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How to Treat Bleeding Dogs in Emergencies (Dog First Aid): Vet Answer

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS (Vet) Profile Picture

By Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS (Vet)

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It can be really scary when your dog is bleeding, but preparation can help. Just like in human first aid, knowing what to do in an emergency is the key to success. These top tips are sure to help you prepare for what to do if the worst happens!

If your dog is bleeding, start by applying pressure on the wound with sterile gauze. For light bleeding, use firm pressure until the bleeding stops. If it doesn’t stop in 5 minutes, take your dog to the vet immediately. For heavy bleeding, call ahead to your nearest veterinary hospital to let them know you’re coming. Maintain gentle pressure on the wound until you reach the hospital.

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Safety First: Avoiding Dog Bites

Please beware that dogs that are in pain or scared may bite, even if they are usually friendly. Understand the warning signs your dog may be giving you, such as lip licking, yawning, baring teeth, and growling. If you have any doubt whether your dog will let you treat them, get them to the vets as soon as possible so that sedatives and treatment can be given.

When is dog bleeding an emergency?

Of course, the first step to treating bleeding in dogs is to recognize when it is serious. You should attend the vet as an emergency if your dog’s wound is spurting blood, if your dog’s behavior changes, if the blood is coming as a steady stream (rather than drips), if your dog has lost a lot of blood, or if you can’t stop the bleeding after 5 minutes. Don’t forget that small wounds can be serious too!

How much blood can a dog lose before it is serious?

Small amounts of blood loss are not dangerous, but larger amounts can cause shock and death. In general, your dog can lose about 1/10th of his blood volume without suffering any ill effects. In a 50-pound (22 g) dog, this is about 190 ml  – around ¾ cup. Any more than this, and your dog could be in danger – you should attend the nearest open veterinary hospital, even if you’ve managed to stop the bleeding.

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Signs your dog has lost too much blood

Other than guessing how much blood your dog has lost, there are also some signs of blood loss in dogs you should be aware of.

If your dog has been bleeding, you should look at their gums – they should be a healthy salmon-pink, not pale or grey. If your dog naturally has black gums, you can look at their inner eyelids instead. If your dog will allow, you can press a finger to your dog’s pink gums until they blanch pale. When you remove your finger, the gum should immediately turn pink again. If this takes any longer than 2 seconds, your dog’s circulation has been affected.

A dog has bleeding on its foot
Image Credit: Mrs.Rungnapa akthaisong, Shutterstock

Other signs that your dog has lost a significant amount of blood include:

  • Panting or fast, deep breathing
  • Faster heart rate than normal
  • Pale gums
  • Slow gum refill time
  • Lethargy or wobbliness
  • Loss of appetite

External Bleeding vs Internal Bleeding

Don’t forget – just because you cannot see bleeding, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Internal bleeding is when your dog bleeds into their abdomen or chest cavity. It is often more serious than the bleeding you can see as it is impossible to assess how much blood has been lost. If you recognize the signs of blood loss and you cannot see where your dog is bleeding from, you should take them to the nearest open or emergency vet immediately.

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How to Treat Bleeding in Dogs:

Depending on the seriousness of the wound, you can attempt to stop the bleeding at home, or try to slow the wound from bleeding on the way to the vets. Our step-by-step below explains how.

For small, shallow wounds:

  • Use a sterile gauze to apply pressure to the wound. The aim is to reduce blood flow and therefore give the blood time to clot – your pressure should be firm, not hard. Do not lift the gauze away until the bleeding has completely stopped, as you will dislodge the clot.
  • If the bleeding hasn’t completely stopped within 5 minutes, or you think the bleeding is so fast that your dog is losing too much blood, attend the vets immediately. If you manage to control the bleeding, book the next available appointment (within the next 8 hours) to have the wound treated. Wounds heal best if they’re stitched whilst fresh, so the sooner you can get them into the vets the higher their chances of not having complications.

