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Thanks to the Saint Bernard Club of America

In an emergency, first aid is never a substitute for veterinary treatment. On the other hand, if you are unable to get your pet to a veterinarian quickly, knowing what to do could save your dog's life. It is a good idea to keep emergency phone numbers in a handy place for your Veterinarian, your Emergency Animal Clinic, and your local poison control center.

The most important thing to do in any emergency situation is to stay calm, provide reassuring comfort to your pet and call your regular daytime or after hours emergency veterinary hospital for immediate instructions. Then, please follow these instructions, and not those of your neighbor, friend, breeder, etc. Always seek veterinary assistance ASAP.

For those times when you cannot immediately call or visit the veterinarian in an emergency, be prepared with knowledge and equipment. A good basic first aid kit for home or travel should include:


Item Use
Adhesive tape rolls: 1" wide, 2" wide Use in bandaging & restraint
Cling gauze, rolls: 1" wide, 2" wide Secure wound dressing, muzzle injured dog, making gauze pads when folded
2" & 3" squares of gauze pads, nonsterile use for skin infections or wounds
Sterile 2" & 3" wound dressings protecting wounds
Small scissors (plastic o.k.) blunt tips use in bandaging, cutting hair
1-ounce squeeze bottle hydrogen peroxide 3% flushing wounds
Betadine solution cleaning wounds with disinfectant
Antibiotic ointment tube use for skin infections or wounds
Sterile eye wash: small 4-ounce bottle flushing eyes
Rectal thermometer (attach a string to it so it won't get lost in the dog!) taking temperature
Benedryl 25 mg capsules (1 dozen) (keep current dating) itching, bites, stings, allergy
Ampicillin 500 mg capsules (1 dozen) (keep current dating) use if extended care necessary to fight infection
Instant cold packs (2) use for cooling dog's body
Instant hot packs (2) use for warming dog's body
Muzzle protection from dog bites
Needle and thread use to take stitches if needed for extended care
Vaseline for thermometer lubrication
Tourniquet use to stop bleeding
Antiseptic solutions disinfectant for wounds, instruments
Pair latex gloves use for personal protection
Tweezers/forceps use to remove splinters, dirt, ticks
Ipecac Syrup (30 ml) induce vomiting in certain cases of suspected poisoning
oversized aluminized blanket (space blanket) use to keep animal warm, transport animal
hydrocortisone cream use for itchy skin irritations

A step by step first aid book


BITE WOUNDS: Approach your dog carefully to avoid being bitten. Muzzle the animal. Wrap large open wounds to keep them clean. Apply pressure to profusely bleeding wounds. Bite wounds often become infected and need professional care.

BLEEDING: Apply firm, direct pressure over the bleeding area until the bleeding stops. Avoid bandages that cut off circulation.

BLOAT: Get your dog to the vet IMMEDIATELY! This is a life threatening situation that requires immediate veterinary intervention. Prevent further access to food or water, keep him quiet and provide plenty of fresh air.

Signs of bloat are enlarged abdomen, abdomen is painful, especially when touched, excess salivation, unsuccessful attempts at vomiting, difficult breathing, evidence of shock, reluctance to move and often refusal to lie down until collapsing. Once they lie down they usually will not move.

Gastric torsion involving the acute building up of large amounts of gas into the stomach and intestines, can cause the stomach to distend, rotate, and compartmentalize. This process can occur alarmingly fast, 30 to 90 minutes. The patient will rapidly deteriorate, and will go into shock, hypotension, heart arrythmias, toxemias, and death. Even with prompt veterinary care and surgical intervention, the outcome is guarded. Bloat is one of the most life threatening problem your Saint Bernard can have.

The best advise regarding bloat is to try to avoid it in the first place, by feeding your Saint 2 or 3 times a day, presoak the dry food, and avoid feeding before and after exercise, and do not allow consumption of large amounts of water in short periods of time, especially after eating and after exercise.

