Let me preface this post with stating that in no way am I a veterinary professional, but I have had a fair amount of experience in caring for dogs as well as spending exorbitant amounts of money at our family veterinary office.
When I got my first dog, Rufio, I remember the first time he had a minor limp after an exciting play session in the yard. The first thing I did was carry him and put him in the car and carried him into the nearest vet's office. I could only imagine what the vets thought of me as the overly concerned new dog mom. Now as a canine professional and the owner of 11 dogs, I've learned the difference between what warrants a trip to the vet and what can be handled with a little first aid.
In this age of a collective intelligence platform such as the internet and Facebook and all of the other social media platforms, I find it really unfortunate how many times I see someone asking for home remedies or simple first aid advice and getting dozens of responses that simply say "Go to the vet!" Many times its something as simple as a small rash, or a cut or a scrape.
The best way I can describe my opinion on the matter is to think about how you were raised as a child. Did your parent take you to the doctor every time you scraped your knee or caught a cold? Then why would you do that to your dog? Not to mention, the vet isn't generally covered by your health insurance, and pet insurance isn't cheap either.
Now I'm not saying to skimp on your pet's well-being to save a few bucks, but if you're regularly paying excessive and often unecessary vet bills, you may be missing out on opportunities to use that money in other ways to really help your dog live its best life!
So, how do you know when its serious enough to warrant a trip to the vet?
(In my personal opinion) Definitely take your dog to the vet when:
Inability to urinate or deficate.
Loss of appetite for more than 24-36 hours
Won't drink water for more than 12 hours
Broken or dislocated bones
Arterial bleeding (bright red blood)
Bleeding that won't stop even under pressure
Neurelogical symptoms/balance problems/seizures
Rash or skin issues lasting longer than a week and not responding to common remedies
Infestations (fleas, ticks, mites, etc.)
Loss of consciousness
Any symptoms that persist and continue to worsen over time
Most injuries or ailments will improve on their own, and there are many first aid steps you can take to improve recovery time. However, anytime the issue doesn't seem to be improving in a reasonable amount of time or seems to be getting worse, it is reasonable to call your local veterinary professional.
When can you treat your dog at home:
Minor injuries (cuts, scrapes, minor swelling)
Acute rash (less than a few days or a week)
Occassional coughing, snorting, or gagging
Acute limping or joint pain
Isolated instances of vomitting or diarrhea
So, now if your dog has one of these minor injuries or illnesses, how do you know how to treat it? Well, first you can always find and attend a canine first aid class. Alpha K9 Academy teaches free seminars on a regular basis. You can also read different internet resources. Try to find resources by reputable sources, and read multiple sources. If you can find multiple reputable sources that confirm the best course of treatment, that would be ideal.
On Facebook, there is actually a great resource which is a Facebook Group calls "Pet Vet Corner." You can post your pet's injury or illness and the only people who can comment and respond are veterinary professionals. They can tell you the best way to treat your pet, or if a trip to your local vet is necessary.
Best piece of advice, "When in doubt, contact your vet." Don't be afraid your pets wounds just like you would treat a child's. Clean a cut or scrape, add some ointment, and put a bandage on it. Always check if you can use human medicine on your pet before using it. Benedryl is generally safe, but most have drastically different dosing instructions or can be especially toxic.
Don't be afraid to do your own research and form your own opinions. Don't let the Facebook fear mongers pressure you into taking your dog to the vet for something you personally know is not necessary.