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How to help your injured dog

10 min read

How to help your injured dog

Finding out your pet is injured can be scary and overwhelming, but knowing what to do can make all the difference in handling the situation successfully.

This article aims to provide comprehensive and practical guidance on managing dog injuries, offering clear and actionable advice to help you act swiftly and confidently in critical situations. With the right knowledge and preparation, you can ensure the best possible care for your furry companion when they need it most.

Recognizing Signs of Injury

Identifying when your dog is injured is crucial for providing timely and effective care. Dogs often try to mask their pain, so it’s important to be aware of subtle changes in their behavior or appearance. Here are some key signs that can indicate your dog might be injured:

Behavioral Changes:

  • Whining or Unusual Noises:Persistent crying or making unusual noises can be a sign of distress or pain.
  • Lethargy:If your dog seems unusually tired or unresponsive, it could indicate they are in pain or experiencing other health issues(WebMD, 2023).
  • Aggression or Withdrawal:A normally friendly dog becoming snappy or withdrawing from interaction can be reacting to pain.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Limping or Reluctance to Move:Difficulty walking or reluctance to move can be a sign of injury, particularly to legs, feet, or joints.
  • Excessive Licking: Dogs often lick their wounds, so excessive licking of a particular area may be an attempt to self-soothe an injury.
  • Swelling or Visible Wounds: Any swelling, noticeable cuts, or wounds are clear indicators of injury.
  • Bleeding:Any form of bleeding, whether minor or severe, should be addressed immediately.
  • Changes in Appetite or Drinking Habits: A sudden decrease in appetite or changes in drinking habits can be subtle signs of pain or illness(Tidmore Vet, 2023).

Changes in Breathing or Heart Rate:

  • Rapid Breathing: Increased respiratory rate can occur due to pain or shock(VCA Animal Hospitals, 2024).
  • Irregular Heartbeat:Feeling an unusually fast or slow heartbeat can indicate stress, pain, or shock(VCA Animal Hospitals, 2024).

Eye and Ear Issues:

  • Squinting or Pawing at the Eyes:This may indicate pain in or around the eye.
  • Discharge from Eyes or Ears: Unusual discharge can be a sign of infection or injury.

Temperature Changes:

  • Heat or Cold to the Touch:Areas that feel unusually warm or cold can indicate underlying issues like inflammation or poor circulation.

Keeping a close eye on your dog and comparing their current behavior to their normal behavior is crucial. If there are any deviations that last more than a day, we would recommend a consultation with a veterinarian to rule out injuries or illnesses.

If you see any of these deviations, or the injury is more immediately serious, read on to learn the next steps to take.

Immediate Steps to Take

When you discover your dog may be injured, the most important thing to do is to stay calm - this will not only help you make better decisions, but your emotional state will also affect your dog: Staying calm can help keep your dog more relaxed and manageable during a stressful situation.

Beyond this, the initial minutes are critical. Here’s what to do right away:

Ensure Safety: Before you do anything else, ensure that both you and your dog are safe from any further harm. This might mean moving away from a busy road, securing other pets, or removing any sharp objects from the vicinity.

Gently Restrain Your Dog:

Use a Muzzle If Necessary. If there’s a risk of biting due to pain or fear, gently apply a muzzle. If you don’t have a muzzle, you can fashion one from a soft cloth, ensuring it is snug but not restricting breathing.

Limit Movement. Encourage your dog to stay as still as possible to avoid exacerbating any injuries. Soft verbal cues and a calm demeanor can help soothe them.

Create a Comforting Environment:

Speak Softly: Continuously talk to your dog in a gentle, soothing voice. This can provide ongoing comfort and may help keep them from panicking.

Comfort from a Safe Distance. If you suspect moving your dog might increase their pain, keep physical contact minimal. Sometimes just being close and speaking calmly can provide significant reassurance.

While you’re doing the above, call your veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic. Explain that you suspect an injury and describe any visible signs or behavioral changes. They can offer specific guidance on what to do next and prepare for your arrival if immediate veterinary care is needed.

Basic First Aid for Dogs

Before any of this becomes a reality, it’s always good practice to keep a first aid kit readily accessible at home and in your car. Essential items should include gauze, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, saline solution, tweezers, scissors, and a digital thermometer. Consider including a pet first aid manual for quick reference during emergencies.

Now that your dog is safe, restrained, and comfortable, the next step is to administer appropriate first aid.