For large or deep wounds:

  • Quickly assess the situation – how much blood is being lost? Is there a foreign object? Is there a squeaking, sucking sound when your dog breathes? Is your dog conscious?
  • Do not remove any foreign body. Place a sterile gauze or clean towel over the wound. Apply gentle pressure.
  • If someone is with you, one of you should drive whilst the other applies pressure to the wound and calls the nearest open vets to warn them you are coming.
  • If you are alone, you should use tape or elastic bandage to secure the towel. You may need to wrap the tape around your dog’s body. Try to ensure it is tight enough to apply gentle pressure, but make sure it isn’t restricting breathing. If there is a foreign object, work around it.
  • As soon as it is secure, call the nearest open vets and let them know you are on your way. It’s important that you call them in case they are not open and so they can prepare for your arrival.
dog laying on surgery table
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

How do I stop a dog’s quick or claw from bleeding?

It’s common for a dog’s claws to bleed. This can either be immediately after cutting them too short (known as ‘cutting the quick’) or because they’ve broken a claw whilst running or playing. Bleeding claws in a dog make a mess, but they’re rarely serious. Here’s how to stop your dog’s claw from bleeding:

  • If you’ve just been cutting your dog’s nails, it’s likely you accidentally cut the quick. Try to look at your dog’s foot and find the bleed – make sure it’s the nail and not the pad. Remember, your dog is probably sore and may resist, so be aware of their behavior and be prepared to stop if they’re too uncomfortable to continue.
  • If you have one, apply a caustic pencil (or styptic powder) to your dog’s nail. You will need to hold it in place for some time to ensure the blood has stopped and has dried – usually, a couple of minutes.
  • If you don’t have a caustic pencil, and the bleeding is mild, you can try using a small amount of corn flour to stem the bleeding.
  • If your dog has come in from the garden bleeding, it’s likely they’ve scuffed or snapped a nail. You’ll need to take a look. If the nail is still attached, your dog will probably need veterinary attention to have it removed safely without causing further pain. If the nail has come off, you can try to cauterize as for a cut quick (see above).

How can I stop a nosebleed in a dog?

It’s not common for a dog’s nose to bleed and you should visit the vet if this is a problem for your dog. However, if you do find yourself in a situation of your dog having a nosebleed, these tips will help.

  • Keep your dog calm. Overexcitement, whether from thinking this is a game or from picking up on your panic, will increase blood flow.
  • Try to raise your dog’s nose above their heart. In practice, this means holding them vertically in your arms or sitting them down rather than letting them lie down.
  • Apply gentle pressure to the bridge of the nose with an ice pack or bag of frozen peas. Make sure you wrap it in a towel first, so that you do not make your dog’s skin sore.
  • If the nose doesn’t stop bleeding within 5 minutes, or you think your dog is bleeding so much that it is becoming serious, phone the nearest open veterinarian for advice.
dog bleeding
Image By: Thichaa, Shutterstock

Essential First Aid Kit Items for Bleeding in Dogs:

If you’re the prepared type, having a first aid kit for your pet is a great idea. Whilst you can buy ready-made first aid kits, they often don’t have all the necessary contents to make life with a dog easier (and safer!). For bleeding, the essential items are:

  • Sterile dressings, to apply pressure to a bleeding wound on the way to the vets.
  • Clean tweezers, for removing small foreign objects
  • A caustic pencil, or styptic powder, to apply to minor wounds to stop bleeding
  • Elastic bandage, to hold dressings in place temporarily until the vets can apply a proper bandage
  • Stretchy/elasticated tape (usually pink in color) to hold dressings in place temporarily on the way to the vets
  • A muzzle that fits your dog, in case they become snappy with pain
  • The phone numbers of your nearest veterinarians, and their opening times. If they are vets you are not familiar with, include a postcode or address so that you can find them in an emergency.

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In conclusion

As with all first aid, being prepared for what to do if your dog is bleeding is the easiest way to a good outcome. Remember, most wounds will require veterinary attention, but hopefully this article will have given you some useful advice to give your dog first aid whilst you get to the clinic.

Featured Image: BetterPhoto, Shutterstock

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