Summer first aid for pets

TACKLE TICKS The chance to race through lush summer meadows is one of a dog’s greatest joys. Unfortunately, it’s also a great opportunity for ticks to jump on board. These small, blood-sucking parasites happily hitch a ride on pet dogs (and cats, and us!) to take a meal before dropping off, engorged with blood, a few days later. When the
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16th August 2017


The chance to race through lush summer meadows is one of a dog’s greatest joys. Unfortunately, it’s also a great opportunity for ticks to jump on board. These small, blood-sucking parasites happily hitch a ride on pet dogs (and cats, and us!) to take a meal before dropping off, engorged with blood, a few days later. When the tick is feeding, it is irritating for the pet – but ticks can also cause unpleasant skin reactions and lumps that can become sore and infected. More worryingly, ticks can carry dangerous infections such as Lyme disease, which requires immediate veterinary treatment and can also infect humans. In animals, it can cause lameness, swollen joints and lymph nodes, breathing difficulties, high fever and loss of appetite. In the worst cases, it can be fatal.


The Big Tick Project was launched in April 2015 in the New Forest by TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham, together with Professor Richard Wall and researcher Swaid Abdulah of Bristol University. The project was started to raise awareness about the dangers of ticks and tick-borne disease in the UK and to educate pet owners on how to protect against them.

Ticks are most commonly found on your pet’s head and neck, around their ears, in whiskers, or on their legs after walks in long grass, particularly near livestock. Ticks can be removed using a special tick removal device, available from your vet or pet shop. Slide it under the tick and turn anticlockwise. Do not pull. Be careful to remove the whole tick, including legs or mouthparts. If you are unsure about removing it correctly, your vet will be able to do it for you. Tick treatments, which are available from vets, provide protection throughout the tick season. This is a good preventative solution, particularly as, according to the Big Tick Project’s research, the spread of ticks across the UK is on the rise.

For the latest information on the tick risk in your area, check out the Big Tick Project Map


These miniscule blood-suckers can be a problem all year round, but are even more of an issue in summer. Dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits and guinea pigs can all be affected and, while some animals are quite tolerant to the irritation that they cause, others are allergic to them and develop severe skin problems after just a single bite. Ask your vet for a suitable product to prevent parasite infestations or appropriate treatment if a flock of fleas have taken hold. If you have a multi-pet home, make sure any treatments you use are safe for all the animals in your household as some dog flea treatments are highly toxic to cats.


Don’t attract slugs and snails by leaving pets’ bowls and toys outside as these molluscs often carry the larvae of lungworm, a potentially lethal parasite. Dogs can become infected if they eat slugs and snails deliberately, or by accident, for example when munching on grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking up toys left in the garden. Once a dog ingests lungworm larvae, lungworms grow inside them. Adult lungworms move through their host’s body to the heart and blood vessels, potentially causing heart and breathing problems and pneumonia. Once the worms start to produce their own larvae, after about 28 days, more serious problems can occur, such as haemorrhages in the lungs, liver, intestine, eyes and spinal cord. Find out more about lungworm and how to protect your dog here.


In the summer, rabbits are prone to horrific maggot infestations called flystrike. Check fur and skin around the bottom/tail areas twice daily and clean gently with a damp cloth. Urine staining and stuck-on droppings attract flies, which lay their eggs on or around an animal’s rear. These hatch within hours into maggots that eat the animal’s flesh and release dangerous toxins. If you spot any maggots, your pet will need emergency treatment.

Good housekeeping is essential, so discard any leftover food as it can go off very quickly in the heat and attract flies and regularly clean your rabbits’ accommodation with pet-safe disinfectant. Also use bedding with in-built parasite protection. A correct diet is also a must. Feed good quality feeding hay and/or grass as 85 – 90% of your rabbits’ diet, with a small portion of Excel nuggets. Avoid muesli-style foods. This should ensure your rabbits’ digestive systems are working correctly and avoid droppings sticking around the bottom and tail area.


Adders are found in some parts of the UK and, although snakebites are rare, they can cause severe pain, swelling around two small puncture wounds, as well as breathing problems. Unsurprisingly, if bitten, your pet will need urgent veterinary treatment. Insect stings most commonly occur on a forelimb or around the face, causing pain and swelling. The consequences of an insect sting are not usually serious, unless an animal develops an obstruction to its breathing due to a bite or sting within the back of the mouth, or if an animal has an allergic reaction. If this is the case, take your pet straight to your vet who will administer emergency treatment, or drugs that have an anti-inflammatory and painkilling effect to help speed up your pet’s recovery.


Once grass begins to go to seed in late summer, sharp-pointed awns are easily picked up in the coat of long-haired pets – so check your pets over every day. Grass awns can penetrate the skin almost anywhere, but most commonly get into the ears, or between the toes, where they cause a great deal of irritation. Once they penetrate the skin or enter the ear, an anaesthetic may be required to remove them.


Heatstroke can be fatal, so it’s vital to take swift action. It can develop when an animal is too hot and is unable to reduce their body temperature. If your pet exhibits symptoms such as faster panting, excessive drooling, darkened gums, agitation, staggering, vomiting or diarrhoea, seek advice from a vet immediately.

Emergency First Aid for dogs

As recommended by the RSPCA

  • For the best chance of survival, dogs suffering from heatstroke urgently need to have their body temperature lowered gradually.
  • Move him/her to a shaded/cool area.
  • Immediately douse the dog with cool (not cold) water, to avoid shock. If possible, you can also use wet towels or place him/her in the breeze of a fan.
  • Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water.
  • Continue to douse the dog with cool water until his/her breathing starts to settle but never so much that he/she begins to shiver.
  • Once the dog is cool, take him/her to the nearest vet as soon as possible, ideally while someone else continues to cool the dog down.


  • Familiarise yourself with the procedure that your veterinary practice offers for emergency care of sick or injured animals and make sure you have their emergency number to hand.
  • Consider learning first aid for pets – your local vets or pet rescue centre may run courses. Checking your pet’s pulse rate and temperature can often help determine if your pet is experiencing an emergency situation. The pulse rate should be strong and regular. Normal resting pulse and heart rates are: cats: 150-200 bpm; small dogs: 90-120 bpm; medium dogs: 70-110 bpm; and large dogs: 60-90 bpm. The normal temperature for dogs and cats is 38 °C (100.5 °F) to 38.6 °C (101.5 °F).
  • The British Red Cross advises assembling a basic pet first aid kit consisting of: gauze pads, gauze roll/bandages, a thermometer, tweezers, scissors, antibiotic ointment, an instant cold pack, hand sanitiser and an animal first aid book.


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