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A Dash Course in First Aid


January 25, 2015 by Julia

Ages ago (OK, early 2000s) I took a college Red Cross First Aid & CPR course. I spent several weeks breathing into dummies, thumping fake babies on the back, and bandaging up my classmate’s invisible wounds. At the end, I was given a chance to take the Instructor course. I spent another couple of weeks learning how to present breathing, thumping, and bandaging.

When I signed up for the Dog and Cat First Aid & CPR class, I expected a similar hands-on experience. So I was a little disappointed when I spent 4 hours sitting in a room with some Melissa & Doug brand stuffed animals that were wearing pet oxygen masks for show while we looked at slides and short video clips.

Stuffed Beagle with an Oxygen Max

The bogus Beagle modeling a medium-sized pet oxygen mask.

While the materials did present some good information and the presenter was knowledgeable, it also contained a lot of things I already knew. At one point a classmate turned to me and asked if I’d taken the class before – I said “No, I’ve just had dogs with issues.” It isn’t the first person someone has commented on my “education.”

While Xena and Delta made their own contributions, Dash has practically been a veterinary crash course (or at least vet tech).

Signs dogs made have an issue with their ear – head shaking and holding the ear at an odd position. Dash has a pretty expressive head and body, so it doesn’t take a lot of guessing when something “typical” is bothering him. Yep, one of his nicknames is Mr. Low Ears. You see that angle, it’s time to get a closer look.

So, Dash, might you have an itchy ear?

So, Dash, might you have an itchy ear?

Use hydrogen peroxide take make them vomit recently eaten foreign objects and non-caustic substances. Did I ever tell you about the time Dash swallowed the entire fleece bait bag at agility… twice? (Yes, we did put the bag on a leash after that) I can also tell you that a dog may drink peroxide the first time you use it on him, but afterwards he’s like to make a gagging face when he catches a whiff of it. One time when I had to use it on Delta, Dash got a whiff, made a face, and scampered off. He’ll pass on the fizzy drink, thanks.

Use Benedryl for allergic reactions. The presenter said 1/2mg per pound of body weight. I disagree – Dash has needed up to 2mg/1lb for some of his stings. He gets a little sleepy at that dose, but better to be sleepy than itchy, right?

Don't play with the buzzing things, Dash.

Don’t play with the buzzing things, Dash.

The normal canine temperature is between 100-102.5F. While I knew this in 2007, Aaron did not. This is why, when the vet told us Dash had a temperature of 105, Aaron exclaimed “He’s f***ing cooking!” We had to assure him that No, Dash was not cooking. But Dash certainly needed the immediate medical care he got for his sterile (immune-mediated) meningitis.

Among the lessons also covered in both the class and life, probably the most important lesson is to “know your dog’s normal.” The part that they don’t cover in the course is trusting you know it even when others say you’re wrong. Dash’s “normal” is not another dog’s normal and certainly not what the vet considers normal. He has symptoms that are backwards or logical but not documented. But I know his normal, so I push when everything looks “fine” or the minor deviation the vet found “isn’t enough to cause the problem.” I can make connections that others can’t because I know how he operates and that is invaluable.

What is your dog’s normal?


  1. Amy says:

    What a great idea. I’ve been thinking of taking a dog first aid class, and you’ve motivated me to sign up!

  2. Jana Rade says:

    Knowing what is normal is SO important! I preach that all the time.

  3. Dogvills says:

    Dash swallowed the entire fleece bait bag ? omg… Good to know that hydrogen peroxide take make them

  4. Great advice to know your dog — or cat’s — normal. You are the best judge of what’s right and what’s not.

    –Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats

    • Julia says:

      I think it may be even more important with cats since they really don’t like showing symptoms. We have a cat, Shady, she kind of gets the short stick around here. But I do pay attention to her normal… which is a little weird. Unfortunately part of her normal is *not* standing up to Delta, who likes to use her like a feline tackling dummy. She has the equipment and ability to tell Delta to bugger off, but apparently lacks the commitment to making that statement. Part of her new normal is hyperpigmentation of one eye, which Aaron is convinced comes from Delta’s pummeling but I suspect is a fluke/age thing (Shady is 9+ years old).

  5. Patty says:

    I don’t have dogs but I have been through my share of issues with my cats. I believe you have to educate yourself because you never know when you are going to have to do something

  6. Cathy Armato says:

    You’re so right, it’s important to know your dog’s Normal. Every dog is a little bit different. I’d love to take a first aid class of any kind.

  7. You are so right about knowing what is normal for your dog. I always keep a little chart of what vital signs are “normal” for each dog in their first aid kit 🙂

  8. Anonymous says:

    Nice post! I’ve often thought of taking a first aid course for animals but I, too, have been around a lot of animals and can usually ‘read’ them. I relate to your dog’s symptoms begin backward too. I’m like that too but have never heard anyone else say that. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I agree! Knowing what is normal for your dog is so important. Whenever anyone watches Rooney we always remind them that the has a persistent reverse sneeze that happens when he gets over excited, and that is normal for him.

    • Julia says:

      Aww, Dash used to have those quite a bit. Someone told me to blow in their nose to help clear whatever is irritating the soft palate. It worked for Dash and got so he would come over to me when it was happening so I would fix it for him.

  10. I definitely agree that it is so important to pay close attention to your dog so that you know exactly what his “normal” is!

    I took a Pet CPR and first aid class last year. It was interesting — but like you, I was already familiar with much of the information.

  11. Katie says:

    I’ve done a canine first aid course too, and knowing what is normal for your own dog was one of the teachers main pieces of advice! One of the ladies made mini notecards and had them laminated and put onto a key ring so she could take her first aid notes on her walks etc. I thought that was very clever and so useful!

    • Julia says:

      I don’t think I’ll ever be quite that organized, but that is a fabulous idea. I bet she could sell those! She’d just have to make sure they are up to date, the books we got had some really outdated information.

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