First Aid For Pets

Posted on: 30 April 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

We may be responsible pet owners, but how many of us would actually know what to do in the case of an animal emergency?

Well, put aside the panic and the fear because with a little common sense and a desire to be prepared for such an eventuality, anyone can make the right moves to help save the life of a beloved pet.

Be Prepared

Make sure you know the telephone number and location of your nearest 24/7 emergency vet. 

Add it to your contact list in your mobile, just in case.

Exercise Caution

Even your own animal may bite or scratch you after the shock and pain of an injury like a road traffic accident.  Where necessary use a strip of cloth, a belt or a cord as a makeshift muzzle. 

Sometimes a blanket or a towel can be used to scoop up a cat or a small dog, covering their head to prevent them from biting.  Be sure to contact your doctor if you are bitten.


If an animal cannot walk, a blanket pulled taut at the corners, a board or other flat, firm object can be used to transport the animal to a car.  Go slowly and let the pet assume the position they find most comfortable.


Apply direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth.  Where possible avoid the use of a tourniquet.


If the burn was caused by flames or hot oil, apply ice or a cold compress and phone the vet.  If the burn was caused by an acid or alkali, flush with lots of water and call the vet. If the burn was caused by electricity, you must turn off the current or unplug the cord first. 

Again, call your vet.  If the animal is unconscious, there is no heartbeat and no signs of breathing, begin artificial resuscitation.


Signs that an animal has something caught in its throat include head shaking, excessive drooling, gagging and pawing at their mouth.  Open the pet’s mouth or have someone else help you to do so as you locate the object and remove it. 

If the animal is struggling to breathe, perform a modified version of a Heimlich maneuver.  With the pet facing away from you, hold the animal with both hands clasped together and beneath the rib cage.  Apply sharp inward and upward pressure as many times as necessary and then open the mouth to retrieve the dislodged object. 

If the object is a string, do not pull on it (the same holds true if the string is protruding from the anus).  Go visit your vet as soon as possible.


Prevention is always the best medicine so avoid poisonous house plants around cats and keep bleach, disinfectants and antifreeze out of harms way.  Signs of possible poisoning include vomiting, twitching, excessive drooling, convulsions and collapse. 

If you suspect something harmful has been ingested don’t wait for these signs to develop, call your vet immediately.


Overweight animals, those with a heart condition and short-faced breeds like Bulldogs are most susceptible to overheating in hot weather.  Then again, any animal left alone in a hot car for too long is at risk of heatstroke. 

Signs of heatstroke include rapid, loud panting, staggering, collapse and unconsciousness.  Place the pet in a cool area or if possible, hose the animal down with cold water or apply ice packs to the head and neck.  Once you have started the cooling process, get to your vet.


If your pet is not moving when pulled from the water, make sure there is nothing obstructing the nostrils or the mouth and hold upside down by the back legs, gently supporting the head, neck and spine to allow water to drain from the lungs.  I

f the animal fails to start breathing, begin artificial resuscitation.


Clear the mouth of mucus and pull the tongue forward.  Place your mouth over the animal’s nostrils and mouth and blow out a steady, gentle stream of air for three seconds.  Wait for three seconds and repeat, all the while monitoring for a return of normal breathing. 

The heart is located below the rib cage just behind the point of the elbow.  In the absence of a pulse or heartbeat, press down firmly in this location, one compression every second.  Alternate this cardiac massage with artificial respirations – one breath for every six compressions.

It can be helpful to have a First Aid Kit assembled and specific to your pet.  Here are a few items for starters.

  • Card with emergency vet phone number and address, just in case you forget.
  • basic bandage materials with non-adherent sterile dressings for wounds.
  • Latex gloves
  • Heavy towel or blanket
  • A muzzle that you know fits your pet.
  • Rectal thermometer
  • Over-the-counter antibiotic ointment
  • Sterile saline eye wash
  • Diphenhydramine (I believe this is Dimedrol in the UK), for use in allergic reactions, appropriate dosage approved by your vet.
  • Tweezers to remove splinters or burrs.
  • Expired credit card to scrape out stingers from bees or wasps.

By remaining calm and being ready to act in an animal emergency, there’s a good chance you will be the one making the difference between life and death.

By Dr Nick Trout, author of Tell Me Where It Hurts

Tell Me Where it Hurts – a Day of Humour, Healing and Hope in my Life as a Vet by Dr Nick Trout (Sphere, £7.99).

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