Dogs and cats aren't all that different from humans.
Both get into accidents. Both sometimes eat things they shouldn't. When they become sick or injured, both can be really cranky.
The only real difference: A human probably won't try to bite or claw you when you try to administer first aid.
But whether the patient in question is two-legged or four-legged, a knowledge of basic first aid can come in handy whenever an accident or illness strikes.
We asked a few Southern Nevada veterinarians about some of the most common medical emergencies they see and what pet owners can do about them.
Note that their advice involves the maladies of dogs and cats, although a few of the general first aid principles they offer will translate well to other creatures.
Note, too, that their advice is, by necessity, general. That, says Dr. Cris Fontes of Sunridge Animal Hospital, 10850 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson, is because it's hard to give solid medical advice without seeing the animal and knowing exactly what's going on.
First: Stay safe
You won't believe it, but it's true: Your cute, mild-mannered, sweetie can turn into a snarling, biting, clawing demon when it's in pain.
That means "the first order of business is to stay safe," says Dr. Scott Bradley of The Ark Animal Clinic, 1651 N. Rancho Drive. "It doesn't do any good if you're taking in your pet in an emergency if you've got to go to the emergency room first."
Bradley suggests wrapping a large quilt or blanket around an injured animal before picking it up. That not only will put something between you and the animal's claws and teeth, but will offer the animal support and stabilization during transport.
Dr. James O'Dea, medical director of the Animal Emergency Center of Las Vegas, 3340 E. Patrick Lane, says a blanket or shirt draped over the animal's head -- make sure it still can breathe -- will make it harder for the animal to know where to strike.
If your dog has a muzzle, now's a good time to use it. If you don't, "that's probably the best application of a necktie," Bradley says. "Just take a few turns around the (dog's) muzzle and tie it so they don't bite, because that's the natural response in pets.
"I've seen some pretty nasty facial and hand wounds (in pet owners). They try to help, but they didn't approach with caution."
Vomiting and diarrhea
O'Dea says vomiting and diarrhea are "the most common things we see" at the Animal Emergency Center.
"The most common cause is usually some dietary change or dietary indiscretion," O'Dea says.
Try pulling the pet's food for several hours to give its stomach time to rest. Then, if the animal seems to improve, you can try a little water, O'Dea says.
If the animal can keep water down after several hours, "it could be a transient upset stomach," he says.
But generally, O'Dea says, "the best first aid is just letting the stomach rest until you can get to a veterinarian."
Cars and broken bones
"We see a lot (of dogs) hit by cars, and the best thing is to get it in as soon as possible," O'Dea says.
Try to keep the animal calm and try to immobilize and stabilize the injured limb as much as possible. If a fractured limb is dangling, try to gently put cardboard, a book or a newspaper under it to prevent additional tissue damage, O'Dea says.
Apply a splint if you know how to. But, Bradley says, it's very difficult to apply those without having the proper equipment.
In fact, an incorrectly applied splint even can cause more damage, Bradley says.
But if it's any consolation, he adds that animals are pretty adept at protecting themselves if they can.
Also be aware that a limb can be broken even if it doesn't look like it is. A significant trauma such as a run-in with a car also can cause significant internal injuries that may not be immediately apparent, so a visit to the veterinarian's office or emergency veterinary clinic always is the best course of action.
Immobilizing the animal is particularly important if a back injury is suspected. Bradley suggests gently easing the animal on to a thick towel or blanket, and then using that as a stretcher to transport the animal to the veterinarian's office.
Dogs and cats sometimes eat toxic things. When they do, Bradley says, "you really need to get in touch with your doctor immediately."
In some cases, a veterinarian will want to induce vomiting. In some cases, activated charcoal will be administered. The tricky thing is that the potential effects will vary not only on the basis of what the animal has eaten but on the pet's weight.
"The first thing," Bradley says, "is just to pick up the phone and explain the details and get some guidance as to what steps you need to take."
Dogs and cats -- but, let's be honest, mostly dogs -- also sometimes eat objects that they shouldn't. Again, the potential harm will vary with the object and the size of the animal.