BREATHING (dog stops breathing): Check to see if the dog is choking on a foreign object (see CHOKING). If an object is removed from the throat and the animal is still not breathing, place it with its right side down. Close the dog's mouth and exhale directly into the nose, not the mouth, until the chest expands. Cover the nose with a handkerchief or a thin cloth if preferred. Exhale 12 to 15 times per minute. At the same time, apply heart massage with the other hand. The heart is located in the lower half of the chest behind the elbow of the front left leg. Place hand over the heart and compress the chest 1 to 2 inches for Saint Bernards. Apply heart massage 60 - 80 times per minute.

BURNS (chemical, electrical and heat): Signs are singed hair, blistering, swelling, redness of skin, reluctance to move, resistance to handling. Flush burn area immediately with large amounts of cold water. Do not contribute to further contamination of the burns. Cover the wounds with a clean cloth while transporting the animal. Keep dog quiet, prevent licking, scratching or rubbing the burn wounds. Bandage the involved area and apply a plastic bucket or Elizabethan collar if necessary.

If professional help is delayed 12 hours or more, give a saline solution orally. Mix 2 level teaspoons of table salt and 1 level teaspoon of baking soda in 3 pints of water. Give at a rate equal to 10% of the body weight of the dog the first day, and 5% the second day. Example: A 120 pound dog would require 6 quarts of the solution over the first 24 hours since 1 pint of water is approximately 1 pound.

CARDIAC ARREST: Causes are severe injuries with shock, drowning, electrical shock, heart diseases. Signs are unconsciousness, no breathing movement, no pulse, no femoral artery pulse can be felt, no heart beat can be felt, no respiration present. Start CPR: Place your knee behind the animal's head, cup its mouth and nostrils with one hand and administer mouth-to-nose breathing through a cupped hand. It is not necessary for one's mouth to touch animal's nose. Do this 12 - 15 times per minute. Using the other hand, apply cardiac massage by compressing the chest wall (60-80 times per minute.) If possible, find a second person to help. Use oxygen if available. Seek veterinary assistance when the pulse and respiration return or continue resuscitation attempts while on your way to the hospital - have someone call ahead. (See BREATHING)

CHOKING: Signs are difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at mouth, blue lips and tongue. Look into the mouth to see if foreign object in throat is visible. Clear the airway by removing the object with pliers or tweezers, being careful not to push it farther down the throat. If the object remains lodged, place your hands on both sides of the dog's rib cage and apply firm, quick pressure. Or place the dog on its side and strike the side of the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand 3 or 4 times. Repeat this procedure until the object is dislodged. (see BREATHING)

CUTS: Stop bleeding by direct pressure over the wound for several minutes. Then gently clean the cut with a 3" x 3" gauze pad, with water and a little betadine solution. Apply antibiotic ointment and seek assistance for any needed surgical repair. If the cut is dirty and even if you thoroughly cleaned it, and you cannot get to the vet for several hours, give an appropriate dose of antibiotic which your vet would recommend for such a situation.

DIARRHEA: Causes are changes in regular diet, overeating, ingestion of spoiled or unusual foods, emotional stress, excitement, fear or pain, parasites, diseases, poisons. Withhold all food; weaned puppies, 6-8 hours; adults 24 hours. Give ice cubes only. Then feed a soft bland diet. Make home prepared food or obtain a prescription diet from a veterinarian. Home prepared bland diet: mix 1/2 cup cottage cheese or boiled hamburger or boiled chicken with 1/2 cup boiled white rice. Give a quantity approximately 1/2 of your dog's normal food consumption for one day. Divide into small amounts to feed 3 to 4 times daily. Reintroduce normal diet gradually over 3 to 4 feeding. Withhold all water for 6-8 hours, then reintroduce it slowly. Small dogs, 1/3 cup every hour; large dogs, 1 cup every hour. Treat with Pepto Bismol or Kaopectate, administer orally, 1 tablespoon per 20 lbs. of body weight every 2-6 hours.

