pet first aid

What You Need to Know About Pet First Aid Classes

I took my first pet first aid course when I was doing search and rescue work with my dogs.

I wanted to make sure that if we were on a search, I could handle all the needed basic first aid should one of my dogs be hurt. Since then, I've retaken the classes several times just to keep my skills sharp. Since I share my home with dogs and cats, my dogs are active and busy, and we go camping often; I figure the more I know the better. Although I haven't had to use those skills on my own pets often, when I've needed them I've been thankful I took the classes.

What Are Pet First Aid Courses?

These courses are not designed to take the place of veterinary care. Instead, they teach you how to assess your pet's illness or injury so you can decide whether the problem is one you can handle at home with first aid or whether it's something the veterinarian should take care of. Being able to assess the situation relatively quickly and with confidence is important. Plus, even if your pet needs veterinary care, having first aid knowledge will help you give your pet any immediate care prior to taking him to the veterinary clinic. If your pet is bleeding, for example, knowing how to bandage the wound to slow or stop the bleeding is vital.

Subjects Taught in Class

Most pet first aid courses start by teaching you how to recognize life-threatening symptoms. What does shock look like? What does a choking dog or cat do? What does too much bleeding look like? How should you respond in these situations? What can you do to save your pet's life until you can get to a veterinarian? Assessing your pet's basic well being is also important. Counting his breaths, taking his pulse, and evaluating his eyes (and pupil response) is all important. Should you need to call your veterinarian, being able to give your vet this information will help him tremendously. A subject list may include allergic reactions, bee stings, bloat, choking, collapse, diarrhea, fever, fractures, frostbite, heat exhaustion and stroke, lethargy, seizures, snake bite, vomiting, and wound care. Not only will you be taught how to recognize those problems you don't know, but also what to do about them.
pet first aid ©istockphoto/PK-Photos

Putting Together a First Aid Kit

If you don't already have a first aid kit that includes first aid materials for your pets, this will help with that, too. I have a comprehensive human and pet first aid kit at home, in my car, with my camping gear, and in my disaster preparedness kit. Although some people may think this is a bit much, I only need to use it once for it to be worth having it. A pet first aid course will provide a list of basic first aid items, then you can add whatever else may suit your needs. For example, since my dogs and I camp quite a bit, I carry lots of bandaging materials for hurt or sore paws, as well as Benadryl(TM) for bee stings and other allergic reactions. What many courses often don't tell you is that your first aid kit should be checked and refreshed twice a year. I do it in the spring and fall, usually when the time changes, as that's easy to remember. Things that have been used can be replaced, and expiration dates can be checked and expired items replaced.

Pet CPR Training

Classes that you must attend in person usually offer pet CPR training for both dogs and cats whereas online courses will show you what to do but you won't have the ability to practice the skills. There are both dog and cat CPR dummies that you can use to practice your breathing skills, how to position the dog or cat so that the airway is open, and how to watch for the chest rising with each breath. Plus, chest compressions needed for small dogs and cats is much different than for large dogs. Being able to practice on the dummies will give you more confidence in your abilities.

Finding a Course

Without the American Red Cross course being available anymore, the easiest way to find a course in your area is to do an online search for 'pet first aid course.' You can also check with your veterinarian to see if he knows of anyone in the area teaching these courses. Veterinarians, dog trainers and dog training clubs, gun dog clubs, and others who participate in dog sports often sponsor these courses.
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