Pet Health Articles

First Aid for Bleeding in Dogs

Picture of a dog with a ball running in sandWhen it comes to bleeding, what you can’t see can be more serious than what you can. Visible bleeding from a broken nail or cut ear looks scary and makes a terrible mess, but internal bleeding in the chest or abdomen that you can’t see is more deadly. That said, bleeding from any source is a concern if a lot of blood is lost. To minimize blood loss, you can provide first aid for bleeding dogs until you arrive at the veterinarian.

What happens when a dog is bleeding?

When a vast amount of blood is lost over a short period of time, shock may occur. A dog in shock has an increased heart rate and low blood pressure. He may have pale, white gums and breathe rapidly. If left untreated, organ systems shut down and the dog may suffer permanent damage or even death. Minutes matter, so pet owners should know how to control bleeding and prevent shock until they reach emergency aid.

What precautions should I take before trying to help my dog?

Safety is important when handling injured dogs – for both the dog and the owner! Remember that an injured pet is scared and is likely in pain. Even the sweetest dogs may bite under those circumstances. Take appropriate precautions to avoid being bitten while trying to help an injured dog. You may need to use a muzzle or have someone restrain the dog while you provide first aid.

What do I do if my dog is bleeding?

All first aid protocols for hemorrhaging dogs have the same goal: to control the blood loss. But reaching that goal requires different techniques for internal and external bleeding. While you can’t do much to stop internal bleeding on your own, you can control external bleeding until you reach a veterinarian.

Different parts of the body require different techniques to control bleeding. Here are guidelines that address various parts of the body:

Paws

Wrap the foot in gauze or a small towel and apply constant pressure to the foot.  Bleeding should stop in 5-10 minutes.

If the source of blood is a broken nail, you can apply a styptic pencil, silver nitrate stick or cauterizing powder to the nail. These items can be purchased at the pet store or in the first aid section of your human pharmacy. If you don’t have these products at home, try covering the nail with baking powder or flour. You can also stick the tip of the nail into a bar of soap to help stop the bleeding. Keep the foot wrapped in the towel as you proceed to the veterinary clinic.

If the foot is bleeding from cut or torn foot pad, look for debris or foreign objects such as glass or metal shards that may be lodged in the pad. If you can easily grasp the object with tweezers, gently remove it. Swishing the paw in cool water or gently running water from a hose over the paw may help dislodge tiny particles. If the debris is lodged deeply, leave it alone. Digging too deeply will only worsen the injury, result in more bleeding, and cause pain.

If something is firmly or deeply lodged in the paw, it should be extracted by your veterinarian who can sedate your dog to make the procedure more comfortable. To control bleeding, apply pressure to the wound with a clean towel. Minor tears will stop bleeding in a matter of minutes, but deeper wounds take longer to stabilize. Also, bleeding may reoccur when the dog walks on the leg. If you cannot stop the bleeding within 10-15 minutes, take your dog to the emergency veterinary clinic.

Legs

Lacerations on legs often result in significant bleeding if a major vein or artery is severed. Wrap a clean towel around the wound and apply firm pressure. If possible, raise the leg above the level of the heart. If the towel becomes soaked through, do not remove it. Place another towel on top of it and continue the application of firm pressure. Removing the towel may dislodge clots and make the bleeding worse. Proceed promptly to the veterinary hospital.

For minor cuts on legs, look for a foreign body and remove it if you can easily reach it. Flush the wound with clean water to remove any smaller pieces of debris, then cover the wound with gauze or a towel. Keep pressure on the wound by holding the towel in place or taping the gauze around the leg while you transport your pet to the veterinarian’s office.

Torso

It may be difficult to hold a towel in place if your dog has a cut on her chest or abdominal wall, so taping may be necessary. Surround the towel with 3 or 4 strips of tape that circle the entire chest or abdomen. To avoid impaired breathing, do not tape the towel too tightly. Use a hand towel for small dogs and a bath towel for larger dogs.

If you hear a “sucking” noise as the dog breathes, keep the towel firmly in place and proceed immediately to the emergency clinic. Some injuries to the chest involve the lungs and can be fatal. If there is an object protruding from a chest or abdominal wound (e.g. stick, arrow), do not remove it. Wrap the towel carefully around it without disturbing the foreign object.

Ears

Ears tend to bleed a lot! There are many blood vessels near the skin surface on ear flaps and dogs tend to shake their heads which makes the bleeding worse. Place gauze or a small face towel on both sides of the ear flap, then fold the ear over the top of the dog’s head and hold it firmly in place. You may hold the towel or gauze in place by wrapping tape around the top of the dog’s head and under his neck. Be very careful not to restrict breathing. You should be able to place 2 fingers between the dog’s neck and the bandage.

The sight of blood is frightening for many people, especially when an injured dog is bleeding. With quick first aid, the situation won’t be quite so scary.

Lynn Buzhardt, DVM
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