First Aid Tips for Pets

Our animal companions may be smart, but they can still get hurt or gain access to items that might hurt them.

As a pet owner, you should know some basic first aid tips to take if your pet is injured or ill. Since April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to brush up on your pet care tips.

The Red Cross has a Pet First Aid App that includes step-by-step instructions for first aid emergencies, pet profile details, tips for when to call a vet, animal hospital locator and information on including pets in emergency preparedness plans.

WHN TIP – Call the Expert: Always call your vet before administering any medication or treatment. Never give your pet “human meds” unless specifically instructed.

What to Look for

What are some signs that your pet may be in distress or need medical treatment? The ASPCA and the Red Cross list the following:

  • Pale gums
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Change in body temperature
  • Difficulty standing
  • Apparent paralysis
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Dehydration (When you pull up on the skin between the shoulder blades, it should spring right back; if it stays tented, it’s a sign of dehydration.)
  • Heat stroke or heat exhaustion (collapse, body temperature of 104 degrees F or above; bloody diarrhea or vomiting, wobbliness, excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, very red mucous membranes and increased salivation)

While most medical emergencies will require professional treatment, here are some steps you can take to stabilize your animal:

  • External bleeding: elevate the area and apply pressure to the wound
  • Choking: try to remove the object with your fingers or perform a modified Heimlich maneuver by giving a sharp rap to his chest, which should dislodge it.
  • Not breathing: turn pet on his side, extend his head and neck, hold jaws closed and blow into his nostrils once every three seconds.
  • No heartbeat: do cardiac massage while administering artificial respiration—three quick, firm chest compressions for every respiration—until your pet resumes breathing on his own.

(Watch pet first aid instructor Melanie Monteiro demonstrate how to perform CPR.)

If you suspect the pet has ingested poison, call your vet or ASPCA Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for instructions. Signs include bleeding externally or internally, dilated pupils, drooling or foaming at the mouth, seizures or other abnormal mental state or behavior. Do not administer any medication without instructions.

If your pet has been bitten by another animal, always seek vet attention. Even a minor bite can become infected and the pet should also be checked for any internal injuries. Never break up a dogfight yourself because you could be bitten.

What to Have

The Humane Society of the United States recommends having the following items on hand in case of pet emergencies:

  • Pet first-aid book specific for the type of animal
  • Phone numbers for your vet, the nearest emergency-veterinary clinic (along with directions!) and a poison-control center or hotline (The ASPCA Poison Control Center number is 888-426-4435.)
  • Copy of your pet’s medical records and rabies vaccination status and a current photo
  • Leash or carrier in case you need to transport your part
  • Self-cling bandage that won’t stick to hair or skin
  • Muzzle or strips of cloth to prevent biting (NOTE: don’t use this if your pet is vomiting, choking, coughing or otherwise having difficulty breathing)
  • Basic first aid supplies:
    • Absorbent gauze pads and rolls and adhesive tape
    • Antiseptic wipes, lotion, powder or spray
    • Blanket (a foil emergency blanket)
    • Cotton balls or swabs
    • Ice pack
    • Non-latex disposable gloves
    • Petroleum jelly (to lubricate the thermometer)
    • Rectal thermometer (your pet’s temperature should not rise above 103°F or fall below 100°F)
    • Scissors (with blunt ends) and tweezers
    • Sterile saline solution

Medication (Use only when directed by the veterinarian or a poison-control expert)

  • Hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), if approved by a veterinarian for allergic reactions. A veterinarian must tell you the correct dosage for your pet’s size.
  • Ear-cleaning solution
  • Glucose paste or corn syrup (for diabetic dogs or those with low blood sugar)
  • Non-prescription antibiotic ointment

The ASPCA has a downloadable list here. Watch this ASPCA video on creating a Pet Poison Prevention Kit here.