Handling Bleeding:

For minor Cuts and Scrapes, clean the wound with saline solution or mild antiseptic. Apply gauze and gentle pressure to stop bleeding, then secure with adhesive tape. Products such asZarasyl Companion Barrier Cream can help the healing process in minor cases.

For deeper wounds, apply a clean cloth or thick gauze pad. Press down firmly until the bleeding subsides significantly. If the wound is large and deep, apply a bandage and seek veterinary attention immediately.

Managing Burns:

Immediately run cool (not cold) water over mild burns to alleviate pain and reduce heat in the tissue. Use a sterile, non-fluffy cloth or gauze to cover the burn lightly. This protects the burn from infection and further irritation.

For burns, it’s vital that you seek veterinary care, as improper treatment can lead to complications(PetMD, 2022).

Addressing Sprains and Fractures:

If you suspect a sprain or fracture, immobilize the limb with a makeshift splint. Use a rolled-up magazine or towel as a splint to support the limb and prevent further injury. Secure it with adhesive tape, but not too tightly, to avoid cutting off circulation. Avoid movement by discouraging your dog to stay as still as possible until you can get them to a veterinarian.

While there’s no substitute for professional care, making sure you’re prepared and aware of these sorts of basic first aid practices - and that your first aid kit remains stocked - can significantly improve the chances of recovery.

Transporting Your Injured Dog

When your dog is injured, getting them to a veterinary clinic safely is crucial. Here are detailed steps on how to transport an injured dog properly:

Preparing for Transport:

Before moving your dog, assess the nature of their injuries. If you suspect a spinal injury, it’s crucial to keep your dog as immobile as possible(American Kennel Club, 2018).

If available, use a pet stretcher for maximum support. If not, you can create an improvised stretcher using a sturdy board or a blanket held taut by two or more people. This helps distribute your dog’s weight evenly and reduces the risk of exacerbating any injuries.

Lifting Your Dog:

If a back injury is suspected, keep the spine aligned by lifting your dog gently and slowly with support under their body. One person should be at the head and another at the hind legs if possible.

When lifting your dog onto the stretcher or into the vehicle, ensure all parts of the body are supported. Avoid lifting by the limbs or tail.

Securing Your Dog in the Vehicle:

Place your dog on a flat surface, ideally within a pet carrier if it fits comfortably and does not cause distress or pain. If a carrier isn't feasible, ensure the area is padded with blankets or towels for comfort and to prevent sliding.

While some restraint may be necessary to prevent further injury during transport, ensure it’s not so tight as to cause discomfort or restrict breathing.

Creating a Calm Environment:

Keep the car ride as quiet as possible, and maintain a comfortable temperature. Loud noises or sudden movements can increase stress for your dog, and increase the likelihood of them panicking and attempting to move.

During the Drive:

Avoid bumps, abrupt stops, and sharp turns. Drive slower than usual and take the smoothest route possible to the veterinary clinic.

If possible, have someone sit with your dog to monitor their condition and provide comfort during the drive.

Arrival at the Vet:

Upon arrival, inform the staff immediately about the situation. If your dog is on a stretcher, seek assistance to move them into the clinic carefully.

Remain calm and provide all necessary information about the injury and any first aid that was administered.

If you’ve followed all of this until now, you have done everything you can, and have handed them over for professional evaluation and treatment. Make sure you are open and clear about everything that has happened, and everything you’ve done in the run up to the visit - this information helps the vet make better informed decisions about your dog’s treatment.

Aftercare and Rehabilitation

After your dog has received treatment for an injury, proper aftercare and rehabilitation are key to helping them return to their normal activities and preventing future injuries.

Follow Veterinary Instructions:

Be meticulous in administering any prescribed medications. Follow the dosage and schedule recommended by your veterinarian.

If your dog has wounds, ensure they are kept clean and dry. Change bandages as directed and monitor the wounds for signs of infection, such as increased redness, swelling, or discharge.

Monitor Recovery:

Often, rest is crucial for recovery. Keep your dog confined to a small, comfortable area to prevent too much movement that might delay healing.

Schedule follow-up appointments with your vet to ensure that the recovery is progressing as expected. This may include x-rays or other diagnostics to monitor the healing of bones or tissues.

Rehabilitation Exercises:

Depending on the nature of the injury, your vet might recommend physical therapy. This can include exercises to improve range of motion, strengthen muscles, and reduce stiffness.

Diet and Nutrition:

Your dog’s nutritional needs may change during recovery. Consult with your veterinarian about potentially incorporating supplements or adjusting food intake to support healing.

