KINGMAN - An ounce of prevention ... can sometimes save a trip to the vet, and no dog likes seeing the vet. But sometimes making it to the vet can be a difficult, especially when you live in a prison.
The inmates at Arizona State Prison-Kingman got a quick lesson in emergency first aid care for their four-legged friends Wednesday from Veterinarian Erika Cartwright from Kingman Animal Hospital.
Cartwright taught the inmates the best places to find a pulse on a dog, which includes resting a hand against the dog's chest or using the femoral artery inside the dog's back leg or a smaller vessel in the dog's ankle or wrist.
She also gave tips on what to look for in a dog that is overheating or dehydrated. A dog's normal temperature ranges between 100 and 102 degrees. Anything over 104 degrees is too hot, she said.
The best way to cool down a dog that is suffering from heat stroke is to soak them with lots of cool water and lay a soaking wet towel over the top of them, she said. Be careful, because when a dog is suffering from heat stroke, it does not have the ability to control its body temperature. Too much cool water for too long can result in the dog becoming too cool, too quickly, she said. This results in a vet treating the dog for hypothermia instead of for heat stroke.
The best way to determine if an overheated dog has cooled down enough is to take their temperature or watch their breathing, she said. If their breathing has slowed to an almost normal rate, then remove the wet towel and let them cool the rest of the way down on their own. Or stop cooling the dog once its temperature reaches 104 degrees, Cartwright said.
It's not uncommon for a dog to have bloody stool for the next few days after suffering from heat stroke, she said.
Keeping a dog well hydrated is one way of preventing heat stroke, she said. One way to determine if a dog is well hydrated is to check their eyes for a slightly glassy look. If the dog's eyes look cloudy or slightly sticky, then the dog may be dehydrated.
Another thing to try is to pinch the dog's skin, she said. The skin should snap back to its original shape. If it doesn't, the dog may be dehydrated.
Pet owners can also check the capillary action in the dog's gums to see if they are dehydrated, Cartwright said. Press a finger against the dog's gum, or any other area where you can see pink skin, and see how long it takes to turn the skin or gum from white back to pink. If it takes a long time to change back to pink, the dog may be dehydrated, she told the inmates.
Checking a dog's capillary action is also a good way to see if the dog has adequate blood circulation, Cartwright explained - which is good to know if you have to do CPR on a dog.
She warned the inmates that even if a person does CPR correctly on a dog, the animal might still die.
"The majority of the time you don't get a pet back," she said. Even vets don't always get an animal back by using CPR.
The first thing to do is check to see if a dog's breathing, she said. If you can't tell, try pulling a few hairs out of the dog's coat and putting them in front of the dog's nose and watch to see if they move.
Cartwright taught the inmates how to give mouth to snout to a dog in order to attempt to get the dog breathing again.
One reason a dog may have stopped breathing is because they've chewed on or eaten something they shouldn't have, she said. If the dog will let you, open their mouth and check to see if anything's lodged in the back of the throat. Try to sweep the item out with your finger, but be careful not to get bitten, she said.
If the dog is choking and you can't get the item out, move behind the dog and pick its back feet up off the ground, she said. Ball your hands into a fist, one over the top of the other behind the dog's ribcage, and push inward and up.
With smaller dogs, you may be able to pick them up and shake the object out of their mouth, she said.
Pet owners may also have to check to see if a dog's heart is beating, she said. She reminded the inmates of the best places to find a pulse on a dog and showed them how to do chest compressions on different sized dogs.
"Just like doing CPR on a human, doing CPR on a dog by yourself can be very exhausting," she said. And, it can be almost impossible to do by yourself on dogs over 90 pounds.
A balanced diet is also important to a dog's health, Cartwright said. Overweight dogs live an average of two years less than dogs that are at their ideal weight, and often have back, hip and other medical problems.
A vet should be able to run their hands over the sides of a dog and feel the animal's ribcage, she said.
"If I've got to poke my fingers into your dog's side in order to feel his ribs, he's too fat," she said.
Dogs should also have a well-defined cut toward their waist, Cartwright said.
"If he looks like a long tube, he's too fat," she said.
The best way to slim down a dog is to cut back their source of food by about 25 percent and increase their exercise, she said.
"I make my dogs work for their food," Cartwright said. Her dogs have to go through a routine of sits, stays, down and other tricks before they can get their food.
Another good way to keep a dog at a healthy weight is to avoid giving them people food, she said.
"People food has too much fat for us and way too much fat for a dog," she said. Cartwright tries to avoid giving any people food to her dogs.
Some people foods are OK to give, if you must give your dogs people food. Vegetables, she said are always good. Most dogs love baby carrots, because they're sweet and crunchy.
Boiled chicken and other boiled meats are good occasional treats, she said. Most of the fat is cooked away when you boil meats.
Avoid giving your dog raisins or grapes, she said. Some dogs have severe reactions to them, and it's hard to tell what kind of reaction a dog will have until it's having it.
Also avoid giving a dog chocolate, especially very dark chocolate or anything with caffeine in it, Cartwright said. The caffeine can cause a reaction and kill a dog.
The inmates had a variety of questions for Cartwright, everything from the amount of exercise a dog should get to torn pads and broken nails.
The training for this class of dogs is nearly at an end. The dogs will graduate from the program on Wednesday and an open house for residents interested in adopting a dog from the program is set for July 29.
If you are interested in seeing the dogs, call the prison at (928) 565-2460 and ask for the Friends from the Pen program. Residents should call as early in the week as possible because the prison needs to run background checks on anyone who visits the program.