Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Pet First Aid

Taking a class can help you evaluate whether a pet's injury requires rapid veterinary care

By Kim Campbell Thornton

"Given the range of activities we engage in with our Brittany, it is not a matter of if she gets hurt, but rather when and how severely," says Sallie Ehrlich of Santa Ana, California.

She was among the attendees at a pet first aid class I took last month, presented by Cindy Otto, DVM, an emergency and critical care and veterinary sports medicine specialist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and directs the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

The holiday season seemed like a good time to refresh my knowledge. Pets don't appear to consider the holidays complete without a trip to the ER. "It tends to be busier in the ER around the holidays," says emergency and critical care specialist Tony Johnson, DVM, of Indianapolis. "There's more activity, people coming and going and more food around, such as chocolate."

The class was aimed at working or athletic dogs who do search and rescue, police work or dog sports like agility or flyball, but it was useful for any pet owner. The most common problems seen in active or working dogs are cuts and scrapes. Knowing how to clean and bandage them is something every dog owner should know. For household pets, common emergencies include ingestion of toxic substances or foreign bodies that can cause obstructions.

Among the tips we took home:

-- Putting antibiotic ointment into wounds can slow healing.

-- Keep a wound moist until it can be treated.

-- In the absence of bandaging material, clean and moisten a wound with saline solution, then cover it with plastic wrap to hold moisture in until it can be cared for.

-- For minor cuts and scrapes, gently clip hair around the injured area for ease of access, clean it with saline solution and bandage if necessary.

-- Check wounds regularly for swelling, discharge or discoloration.

Unlike most pet first aid classes, this one had an option for bringing a dog, so we were able to practice on live "patients." Restraining and bandaging a squirming dog is a lot more difficult than doing it to a stuffed dog. Bandaging takes a certain skill level as well.

"There's an art to bandaging," Dr. Otto says. "Bandages are not benign. They can cut off circulation, so you need to learn to do them right."

The class covered injury assessment; recognizing emergencies; checking vital signs such as respiratory rate, heart rate, temperature, gum color and capillary refill time (the time it takes for gums to regain color after pressure is applied); techniques such as applying pressure to stop bleeding and making a muzzle to prevent an animal in pain from biting; knowing when to induce vomiting; and how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking pet. Dr. Otto noted that teaching a dog to wear a muzzle can be helpful in case he ever needs to have an oxygen mask applied.

What's in a pet first aid kit that's not in a kit for humans?

"The big thing that we really emphasize is clippers, because clipping that hair is so important," Dr. Otto says. "The other thing that might not be in a human first aid kit is styptic powder. If your dog tears a nail or you trim it too short, that's going to help stop it from bleeding."

With any luck, your pet will never have a life-threatening emergency, but taking a pet first aid class on a regular basis can help ensure that you will know how to respond. Sign your friends up, too, Dr. Otto says.

"When your pet is the one affected, they can help, because your brain is just completely gone."


Feline pinkeye can

have several causes

Q: My cat has conjunctivitis. What can you tell me about this eye disease? -- via email

A: We don't see as many eye problems in cats as we do in dogs, but conjunctivitis -- inflammation of the light pink mucous membrane that lines the eyeball and eyelids -- is probably the most common one. Cats with conjunctivitis can have the condition in one or both eyes, and they may have accompanying respiratory signs, such as sneezing. Clues that a cat has conjunctivitis (often nicknamed pinkeye) include squinting, redness, tearing or a yellow or green discharge.

Conjunctivitis can be infectious -- caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi -- or noninfectious. Infectious cases are usually caused by chlamydophila, mycoplasma or feline herpesvirus (which can be transmitted to other cats, but not to humans). These cats may have respiratory infections as well.

Noninfectious causes of the problem can be eye defects such as eyelids that turn inward. Persian cats sometimes have this condition. Allergies and irritation of the eyelid by sand or dust are other causes of noninfectious conjunctivitis.

It can take time to determine the cause of conjunctivitis, but in the meantime, your veterinarian may proceed on the assumption that it's infectious and prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic. Always give the complete amount of medication prescribed. Don't stop if you see improvement, thinking you'll save the antibiotics for the next flare-up. The infection can worsen if you don't give it the old one-two punch. Some cats have chronic (recurring) conjunctivitis, but reducing stress and providing good nutrition, preventive care and treatment as needed may help to keep it under control.

If conjunctivitis doesn't improve, your veterinarian may recommend certain diagnostic tests or refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for more in-depth treatment. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Brewery hires cats

to keep down rats

-- Four feral felines have found employment at Chicago's Empirical Brewery as rat-catchers, of course. Placed by Tree House Humane Society's Cats at Work program, Venkman, Egon, Raymond and Gozer -- nicknamed the Ghostbusters -- patrol the grain-filled brewery with cat-astrophic results for rats and other rodents. They're not the only cats in the industry. The Instagram page @distillerycats features working-class cats at other breweries and distilleries as well as at wineries, bars, pubs, cafes and liquor stores. Raise a glass to them next time you're enjoying your favorite spirit.

-- If you're decking the halls with boughs of holly and other seasonal plants, consider going artificial or keeping them out of your home altogether. The spiny leaves and bright red berries of some types of English, Japanese and Chinese holly can cause vomiting, diarrhea and drooling. The severity of a pet's gastrointestinal upset depends on how much he eats. Other toxic holiday plants include amaryllis and tulip bulbs, mistletoe, Christmas cactus and any variety of lily. Poinsettias have a reputation for being poisonous, but at worst they are only mildly toxic.

-- Finding a cat-friendly veterinary practice is a lot easier since the American Association of Feline Practitioners launched its Cat Friendly Practice program in early 2012. Now, 888 practices have earned the cat-friendly title, and another 639 are working toward the designation. Understanding feline behavior and how to interact with them is key. Ways to achieve the goal include creatively dividing space to separate pets; taking cats into an exam room immediately instead of having them fret in a waiting room; or making appointments for cats only at specific times of day. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.


Caption 01: Dogs often injure their feet or legs, and it's important to know how to bandage wounds properly. Photo: Nicole Reusser-Hillbrecht, Rock Solid K9. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Grain brings pests, so breweries like Empirical in Chicago may turn to cats to protect their stock. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1