by Dr. Dana Koch published April 7, 2016.  Previously published by PetCoach.


There are many emergencies that may arise at home involving our pets and in those moments it is important to be fully prepared in order to act quickly and effectively.  Having the proper knowledge and skills to react in these situations will also help to alleviate much of the panic and stress pet owners often experience.  These emergent issues can involve ingestion of a toxic food or chemical, an injured body part, choking or even cardiac arrest.  Here are some of the most important first aid skills to gain knowledge of and practice effectively.

  1. In the event of an injury – Many pet owners have experienced a pet limping or vocalizing in pain after jumping off an elevated spot or running in the backyard. It is important to keep in mind even the gentlest of pets can react badly when in pain or discomfort.  If you suspect your pet has injured a body part, specifically a leg, be careful when manipulating the body on your own.  It may be in your best interest to muzzle the animal or have another person hold the animal’s mouth away from you to prevent any possible biting.  Carefully examine the injured area feeling for areas of overt pain or swelling.  Often soft tissue injuries such as muscle strains, ligaments tears or tendon/nerve damage can result in limping or acute pain.  If you suspect a fracture and your pet needs transport to the veterinary hospital you can wrap the injury carefully with gauze, cast padding or elastic wrap to keep it stabilized.  You want to wrap firmly, but not overly tight because this will restrict blood flow to that region of the body. Do not attempt if the animal is fighting you and attempting to bite because of pain.Caution should also be employed when attending to wounds.  Some of the most common wounds that result in bleeding often occur from either from an encounter with another animal or accidentally tearing of skin layer through rough play. Cleaning the wound with an antiseptic solution or even plain water can help to remove unwanted bacteria.  Use gauze or cloth to stop bleeding by applying pressure and then gently clean the wound or flush with a syringe once bleeding has stopped. In the event bleeding is moderate, hold pressure for a minimum of three minutes then check for clotting.  If bleeding is severe you can apply gauze or an elastic band tightly to the region then, gentle loosen the wrapping every 10- 15 minutes to allow for appropriate blood flow to the area.  If the wound or laceration is deep do not attempt to clean out or manipulate the tissue into the body cavity in case there are sensitive blood vessels that could be easily disrupted.  Instead clean around the edge of the wound and wrap the area prior to transport to the veterinary hospital.  Antiseptic solutions can be purchased at a veterinary office or at a local pharmacy and should contain either povidone iodine or chlorhexidine diacetate as the active ingredient.  Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on the wounds, as these two products will actually damage the tissue.  Fractured nails are another common injury that can result in bleeding because of the vessel that runs through the nail.  To stop the bleeding you can use styptic powder or a styptic pencil, corn starch, baking flour or even a clean bar of soap. Other important clinical signs to carefully take note of would be bleeding from the nose, mouth or rectum, which could indicate internal bleeding.  This requires immediate medical attention.
  1. Ingestion of harmful foods, chemicals or plants –Dogs and cats are often know for ingesting inappropriate items that can cause serious illness. Several of these items include toxic foods, such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, and chewing gum (containing xylitol).  Other concerning household items that can cause harmful or even life-threatening effects include prescription medications, rat poison, paint thinner or even bleach.  In houses with small children certain toys, game pieces or clothing (eg. socks, scarves, hats, string) are frequently ingested.   In the event that your pet has consumed a potential harmful food or chemical immediately consult with your veterinary or the animal poison control hotline.  You may be instructed to induce vomiting with hydrogen peroxide. Important information you may want to have on hand prior to making your phone call includes the species (dog/cat), breed (golden retriever, collie, etc), age, sex, weight, symptoms the animal is experiencing and the name or description of the substance ingested.  Additionally, having a timeline of when the toxin was ingested is extremely helpful in pursuing treatment options. If your animal has ingested a foreign body (eg. toy or clothing) then you will want to schedule a veterinary visit.  This object may need to be removed through the use of an endoscope or through surgical intervention.  Your veterinarian can help to identify an obstruction by using x-rays and ultrasound.
  1. Choking –Choking is another medical emergency that is commonly reported at home due to the curious nature of many dogs and cats. It is not uncommon for a pet to have signs of choking secondary to bones, sticks, balls, toys, large piece of food, wood, etc. If these objects are simply stuck in the mouth but not occluding the airway then a pet owner may be able to remove the object safely avoiding further injury to their pets or themselves (be aware of sharp teeth!).  Common signs of choking include difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at the mouth, coughing or gagging sounds, and discoloration of the lips or tongue (often blue).  Ensure that these are the signs of choking and not of other medical conditions such as vomiting.  Also rule out other causes of choking that are not related to inappropriate ingestion, such as serve allergic reactions, constriction of the airway secondary to tight collars, neck injuries or tracheal collapse.  The proper technique for removing an object from the mouth or entrance of the trachea is to use one hand to open the upper jaw and one on the lower jaw either behind the sharp canine teeth or by guiding the lips over top of the tooth.  Carefully reach in to remove the object if visible avoiding any teeth or use a spoon/tweezers to dislodge the object from the mouth. Be careful not to force the object further down the throat. If are unable to see the object, dislodge it with your hand or spoon then you may need to perform the Heimlich maneuver.  Place your arms around your pet’s stomach and join your hands together.  Make a fist with one hand and place the other hand securely around the other.  Your hands should be in the area just behind the rib cage.  Exert pressure inward and upward to create enough pressure to dislodge the foreign object.  Another technique to use the palm or your hand to strike the region of space in-between the shoulder blades 3-4 times in order to push air out of the lungs and help dislodge the unwanted object.  If you are successful in alleviating your pet’s choking it would still be recommended to schedule a veterinary visit to evaluate for any damage in the body, specifically the mouth, throat or lungs.
  1. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)- CPR is used when an animal is not breathing and the heart has stopped beating. Evaluating your pet for evidence of cardiac arrest involves such clinical signs such as pale gums, absent pulses, lack of arousal and unconsciousness.  One of the best pulses to feel for is the femoral pulse, which lies on the inside of your dog or cat’s thighs, extending from the hip down to the knee.  It is recommended to feel for this pulse and check the normal color of your pet’s gums on a day when they are healthy so you can know what is normal for him or her prior to an emergent situation.  CPR can help to preserve brain function until adequate blood circulation and breathing can be restored.For most dogs, perform chest compressions over the widest portion of the chest to maximally employ the thoracic pump theory. This theory means that chest compressions increase overall intrathoracic pressure providing a pressure gradient that favors blood from the periphery back into the thorax where it can get oxygenated.  Place the dog on its right or left side on a firm surface that is below you.  The heart is generally located in the part of the chest behind the elbow.  Move the elbow up to the chest wall to give you a target and place your hands, one on top of the other in this location.  Lock your elbows to give you maximum force and stamina for compressions. For barrel-chested dogs like English Bulldogs, it is recommended to lay the dog on their back and perform compressions directly over the heart.  In small dogs or cats weighing less than approximately 22 lbs (10 kg) the use of a 1-handed technique can be employed.  You would wrap one hand around the entire chest and compress down onto the heart.   The two handed technique can also be used in these small animals if more pressure is needed to exert on the heart.-Recommended compression rates are 100–120/min in cats and dogs.
    -New evidence suggests that higher compression rates of up to 150/min may be even more advantageous.
    -Deep chest compressions of 1/3–1/2 the width of the thorax in most patients is best technique. Allow for full chest wall recoil between compressions.
    -Change compressors every 2 minutes because you will fatigue quickly.
    -A ventilation rate of 10 breaths/min with a short inspiratory time of 1 second is recommended.  In order to properly administer breaths hold the pet’s mouth with one hand and place your mouth around the pet’s nares (nose) and mouth creating a full seal.   This is often referred to as mouth to snout technique.   Blow into the nares and observe for a rise in the chest wall.
    -A series of 30 chest compressions at a rate of 120-150/min is performed followed by a brief interruption of compressions during which 2 breaths are delivered quickly (1 sec breaths).
    -2 minute uninterrupted basic life support cycles results in better survival and neurologic outcomes.

