Pet First-Aid Course

Last weekend, Dusty and I attended a pet first-aid course hosted by TAGS and taught by veterinarian Tanya Varley from Morningside Pet Hospital. About 18 pet-loving people and 14 tail-wagging dogs attended the all-day event at the Quality Suites at Bloor and Grandview.

Settling in for the day

Through the course of the day, we learned and practised such important skills as taking a pet’s vital signs (heart rate, respiration rate, temperature), bandaging a wound and performing CPR. Did you know that a dog’s normal body temperature is a little higher than a human’s and a temperature below 37°C or above 39°C is potential cause for concern? A temperature that’s too high or too low needs to be regulated slowly so that the organs, not just the outer body, can acclimatize. A hypo- or hyperthermic dog should immediately be removed from an environment that is too hot or too cold, and drastic measures (e.g., giving an overheated dog ice cubes) should be avoided.

Merlin’s mom checking his gums (gums tell us a lot!).

While the discussion of vital signs was relatively tame, some of the scenarios Dr. Varley presented us with, such as prolapsed eyeballs (not uncommon in pugs, Boston terriers and bulldogs) and impalements, were difficult for the faint of heart, like me, to hear about and see pictures of. But we students all shared a common goal: wanting to do everything in our power to care for and potentially save the lives of our pets in an emergency. And that was enough to quell the squeamishness—well, for the most part.

Dusty looking for sympathy after I bandaged his leg.




Many important topics were addressed: preventing and treating bloat, managing allergic reactions, inducing vomiting (and when not to), recognizing and dealing with seizures, and—so important for every pet parent to know—determining which symptoms can be dealt with at home and which require an emergency trip to the vet.

Poor Oscar Peterson has sore front paws for real (hence the cone).


The learning experience was great, but spending time with fellow dog people and their dogs is always a major highlight of TAGS events. Most of the dogs greeted each other and their human counterparts with enthusiastic tails. Occasional barking sounded throughout the conference room, but for the most part, the dogs were all well behaved, allowing the course to run relatively smoothly. Many of the dogs, including Dusty, my youngster, needed frequent breaks,  not so much because they had “business” to do but because they were excited and energetic. By 2:45, though, dog after dog lay flaked out on the fur-filled rug, and then around 4:10, all of a sudden, six or so woke with a start and barked up a storm, probably in response to a noise only canine ears could detect. They were easily calmed (Dusty miraculously wasn’t one of the barkers!), and class resumed.

Letting sleeping dogs lie.

That quiet hour and a half before the choral yapping was likely our best opportunity for learning, but it’s also when many of us, I suspect, felt tugs of distraction. There’s just something about a roomful of sleeping dogs that rouses a sense of wonder and love that can sidetrack even the most attentive of us.

Fortunately, Dr. Varley provided one enlightening bit of information after another, so refocusing on the task at hand was relatively easy. By the end of the day, we attendees walked away with the invaluable feeling of being better equipped to protect our four-legged loved ones when they need us most.

If you’re a dog owner and haven’t yet taken a pet first-aid course, I strongly recommend taking one. Not only can it potentially save you money in vet bills; it just might help you save your pet’s life.


One Response to Pet First-Aid Course

  • Heather TAGS says:

    It was a very informative (& entertaining) day.
    It was definitely worth it. Lunch was good, too.
    Cheers & woof
    Heather & Oscar

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