FEVER: A rectal temperature below 100F and above 103F is considered abnormal. For a high fever in a dog (104F-106F) aspirin may be used to relieve pain and reduce the fever. For a very high fever (106F and above) lower the temperature by submerging the dog in cold water or spraying with a hose. Take its temperature rectally every 5 minutes until it reaches 103.5F . Do not cool below this point as the temperature will continue to drift downward. Important: Care must be taken with the use of aspirin. It is an irritant to the stomach and cause vomiting and/or ulcers. Never give aspirin to puppies. See HEAT STROKE.

FRACTURES: Pain, inability to use leg. Muzzle the dog, control bleeding, and treat for shock. Protect open fractures with a sterile dressing. Watch for any sign of shock. DO NOT TRY TO RESET A FRACTURE. Handle the injured area as little as possible. These injuries cause severe pain and the dog will bite. Transport the dog to the veterinarian immediately, using a stretcher. If you are several hours away from help, attempt to apply a temporary splint. Do not bandage fractures of the pelvic area, shoulder blade, rib cage or upper limbs unless they are open wounds. Excessive struggling by the dog will make application of a splint very difficult or impossible.

FROSTBITE: Freezing of tissue usually occurs in peripheral parts of the body which are sparsely covered with hair and where blood circulation is poor - the scrotum, ears, feet, teats, and tail are the most commonly affected areas. Signs of frostbite are flushed and reddened tissues, white or greyish tissues, evidence of shock, scaliness of the skin, possible sloughing of surface tissue. Important: do not rub or massage frozen tissues. Never apply snow or ice. Tissue damage is greatly increased if thawing is followed by refreezing.

Prevent further contact with snow or cold. Prevent self mutilation of the area. Warm the affected are rapidly by immersing in warm water (102F - 105F) or use warm moist towels that are changed frequently. Discontinue warming as soon as the affected tissues become flushed. Gently dry the affected tissues, lightly wrap in a clean, dry bandage, and protect from further injury.

HEAT STROKE: Signs are rapid or difficult breathing, vomiting high body temperature, collapse. Place the dog in a tub of cold water, gently soak with a garden hose or wrap in a cold, wet towel. Apply cold compresses to head, neck, armpit, groin, and abdomen.

INSECT BITES and BEE STINGS: Signs are onset of swelling, itching and pain within one hour of bite. Remove stinger and apply cold packs. If isolated from veterinary care, a topical cortisone or an anti-inflammatory ointment can be rubbed on the area of the bite. A previously prescribed antihistamine may be given orally. If you are miles away from a vet, give Benedryl at 1/2 mg per pound weight given orally immediately, and again in 4 to 6 hours.

POISONING: Signs are vomiting, convulsions, diarrhea, salivation, weakness, depression, pain. Write down what the dog ingested and how much. Immediately call the veterinarian or poison control center. Do not induce vomiting or attempt treatment without direction from the doctor. In the case of poisoning on the fur or skin from oils, paints or chemicals, wash the animal with mild soap and rinse thoroughly. If possible, take the toxin and its container, and any vomitus with you to the vet.

SEIZURES: Life threatening. Signs are salivation, loss of control of urine or stool, violent muscle twitching, loss of consciousness. Move pet away from any objects that could be harmful. Use a blanket for padding and protection. Do not put yourself at risk by restraining the dog during the seizure. Time the seizure: it usually lasts only 2 or 3 minutes. Afterwards, keep the dog calm, quiet and cool. Use caution around a seizuring dog. They may bite without realization and cause severe injury even to family members they normally would never harm.

SHOCK: Signs are irregular breathing, dilated pupils, gums and lips are pale in color and dry, pulse is weak and rapid - usually over 160 per minute. May occur with serious injury or fright. Keep animal gently restrained, quiet and warm with head elevated. Shock is aggravated by pain, rough handling or delay in treatment. Do not give the dog anything to eat or drink. Keep warm. Wrap blankets over and under the animal, and place in a warm room or well heated car.