    When performing CPR continue until you are able to hear a heartbeat and your pet has begun to breathe again, or you have arrived at a veterinary hospital where experts can take over life saving techniques.  Unfortunately, the likelihood of survival following CPR is low with research showing that less than 6 percent of dogs and cats that experience cardiopulmonary arrest in the hospital survive to discharge.  Having this knowledge and practicing pet CPR either on your own or through an organized pet CPR course will give your pet the best chance of survival.

  1. First Aid Kit– Purchasing a pre-made first aid kit for pets or obtaining products to make our own kit is a wonderful idea for a responsible pet owners. Here are some recommended items to include in your kit:
    1. Emergency veterinary clinic phone number.
    2. Animal Poison Control Center: 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435) or Pet Poison Hotline: 855-764-7661
    3. Hydrogen peroxide – to help induce vomiting is recommended by your veterinarian or a poison control representative
    4. Gauze, splint, and cast padding – this will be helping for wrapping wounds or helping to stabilize a fractured or injured limb.
    5. Towels, clean cloth or white tape, vetwrap (bandage that sticks to itself but not to skin)– additional materials to help with bleeding, wrapping wounds or protecting certain body injuries
    6. Digital thermometer – to evaluate for any elevation or drop in temperature that could be life-threatening (eg. in heat stroke or hypothermia). The thermometer should be taken rectally to ensure accuracy.
    7. Leash or muzzle – this will be useful if the pet is painful and you are attempting to protect yourself from harm or if the animal is wandering in unsafe conditions and needs to be leashed for transport.
    8. Stretcher – this can be made of cloth material, a blanket, floor mat or even a door if no other materials are available. A stretcher can be utilized for transporting an injured pet and to prevent further damage to any fractured bones.
    9. Syringe or dropper (even small turkey baster) – this would come in handy for administration of certain medications, hydrogen peroxide to help induce vomiting, or even for flushing wounds.
    10. Wound cleanser –It would be recommended to have an anti-septic cleaner (chlorhexidine based) to clean out the wound. Avoid overuse of hydrogen peroxide or alcohol on wounds because this can be corrosive to the sensitive tissue.
    11. Anti-histamines – In the event of a vaccine reaction or allergy flare-ups anti-histamines are a good addition to any emergency kit. Discuss with your veterinarian an appropriate dosage based on your dog’s weight and consider having antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Zyrtec on hand at home.
    12. Ice pack – to utilize for swelling following injuries or to cool down an overheated animal.
    13. Non-latex disposable gloves – To protect yourself from bodily fluids, including vomit, diarrhea or blood.
    14. Petroleum jelly -to lubricate the thermometer
    15. Styptic powder or pencil – to stop bleeding from broken toenails.
    16. Bandage scissors and nail clippers – to trim bandage materials and toenails.
  2. Triple antibiotic ointment – for minor scratches or superficial skin wounds.

Being prepared and having the appropriate first aid knowledge can help to save your pet in times of need.  First aid care at home does not replace consulting with your veterinarian but learning how to respond to health emergencies can allow you as a pet parent to be more calm and effective in unexpected situations while preventing your animal further injury or harm.   The American Red Cross offers a free first aid application for your mobile devices that can help you guide your through emergencies.  Information in regards to this application can be found here:



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