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December 10, 2016
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community living

First aid can save your pet’s life

Contributed photo

By Sue Frisch

One Thursday morning a few weeks ago in Nose Work class, student Pauline Imbro Allen and her 3.5 pound Yorkshire Terrier, Twiggy were doing a container search. In Nose Work classes, the dogs are taught to search out a target odor, in this case, birch, and to alert the handler where the odor is. Twiggy indicated the correct container, and Pauline proceeded to reward Twiggy with a small piece of chicken. Suddenly it became apparent that Twiggy was choking. Within minutes the little dog was limp, unresponsive and her tongue and lips and gums were blue.

Fortunately, both Pauline and I are trained in pet first aid. Because Twiggy was so small, I was afraid to do the Heimlich maneuver, so instead I turned her upside down and shook her while Pauline reached down her throat to try to grasp the piece. Although it seemed like forever, within moments we had the piece out. Twiggy was still unresponsive so Pauline began CPR and rescue breathing, which, thankfully, Twiggy responded to quickly. Soon she was breathing on her own, and her normal color returned to her lips, tongue and gums.

It was a very scary thing to witness, and I’m thankful that I have the first aid knowledge. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), one out of four more pets would survive if just one pet first aid technique was applied prior to getting emergency veterinary care. And most of us live in an area where emergency veterinary care for our pets can be an hour’s drive away. So you may be asking, how do I learn pet first aid? Well, there are a couple of options.

The American Red Cross offers a pet first aid course. According to its website,, “The American Red Cross Pet First Aid classes give pet owners the confidence and skills necessary to tend to unexpected emergencies until they can get their pet to a veterinarian. Many Red Cross chapters across the country offer classes with hands-on training in Pet First Aid procedures. Reference guides are also available to provide quick answers to questions about caring for family dogs and cats. Red Cross Dog First Aid and Cat First Aid manuals can teach you how to administer medications, recognize an emergency, perform CPR and first aid, treat common problems and emergencies requiring immediate attention, and stock a pet first-aid kit.” The manuals come with a 30-minute DVD that features step-by-step instructions on safety procedures, disaster preparedness and dealing with medical emergencies. You can contact your local Red Cross office to purchase manuals, or to find out when and where the next class will be held.

Pet Tech is an international training center dedicated to CPR, first aid and care for dogs and cats. Its eight-hour Pet Saver program covers a number of valuable first aid skills and information to help pet owners keep their pets happy and healthy. Additionally, the class includes its “Pet Saver Handbook,” and upon successful completion, each participant becomes certified for two years. In the Pet Saver course, some of the topics covered include assessing the pet’s vitals, restraint and muzzling, rescue breathing, canine and feline CPR, bleeding protocols, shock and poisoning. There are great visuals on their website, plus a list of instructors and upcoming classes available at My training was through this company, and Pauline is actually a certified instructor for them.

The ASPCA is the best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call 888/426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card. I personally have used their services several times over the years, and the nominal fee is well worth the phone call. I would suggest that you keep this number handy. As with any emergency, time is a huge factor in successful outcomes.