SNAKEBITE: Signs are rapid swelling, skin puncture, pain, weakness, shock. Stop all exercise to prevent spread of venom. Clean the area. Many poisons damage nerves or body tissue on contact. If seen within 10 minutes and the bite is on a leg, apply a loose 1"wide constricting band 2-3" above the joint above the bite, between the wound and the heart. You should be able to slip a finger under the band. Do not apply a tourniquet. Treat for SHOCK. Apply a cold, wet cloth over the wound. Do not pack the wound in ice. Nonpoisonous snake bites should be treated as simple puncture wounds.

VOMITING: Withhold food for 12-24 hours. Give ice cubes for two hours after vomiting stops. Then slowly increase the amount of water and foods given over a 24-hour period. Treat medically with Kaopectate or Pepto Bismol, administering orally 2 teaspoons per 10 lbs. of body weight every 2-6 hours; or antacid liquids, Maalox or Mylanta, administer orally 1 teaspoon per 20 lbs of body weight every 8 hours. Reintroduce water slowly in small amounts - 1 tablespoon per 10 lbs of body weight, or place several ice cubes in a bowl for the dog to lick. Puppies should be given a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of table salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar mixed in 1 quart of water. Begin feeding a soft bland diet (see DIARRHEA) or feed broth or baby foods in small amounts several times a day. Gradually return to normal feedings during the next 1 to 2 days. Do not attempt to treat or wait when blood is present, vomiting is projectile, abdominal pain or distention is present.

Equipment to keep on hand

Muzzle: Use a strip of soft cloth, rope, necktie or nylon stocking. Wrap around the nose, under the chin and tie behind the ears. Care must be taken when handling weak or injured dogs. Even normally docile pets will bite when in pain. Allow animal to pant after handling by loosening or removing the muzzle. Do not use a muzzle in a case of vomiting. Cats and small pets may be more difficult to muzzle than large dogs. A towel placed around the head will help control small pets.

Stretcher: A door, board, blanket or floor mat can be used as a stretcher to transport injured or weak animals. A dolly with wheels is also essential for large dogs if several people are not available for assistance in transportation.

Hot weather hints and tips

All of us are aware of how deadly dangerous it is to leave animals in cars, even when they are shaded and left with the windows partly down. In the hot months of summer, the temperature inside a car can quickly soar to over 120F. Many pets have died agonizing deaths in a very short time after being left in such conditions.

Exercising your dog can be dangerous even in moderate heat. A dog cannot shed his coat clear down to the skin, as we can, or spray himself with water to cool off, or even drink water as he needs it, while jogging intensively alongside his owner. Dogs do not have the complete body cooling system of sweat glands that humans have. The only internal cooling system canines can use is heavy, open-mouthed panting and a slight sweating from the pads of the feet.

Dogs do share another serious problem with humans in summer, and that is smog. Oxygen intake, especially when a body is in motion, is critical to all species, and the more pollution in the air the less able the body is able to oxygenate all its vital systems. So expect respiration difficulties in your dog, especially the older models, when the air around it becomes more visible.

And if those are not enough problems, the ground, pavement, gravel and beach sand become very hot under the summer sun. A dog's pads are especially sensitive to repeated burning. Even shaded blacktop can retain a great deal of heat. So be very careful to check the surface where your dog must walk. Prolonged hot aerobic activity on any surface can cause more dangerous physical stress and dehydration to your dog that it ever benefits it by building endurance. You don't need a strong, dead dog!