"Dogs eat clothing, toys, plastic and just about anything else that's not digestible," Fontes says. "Then, you don't necessarily want to make them vomit because it can do more harm coming out, and often they do require surgery."
The same rule of thumb holds true with foods pets shouldn't be eating. Eating a forbidden food -- chocolate, in the case of dogs, for example -- often will affect different animals in different ways.
"Some dogs do OK," O'Dea says, while others have to be "treated aggressively."
Again, call your veterinarian for guidance.
By the way: Never give pets human medicines without a veterinarian's guidance. Some -- including Tylenol -- are toxic to animals.
Dogs' curiosity can put them face to face with rattlesnakes, particularly as the weather warms up and the reptiles become more active.
O'Dea says 80 percent of the snakebitten dogs he has seen are bitten on their nose, thanks to dogs' tendency to explore the world snout-first. That, however, creates a potential of the snake's venom causing enough swelling to inhibit the dog's breathing.
Unfortunately, when it comes to snakebite, "there's no first aid," O'Dea says, but, rather, just getting the animal to the veterinarian's office as quickly as possible.
"The only treatment for rattlesnake bite is antivenin, and not every facility has it," O'Dea says. "So call whatever facility you're going to go to and ask if they have it."
If dog and owner are going to spend time in the desert or other places where a run-in with a rattlesnake is possible, "the best thing you can do is get a rattlesnake vaccine onboard ahead of time," Bradley says.
The vaccine -- which is popular among owners of hunting dogs -- won't completely counteract the effects of a bite and won't negate the need for antivenin treatment. But, Bradley says, it may make the effects of an envenomed bite less severe.
In addition, Fontes says, dog owners might wish to look into a rattlesnake avoidance course for their dogs.
Cuts and open wounds
For a bleeding wound, apply direct pressure until the bleeding stops. Then, O'Dea says, apply a bandage and go to the veterinarian's office.
For less serious injuries, Fontes says the general treatment for cuts and open wounds is "rinsing them off with just running tap water."
Don't apply alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or other things that might cause tissue damage. Feel free to apply a dab of Neosporin or other antibacterial cream, although a cut or wound that goes through the skin probably will require antibiotics.
"The time difference between (a cut or wound) being contaminated and being infected is about five hours," Bradley says. "If you wait until it's four or five hours old, it's probably going to require an anesthetic and surgical cleaning of the wound and then sutures or staples on top of that. It's going to be more challenging. So getting quick care makes a huge difference."
"That's a huge problem, because dogs don't sweat the same way we do," Fontes says.
Dogs pant to control their body temperature, "but panting in 100-degree air is not an efficient way to cool off."
Owners should take care to not allow their dogs to become overheated. Symptoms of heat stroke include rapid or difficulty breathing, vomiting, high body temperature or collapse.
If symptoms occur, get the animal to a cool place, place it in a tepid -- not cold -- water bath and call the veterinarian, because intravenous fluids may have to be administered.
"Overheating can be life-threatening even a day later," Fontes adds.
If a pet is having a seizure, move it away from anything that might harm it. Don't try to stop the seizure, and "you don't have to worry about putting anything in its mouth," O'Dea says.
A seizure can last from about 30 seconds to two to three minutes. When it ends, wrap the animal in a blanket and take the pet to the nearest emergency veterinary facility, O'Dea says.
Urinary tract blockages
"One thing we see on a regular basis is (cats) having a blockage in their urinary tract," Bradley says.
The cat can't urinate and often is in noticeable discomfort with a tight and tender belly, Bradley says. First aid comes down to getting the animal to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
"That is an emergency and needs to get handled immediately," Bradley says.
A final suggestion ...
O'Dea recommends that pet owners keep handy not only the name, phone number and address of their own veterinarian, but also the name, address and phone number of the nearest emergency veterinary clinic.
Southern Nevada has several clinics that are open evenings, nights and weekends when most veterinary offices are closed, he says, but Internet search engines may not direct you to the closest one.
Because time is critical in a medical emergency, O'Dea even recommends that pet owners do a drive-by when they can, to find out where the clinic is and their fastest route to it.
Contact reporter John Przybys at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0280.