By October 31, 2011

Dog First Aid and Lessons Learned

Smluh, smluh, smluh, smulh licked my youngest dog, Pearl.

“Stop it,” I said automatically. She did, like a good dog, but just for a second. I looked up from my computer to see what was wrong, and Pearl was pacing downstairs in the kitchen, licking her foot between steps.

I walked to the top of the stairs and saw a trail of bloody pawprints all over the wooden kitchen floor.


Pearl hates it when I touch her feet. Trying to cut her toenails involves pleading, command tone, whimpers, and bribery. Sometimes Pearl pees, sometimes she lets me get a snip in, but it’s never more than two at a time. I’ve been working with her more lately, including holding her foot while she eats a carrot snack, but I didn’t work fast enough. By avoiding conflict and discomfort I let Pearl’s nails get too long, and this one snapped about halfway up.

The quick was exposed, and blood was getting everywhere. When left to its own, the blood came in thick, pulsing blobs. When I held Pearl’s foot and her heart began to race, the blood flowed more quickly.

The nail was at an angle that caused it to pinch the quick, further adding to the bleeding problem. I knew that the nail had to come off, but it was so covered in blood that I was reluctant to just go at it with my clippers. I knew that cutting the quick would not only cause more bleeding, but would hurt Pearl a lot and make future attention very difficult.

I asked Sedagive? for help and we dug into our medical supplies. I placed a phone call to my sister. She is a vet technician and her advice was very helpful. Here’s what we had, and what we did:

  • Vet-grade nail clippers that were very strong and sharp. This helped me slightly clip the rest of the nail tip before removing it with a flick of my wrist.
  • Celox to stop the bleeding, and the 2g small packets were the right amount for Pearl’s toe.
  • Sterile gauze was critical for wrapping Pearl’s toe once I removed the nail. I applied pressure for five minutes per the direction on the Celox packet.
  • Flexible cotton bandage for holding the gauze to Pearl’s foot once the bleeding stopped.
  • We were in a rectangular bathroom, which minimized Pearl’s ability to get away from us. Soothing words, massages, and slow deliberate movements helped, too.
  • We all kept calm and communicated very effectively. It was not the best time to make decisions, but when we had to choose what to do we did it together and then didn’t go back. This was more helpful for us than for Pearl, but I was proud of it.

I verbalized what I was going to do several times before I acted. I did this to practice, to get the order straight in my head, and run it by Sedagive? for suggestions. We talked it over, and when the time came to take Pearl’s nail off it didn’t seem super hectic. For the most part.

Our kits are mostly for human first aid — and frankly more designed for deep puncture wounds — but we learned some lessons while treating Pearl.

  • We didn’t have a good system for wound cleaning. It was tough to see what was really going on with Pearl’s foot due to all of the blood. We didn’t have any good way to clear the blood away, and we had to improvise. We started with a bowl of lukewarm water, but Pearl didn’t like us swishing her foot around in it. We wound up using the saline solution I need for my contact lenses. This was okay, but not enough volume to really clean the wound out.
  • It was too dark to see properly. The small room was good for controlling Pearl, but not so good for seeing how her nail was attached and the best way to come at it. We fetched an LED flashlight halfway through the process, but the light was a purple hue and I wasn’t able to see much better.
  • I hurried on the first application of the Celox. I didn’t think the application through and poured about half a packet of Celox between Pearl’s toes. We wound up bending her foot backwards in a natural position and applying the second packet to the bottom of her foot instead of the top / side. Think of it as from the pad side, not the furry side.
  • We didn’t have medical tape or bandage clips. We sort of looked at each other and wondered how we were going to hold Pearl’s bandage on. Sedagive? wound up trimming the ends of the bandage so that we could tie it. It worked out pretty well, but we weren’t very prepared in this regard.
  • One size does not fit all. Our kits are built for humans. The scale is generally out of whack — the bandages we have are 3″ wide by 5 yards long. They are meant for wrapping around a human-sized limb or torso, not a dog’s paw. We wound up cutting the bandage, but that added to the time to treat Pearl and another decision I would have rather made before the incident.
  • We guessed. Our inexperience with wrapping an injury was obvious. Sedagive? wound up doing a good job, but only after I flubbed it twice. This really underscored the need for training. We’ve been holding out for a trauma course for “normal humans,” but we need to do some basic first aid training as well.


Despite of, or perhaps because of, all of our deliberation, practicing, talking, and consulting, Pearl’s nail came off very easily. I held Pearl’s foot for about eight minutes before the Celox took effect and the bleeding slowed. In reviewing the bandage and gauze this morning (Pearl decided she had enough of that crap on her foot) there was still some oozing but otherwise minimal bleeding.

Pearl is back to herself, and her foot looks clean. There has been no additional bleeding today, and I got to practice some first aid and learned about some holes in our kit.

I’m headed out to Fleet Farm today to buy some more gauze, some smaller sized bandages, some bandage clips, and some wound wash.


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1 Comment on "Dog First Aid and Lessons Learned"

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  1. GK says:

    I talked to a physician buddy of mine a few years ago before I set off for a cross country dual sport ride. I wanted to know if he had any suggestions for basic medical supplies that don’t normally come in your off the shelf “First Aid” kits.

    He suggest that I take a pressurized can of saline solution to use to clean the dirt out the typical kinds of wounds you’d get in a dirt bike crash..

    I haven’t had to use the solution yet, but I’ve been carrying a can in my kit nonetheless!