – If your dog is coughing and wheezing while pawing excessively at his or her mouth, it is likely that something is lodged in their throat. If their tongue or lips are also discolored a darker, even bluish hue, you can be certain that this is the case. If the dog is still breathing, try to keep them very calm and get to the vet at once. If your dog is not breathing or unconscious, you need to take action immediately.
Try to get the dog on its side and then open their mouth, pulling the tongue forward to flatten it. If you can see the item, try to remove it gently with a pair of tweezers or even pliers. However, be sure you will succeed as doing this runs the risk of knocking it further down their throat. If you cannot reach it, get to the vet. If you fear there is not enough time before the dog stops breathing, or the dog collapses, you can use a sort of canine Heimlich maneuver.
Do this by positioning your hands on either side of the dog’s rib cage and applying firm but quick pressure (if they are still standing) three or four times in a row. You can also lay them on their side and strike one side firmly with a palm to force air out of their lungs and upward – dislodging the item. You must repeat these steps until that items is out or until you reach the veterinarian’s office.
- For the dog you fear may be poisoned – I have written quite often about household items, plants and foods that are toxic to dogs. And though I have explained that I have lived with dogs who have inhaled a lot of chocolate without missing a beat, it is always best to get veterinary help if you so much as think a dog has eaten something that can prove fatal. Sometimes, the effects don’t hit for hours and in that time, you might have been able to save them.
So, if you feel your dog ate something poisonous, call the vet at once. You can phone the Poison Control Center that operates 365 days/year, 24 hours/day (for a fee) at 888.426.4435, but you don’t want to risk it if you are pretty sure they’ve swallowed toxins. NOTE: If you do call the 888 number have your dog’s age, breed, weight and gender along with the symptoms and any suspected toxins available.
If opting for a vet visit, collect any packaging or materials that remain or that the dog may have vomited or hacked up. NEVER try to get a dog to vomit or administer any medication unless the vet or the Poison Control people tell you to. If their eyes were exposed to poison you can try to flush them before heading to the vet. However, that is the most you should attempt at home. The best bet is to get help ASAP.
- If the dog is having seizures – Again, many of the steps used for a dog in seizure are similar to a human. You need to clear the area of items that could cause injury, do not try to hold or restrain the dog, and try to time the seizure. Once it is done, keep the dog as quiet and warm as you can, and get to the vet at once.
- The dog that is injured (fracture after car strike, and so on) – Often, adrenaline keeps a dog going after a major injury, including a car strike or facture. If your dog has sustained an injury, you’ll need to calm them down and see if there is a way to stabilize the injury before attempting to move them. Depending on the size of the dog, you will want to keep a blanket or large towel for just such instances, to easily wrap them an transport them. Do not try to splint a fracture or injury as this can cause more problems.
If there is a flesh wound or foreign body causing a wound – do NOT remove it. If you can shorten it and leave only three to five inches sticking out, it is helpful, but never yank out something like debris, an arrow shaft, porcupine quills, and so on. What you must do at these moments is keep your dog calm, try to soothe them and stabilize them, and then get them to the car and to the vet.
- If the dog is bleeding – This can get tricky, but you’ll need direct pressure for at least three minutes before checking to see if the bleeding continues. Remember that severe bleeding means something life-threatening has transpired and you must head to the vet immediately – even as you attempt to stop the flow of blood from the wound. Grab extra towels and stack them, but never remove a towel that was touching the wound as this might disturb any clotting that could save the dog’s life. Just apply pressure and get help. You can also apply a tourniquet using a gauze band if the wound is on a limb. Put a pad on the wound and apply the tourniquet.
- If you think a dog is in shock – This can be hard to determine, but is usually indicated by a dazed expression, shallow breathing, and a weak pulse. It is often due to a severe fight or injury. you must keep the dog warm and quiet. Be sure their head is level with their body and then get them to the vet right away.
- If the dog has been burned – This is an odd event but can happen. You’ll need to rinse the burn with water, apply an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) and get medical care ASAP.
- If the dog has heatstroke – Though more people are aware of the dangers of dogs locked in cars, it helps to know how to treat it if you encounter it. Get the dog out of direct light, put a cold and wet towel around the neck and head (leaving eyes and snout free). Replace the towel every few minutes to keep cooling the dog. If you have water available, pour this on the dog’s hind legs and abdomen, and sweep the water off the body once it absorbs the dog’s body heat. Get the dog to the vet as quickly as you can.
- If the dog has been bitten by a snake – This is a particular fear of mine and why I keep my two goofballs on a lead when out hiking. If a bit is suspected, operate on the assumption that it was poisonous. Try to get a look at it, but do not chase, harm or bother with it after the bite. Instead, just do your best to figure out what it was and then get to the vet’s office ASAP for an anti-venom treatment. Snake bites may cause death but also necrosis, so you shouldn’t think the dog’s okay because they did not fall ill after the bite.
And to ensure you can provide truly optimal care, it is important to have the items we’ve mentioned above like gauze and towels, and so on. Below is the list of essentials for a dog’s first aid kit.
Building Your Dog’s First Aid Kits
Below is the main list. The starred items can also be included in a version for the car and for camping.
Dog’s medical records
*A list of numbers you’ll need in an emergency: veterinarian, emergency clinic, poison control, animal control, non-emergency police
*Muzzle (or gauze rolls) Remember muzzling is to prevent bites and you must not muzzle if a dog is struggling to breath or is vomiting
*Clean towels and gauze pads
*Non-stick bandages and pads
*Non-stick tape for bandages
*Eye dropper to flush wounds or provide oral treatment
*Lubricant jelly for wound protection
*Activated charcoal for poison control (Milk of Magnesia can be substituted)
3% Hydrogen Peroxide
Saline Solution for wound cleaning
*Antibiotic spray or ointment
*Treats that can help relieve stress
*An extra leash and collar
*Tools – scissors, tweezers, gloves, cotton balls, bottle of water, blanket, flashlight
Tuck these into a convenient case or bag and keep with the dog’s carrier or in a convenient spot to have on hand whenever needed.