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How to Examine an Injured Dog

When you come upon a scene in which a dog is seriously injured and appears to be unconscious or in shock, your first step is to carry out an A-B-C assessment — check the dog’s airway, breathing, and circulation.

Even if the dog has a bleeding wound, carry out this preliminary assessment first. Respiratory and circulatory problems usually are more life-threatening than wounds. When you are certain the dog is breathing and is not in circulatory collapse, you can deal with the wound.

When your dog is injured or ill, your primary job is to remain calm and be deliberate in your actions. Try to keep your voice from revealing the fear you may feel.

If the dog is unconscious and there are no apparent neck or back injuries (excluding bleeding wounds), tilt her head back slightly, open her mouth, and look inside for any objects that may be impeding airflow.

Gently pull her tongue forward (holding the tongue is easier if you grab it with gauze or cloth), and check for objects that may be deeper down the throat. Pulling the tongue forward also opens the airway, making breathing easier.

Check for the rise and fall of the chest that indicates that the dog is breathing. If the dog is not breathing and the airways are clear, begin rescue breathing immediately:

  1. Cup your hands around the muzzle and seal your lips around the edge of the leather of the dog’s nose.

  2. Breathe into the dog’s nostrils for two seconds.

  3. Watch for the dog’s chest to rise, indicating that air is entering the lungs.

  4. If the chest doesn’t rise, check the airway again.

  5. Repeat for a total of three breaths.

Give gentle puffs of breath (the amount will depend on the dog’s size). Don’t blow as though you’re trying to inflate a balloon.

Next, assess the dog’s circulation by checking the pulse at the femoral artery in inside of the rear leg near where the leg joins the body. A healthy dog’s pulse is approximately 10 to 14 beats per 10 seconds and feels strong. (Smaller dogs have a more rapid pulse.) If the pulse is there but feels weak, the dog is probably in shock.

If you have trouble feeling the pulse in the groin, place your thumb and fingers on either side of the chest wall just behind the elbows to see if the heart is beating. If you detect no pulse or heartbeat, begin CPR immediately.

Examine the dog’s gums to check circulation, too. If the gums are blue, the dog may not be getting enough oxygen. Be sure that you’ve checked the airway and cleared it of any foreign objects.

If the dog has a weak or rapid pulse, shallow breathing, gray, purple, or pale gums, glazed eyes, weakness, or collapse, she is in shock and you should make arrangements to get her to a veterinarian as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep her quiet, cover her with a blanket, and keep her head as low as the rest of his body. If the dog is not breathing or if you cannot feel a pulse, begin CPR.

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