I was newly-fledged, fresh out of school, working in the first month of my very first job as a veterinarian. The receptionist handed the patient's chart to me, and she did not look happy.
"Is that - ?"
" - blood. Yes," she said as I took in the full effect.
Her face, arms, hair and smock were spattered with tiny speckles of blood.
"Good luck," she said, as she turned on her heel and left me standing with the blood-flecked patient record in my hands.
I read the presenting complaint: bleeding tail.
Despite the warning signs, I was unprepared for what greeted me behind door No. 1.
In the examination room was the happiest dalmatian I had met, wagging its tail furiously in excitement and pure, goofy joy.
There were tiny specks of blood evenly covering the dog.
The owner, sitting in a chair across the room with a blank expression on his face, also was a red-flecked mess.
The room was ... something. I did not think it possible to create blood spatter in such a thorough way in such a short time - walls, table, floor and ceiling were all covered with a fine, spotted spray.
It was gruesome and ridiculous all at the same time. I'd like to hear what crime scene investigators would postulate about the scenario.
Why nobody thought to attempt even a temporary bandage on the tail before I did is beyond me, but I swear, it's a true story.
And it turned out, the wound on the tail was tiny - just a couple of millimeters, and just oozing blood, but every time the dog wagged its tail, it would smack the end against objects and people and anything else in its path, and re-open any clot that was trying to form.
It is a common problem with dalmatians and overly-optimistic dogs everywhere, especially those with long, whip-like tails.
This was my first, but by no means my only experience with a madly-wagging bleeding tail.
My husband, also a veterinarian, attests that he has had similar experiences, which leads me to my next order of business.
How to administer first aid
to a bleeding tail
1.STAY CALM. Exude calm. Practice Zen meditation, take deep, cleansing breaths, chant "ohmmmm," or whatever it takes to steady yourself and attempt to project this to the dog.
This has some very beneficial effects. It lowers blood pressure, helping to decrease the bleeding.
But more importantly, it slows the tail wagging.
2.EMPLOY THE BRUTE SQUAD. Call for help - someone heavier (or at least stronger) than the dog, preferably someone who can body check and pin the dog down to the floor (or for small dogs, a table or counter) in whatever position is most comfortable.
Capture the tail tip and hold direct pressure on the bleeding area using something clean and absorbent.
Depending on the severity of the wound, this may take upwards from five minutes. BE PATIENT.
3.GENTLY CLEAN THE WOUND using hydrogen peroxide applied undiluted to the wound or use mild soap and water.
DO NOT use alcohol to clean a wound! Alcohol STINGS LIKE CRAZY, and will dissolve a clot that has been trying to form, starting the bleeding, perhaps worse than before.
Also, applying alcohol to an animal's wound may cause YOU to acquire lots of fresh wounds - from the dog trying to kill you. If cleaning the wound is simply not possible, skip this step.
4.APPLY A TEMPORARY BANDAGE. Use a Band-Aid or other non-stick pad over the wound, then wrap a layer of absorbent padding around the tail wound.
Use tape applied in a spiral pattern beginning from the farthest end to wrap the bandage and to secure it in place, making sure some of the tape is applied directly to the fur on the tail above your padding (otherwise any wagging will cause the bandage to slide off).
Medical adhesive gauze tape works best, but I have seen masking tape, electrical tape and even duct tape bandages that got the job done. PLEASE use caution with duct tape - it is VERY sticky and hurts coming off.
5.HAVE THE INJURED TAIL EXAMINED BY A VETERINARIAN AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. These injuries most often require antibiotics, pain and anti-inflammatory medications, and a really good, secure, sterile bandage.
But be prepared - some of the patients are repeat offenders, and even tiny tail-tip injuries in dogs may require some kind of surgical intervention to heal completely.
Please note: this is not a "set it and forget it" situation -?just because a homemade bandage holds and looks OK, and of course, stops the bleeding, it, by design, is creating pressure on the wound, and decreasing blood flow.
An unchecked bandage can be worse than none at all, as it can seal in organisms that can cause the wound to fester and develop gangrene - threatening the animal's life.
Sounds dramatic, but for good reason; I've seen some neglected bandages and sad cases in my day, and would rather not see another.
While cats aren't known for being enthusiastic tail-waggers, they are not immune to tail injuries.
Being quiet and stealthy, favoring unusual sleeping spots, often being underfoot and having particularly long tails makes them vulnerable to all sorts of dangerous traumatic events.
A cat in a room with only one rocking chair still has great odds of having an appendage (or worse) squashed - I speak from clinical experience.
Most of the tail injuries I have seen on cats involve broken bones, and usually are VERY painful.
This generally translates into: good luck attempting any first aid at home without requiring some for yourself, too.
Fortunately, most of these injuries don't require much in the way of first aid, as the wounds are often small and don't bleed much compared to tail injuries in dogs.
More often than not, we find that cats with painful or limp tails (either unable or unwilling to move them) have no witnesses to the injury, and we can only speculate the cause.
Cats tend to be very tight-lipped in the exam room.
Our cat, Wyatt, once broke his tail somehow in our home, and he has yet to tell me how it happened. Based on my investigations at the time, it's likely that his excess weight and un-cat-like clumsiness played a large role in how things went down that day. Years later, he's still not talking.
I leave you with the Veterinary Riddle of the Day: What's black and white and red all over? A very happy dalmatian with a bleeding tail.
But, thankfully, changing THOSE spots only requires a little water, shampoo and elbow grease. Oh - and a decent bandage.
Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.