Mental Health:

Mental stimulation is just as important as physical health, especially if your dog is confined(PetMD, 2023). Use puzzle feeders, gentle play, and regular, short periods of interaction to keep their mind active.

By following the instructions of your vet, and providing a loving, nurturing home environment, you ensure that your dog has the best chance of a full and speedy recovery, reducing the likelihood of complications or recurring injuries.

Preventing Future Injuries

Preventing injuries is an essential aspect of caring for your dog. By taking proactive measures, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of future accidents and ensure a safer environment for your pet. Here are some steps you can take:

Home and Environment Safety:

Ensure that your yard is safely fenced to prevent your dog from wandering into dangerous areas. Check fences regularly for any gaps or potential escape points.

Regularly inspect both your home and yard for hazards such as sharp objects, toxic plants, or open water sources where your dog could fall or drown.

Designate a specific area for play that is free of obstacles and hazards. Ensure the surface is appropriate for activity to avoid slips and falls.

Proper Exercise and Training:

Tailor your dog’s exercise routine to their age, breed, and health status. Overexertion can lead to injuries, so provide enough exercise to keep them fit but not so much that it strains their body.

Train your dog to respond to commands such as 'stay', 'sit', or 'come'. This can prevent injuries by stopping them from running into unsafe areas.

Properly socialize your dog from an early age to improve their behavior around other animals and people, reducing the likelihood of aggressive encounters(Howell et al, 2015).

Nutritional Health:

Feed your dog a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. A healthy weight can reduce the stress on bones and joints, decreasing the risk of injuries.

Consult with your vet about supplements that can support joint health, especially for older dogs or breeds prone to joint issues.

Regular Veterinary Care:

Regular vet visits can catch potential health issues before they become serious. Early detection of conditions like arthritis can lead to better management and less pain for your dog(PDSA, 2019).

Keep up with vaccinations and preventive treatments to protect against diseases that can affect your dog’s overall health and mobility.

Adapt as Your Dog Ages:

As dogs age, their mobility decreases and their risk of injury increases. Implement changes such as ramps for getting in and out of cars or beds, and place non-slip mats in areas where they frequently walk.

Educate Yourself and Family:

Ensure that all family members know basic first aid. This can not only be crucial in preventing injuries from becoming more severe before professional help is available, but is also a valuable life skill, and, of course, helpful in human emergencies.

Understanding canine body language can also help prevent injuries by allowing you to recognize when your dog is stressed, scared, or threatened.

By implementing these preventive measures, you can create a safer environment for your dog and reduce the risk of injuries. Regular assessment of your dog’s activities and surroundings, combined with proactive health management, plays a crucial role in keeping your beloved pet safe and healthy.


Caring for an injured dog can be a daunting task filled with uncertainty and worry. However, armed with the right knowledge and preparedness outlined in this guide, you can confidently navigate the critical moments from recognizing signs of injury to providing essential first aid, ensuring safe transport to a veterinary clinic, and delivering effective aftercare.

Remember, your calm and informed response can make all the difference. By being a knowledgeable and proactive pet owner, you not only enhance your dog's safety but also strengthen the bond you share with your dog. Here’s to many more happy, healthy years!

To learn more about Zarasyl and how it can help in the healing process of minor wounds, click here to learn about ourZarasyl Companion Barrier Cream.


WebMD (n.d.) My Dog is Weak and Lethargic: Causes and Treatments. Available at: (Accessed: 16 May 2024).

Tidmore Veterinary Hospital (2020) 10 Reasons Your Pet’s Eating and Drinking Habits May Change. Available at: (Accessed: 16 May 2024).

VCA Animal Hospitals (n.d.) Common Emergencies in Dogs. Available at: (Accessed: 16 May 2024).

PetMD (2017) Burns and Scalding in Dogs. Available at: (Accessed: 16 May 2024).

American Kennel Club (2019) How to Transport a Dog to the Hospital. Available at: (Accessed: 16 May 2024).

PetMD (2020) 10 Ways to Keep Your Dog Mentally Stimulated. Available at: (Accessed: 16 May 2024).

Howell, Tiffani & King, Tammie & Bennett, Pauleen. (2015). Puppy parties and beyond: the role of early age socialization practices on adult dog behavior. Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports. 2015. 143. 10.2147/VMRR.S62081. 

People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) (2019) Arthritis in Dogs. Available at: (Accessed: 16 May 2024).