During the hot summer season, physically note how much sun and how much shade is available to your Saint. Is there plenty of shade, along with cool ground surfaces all day long? Is his water source also shaded and cool at all times? Remember too, if the water supply comes from an uninsulated upright pipe, or even from a hose lying in the sun, that too can become an excellent solar heater. Many hot dogs will not drink warm water. As a result, they can become dehydrated, lethargic, and very ill. You can avoid these conditions by providing fresh, cool water in a clean receptacle at least twice a day all summer.

The dog days of summer sometimes curb your dog's appetite too. If this happens, try feeding your Saint earlier in the morning, and later in the evening. Keep any canned food refrigerated (who feeds a Saint canned food!) and mix meals with cool water rather than warm water.

The best rule of thumb for the hot summer weather is, if you feel hot yourself, consider that your dog is in trouble. Don't exercise your pet if the outside temperature is above 80 F. Don't leave him unattended in hot garages, rooms, automobiles, or even yards without proper shade and water, and be sure to provide ample shade, cool water, relaxation, and maybe even a child's wading pool during the warm weather. Prevention is the watchword, of course, since heat prostration and its aftermath, heatstroke, are preventable conditions. Products like the polar cooling mats may be purchased from dog catalogs and suppliers, and are useful during hot weather, but are often large and difficult to handle.

Cold Weather Hints and Tips

Animals that are well fed and conditioned to cold temperatures can survive severe conditions if sheltered from wind and moisture. Freezing and hypothermia are more likely to occur from exposure to very cold temperatures, high humidity, wind or immersion in water. Animals that are young, injured, ill, starving or fatigued are more susceptible in cold weather.

Dogs who are primarily outdoor dogs seldom get a serious case of cold feet. You may see your dog lifting up his feet when temperatures drop, but if he is an outdoor dog and in good health, you don't have to worry about his cold feet. All outdoor dogs (and indoor dogs that are left out for short periods of time) should have a doghouse and a good supply of fresh bedding. Hay is probably the best choice for bedding. Straw is OK, but it tends to break down and it has been known to poke a dog in the eye. Be sure the hay is dry and not moldy. Wood shavings are better than no bedding at all, but they tend to hold moisture. Avoid sawdust because it will get wet and stay wet. Watch for foxtails in your hay or straw - they can cause all kinds of problems if they get into a dog's eye, nose or mouth, or penetrate his skin.

Even outdoor dogs can get frostbitten if their feet get wet. Be especially careful with indoor dogs when they go outside. Going from indoors, dogs have warm feet that will melt snow or ice, causing wet feet. When wet feet freeze, frostbite can occur.

When you bring your outdoor dog indoors for a visit, keep it short. Too much time indoors can keep a dog from getting as full and heavy a coat as he would get if left outdoors. But leave him in long enough to be sure his coat is thoroughly dry before you put him back out. Outdoor dogs will have snow and ice in their coats, which will melt when they come indoors. If they are put back outside with a wet coat, they can get pneumonia. A couple of hours is usually a good visit. And while he is inside, give him some warm water flavored with meat or fish. Outdoor dogs often don't get enough water, so take every opportunity to get him to drink more.


  1. "Heat & Cold Treatments for Pets," by Roger L. DeHaan, D.V.M. Canine Companion, February 1995.
  2. "Emergency Care for Cats and Dogs," by Craton Burkholder, D.V.M., M.A., 1991. Kesend Publishing Ltd., 1025 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10028. ISBN 0935576185.
  3. "Cold Feet?" Alaskan Malamute Club Newsletter, October 1994.
  4. "PetFirstAid," from Southern Saints Newsletter, March 1994.
  5. Letter to the Editor, by Dr. Larry Occhipinti. The Bernard Bugle, Nov./Dec. 1993.
  6. "Summer Sizzles," Tom Lamês Newsletter, from the Bernard Bugle, May/June, 1994.
  7. "Dog Ownerês Home Veterinary Handbook," by Carlson and Giffin. 1992. Howell Book House, Macmillan Publishing Co., 866 Third Ave., New York, N.Y., 100022. ISBN 0876055374.


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