Treating shock after an injury

Shock is a life-threatening medical condition wherein the dog’s body has an inadequate flow of blood to the body’s tissues, which can cause major damage to organs. A dog in shock needs to get medical help immediately, as shock can worsen rapidly and even kill the dog.

What causes shock?

The most common cause of shock in dogs is body trauma, e.g., being hit by a car or fighting. These events can cause heavy internal and/or external bleeding that results in low blood volume. This condition is called hypoglycemic shock.

Other types of shock include cardiogenic shock, caused by heart failure; anaphylactic shock, caused by allergic reactions to insect stings, food, etc.; septic shock, caused by various infections; and neurogenic shock, caused by damage to the nervous system. Excessive fluid loss due to diarrhea or vomiting is another classic cause of shock, as is an obstruction of the airway, which can be caused by choking or an illness such as pneumonia.

No matter what causes the shock, however, it is a life-threatening condition and it is crucial that the dog receive immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of shock

A dog in shock has an extremely low blood pressure. He may show any or all of the following symptoms:

Early stages

  • Rapid heart beat
  • Anxious or agitated
  • Bright red gums
  • Shallow breathing
  • Pulse is still easy to find

Middle stages

  • Heart beat rises further
  • Gums turn pale or blue
  • Pulse is difficult to find
  • Dog sinks into lethargy, seems week
  • Respiration usually becomes rapid and shallow (but may remain normal)
  • Low rectal temperature (but may elevate or stay normal)

Late stages

  • Gums seem almost white or may be mottled
  • Heart rate normally elevates or appears irregular, but may remain normal or below normal as the dog’s heart muscle starts to fail.
  • A weak pulse, difficult, if not impossible, to locate
  • Change in respiration; may be slow and shallow or rapid and deep.
  • The eyes appear to glaze over and become unfocused
  • The dog slips from lethargy to stupor to coma
  • Rectal temperature drops to a critical low

How to treat a dog in shock

Successful treatment begins with quick recognition of the condition, immediate initiation of treatment, and rapid transport to a veterinarian for proper treatment.

A dog in shock should be kept as quiet as possible. Position him so that his head is slightly lower than his body, and cover him with a light blanket or towel to preserve body heat.

First aid procedures should include the following (where appropriate):

  • Restrain the dog
  • Clear the airways to ensure proper breathing
  • Stop or reduce blood loss
  • Protect fractures and sprains from further injury
  • Prevent loss of body heat
  • Immediate transport to a veterinarian for proper treatment

Shock treatment: What not to do

Some first aid procedures might seem helpful to a frantic dog owner, but, in fact, may actually harm the dog.

  • Do not allow the injured dog to move around. Unnecessary movement could increase internal bleeding as well as burn up precious energy as the dog uses his muscles to move about. This can be fatal to a dog in shock.
  • Do not apply a heating pad since it could cause a severe burn. Heat could also cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate, requiring more blood and further taxing an already failing cardiovascular system.
  • Do not put anything into his mouth, including water or food. He could aspirate it into his lungs, causing serious complications.
  • Do not administer medication unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
  • Do not just assume the dog is not in shock because he seems normal after an injury or incident. The early stages of shock are difficult for an untrained person to recognize and the dog could deteriorate rapidly if not watched closely and given appropriate treatment at the first sign of trouble.

Don’t lose any time getting your dog to the veterinarian. An illness or injury that induces shock could do irreparable damage or even kill your dog in a matter of minutes.

Source: Adapted from the Veterinary Information Network