Everything You Need to Know About Pet First Aid

April is Pet First Aid Month, and it’s crucial to be prepared for emergencies. When it comes to your furry friend’s well-being, every second counts. In this guide, we’ll cover the essentials of pet first aid. If you have any questions or need further assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Katten TrimSalon.

First Aid Kit

It’s important to have a well-stocked first aid kit for your pet. Here are some essential items to include:

  • Bandage material
  • Bootie or plastic bag
  • Corn syrup
  • E-Collar
  • Gauze
  • Gloves
  • Muzzle
  • Saline
  • Tape
  • Thermometer and Lubricant
  • Towels or blanket
  • Tweezers
  • VetWrap
  • Veterinary Information

5 Things to Always Remember

During an emergency, it’s crucial to stay calm and act quickly. Here are five important things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep calm! Your pet’s well-being depends on it.
  2. When contacting us in an emergency, provide your name, your pet’s name, and a reachable phone number.
  3. Remember that we have a veterinarian on call 24/7. If you’re unsure if something is an emergency, don’t hesitate to call us.
  4. Be cautious when handling an injured or sick animal. Even the friendliest pets may become aggressive when in pain.
  5. NEVER give your pet any medication without consulting a veterinarian first. Human medications can be harmful to dogs and cats.

Monitoring Your Pet’s Health

During an emergency, you can assess your pet’s health by paying attention to the following factors:

  • Temperature: Normal range is 38-39 ºC for dogs and cats.
  • Heart rate: Dogs range from 60-180 beats per minute, while cats range from 120-220 beats per minute.
  • Respiration: Breathing should be even and without effort.
  • Mucus membranes (gums): They should be moist and pink, not tacky or dry.
  • Mental state: Check if your pet is conscious, able to walk or stand, and lifting all four feet normally.

Steps to Take in an Emergency

If you find yourself in an emergency situation, follow these steps:

  1. Contact your veterinarian immediately.
  2. If the pet belongs to someone else, try to reach the owner or call animal control if necessary.
  3. Ensure your safety before approaching the animal (e.g., check for traffic, wires, or potential dog fights).
  4. If the pet is in pain or exhibiting aggression, muzzle it. If you don’t have a muzzle, you can use a shoestring or Kling bandage as a substitute.
  5. If the animal seems cold, you can use a blanket or towel to wrap it and provide warmth.
    • Remember, safety is paramount.

Muzzling Your Pet

During emergencies, pets may become disoriented, frightened, or in pain, and they may bite. It’s essential to protect yourself. If you don’t have a muzzle, you can create a makeshift one using a shoestring or piece of Kling gauze. Here’s how:

  1. Make a loop with the shoestring or gauze.
  2. Gently and carefully slide the loop over the dog’s muzzle, adjusting it to a comfortable tightness. Ensure that your dog can still breathe properly.
  3. Loop the gauze under the ears and tie it securely at the back of the head.
  4. It’s important to note that dogs can potentially bite through the gauze, so continue to exercise caution.
  5. For cats, handling can be done using a thick towel or gloves. Hiding the cat’s face can also help calm them when they’re scared.

DIY Emergency Muzzle

Types of Emergencies

Here are some common emergencies that pets might encounter:

  • Allergic Reaction
  • Bloat
  • Blocked Cat
  • Burns/Sunburn/Hotspot
  • Cardiac/Respiratory Arrest
  • Choking
  • Heat Stroke
  • Hit by Car
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Internal Bleeding
  • Lacerations/Wounds
  • Lameness/Fractures
  • Seizure
  • Toxicity

Identifying and Responding to Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions can be dangerous for pets. Here’s how to identify and respond to them:

  • Swollen face
  • Hives (mostly seen on short-haired dogs, around the groin and other areas with thinner fur)
  • Note any potential triggers, such as insect bites
  • Contact your veterinarian immediately, especially if the swelling affects your pet’s ability to breathe
  • Antihistamines and veterinary monitoring may be required
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Bloat: A Life-Threatening Condition

Bloat is a serious condition that commonly affects large breed dogs with deep chests. It occurs when the stomach fills with air and twists. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Most cases happen shortly after a dog is active after a meal.
  • Symptoms include a bloated appearance and a painful abdomen.
  • Dogs may attempt to vomit but be unable to do so.
  • Bloat is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention and likely surgery.

To prevent bloat:

  • Use specialized feeding bowls to slow down eating.
  • Keep your dog calm after meals for at least an hour.
  • Consider prophylactic surgery to tack the stomach to the abdominal wall during spay or neuter procedures.

Blocked Cat: A Urinary Emergency

Male cats are prone to urinary blockages, which can be life-threatening. Look out for the following signs:

  • Inability to urinate.
  • No urine in the litter box for an extended period.
  • Straining in the litter box.
  • Hiding and/or yowling due to pain.

If you suspect a urinary blockage:

  • Contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • Catheterization and hospitalization are necessary for treatment.

Handling Burns, Sunburn, and Hotspots

Pets can experience burns, sunburns, and hotspots. Here’s how to handle each situation:


  • Apply ice water or cool towels to the affected area.
  • You can apply aloe vera (without medication).
  • Contact your veterinarian for further guidance.


  • Apply cool wet towels to the affected area.
  • Use pet-safe sunscreen.
  • Note that pets with white coats or short thin fur are more susceptible to sunburns.


  • Hotspots refer to inflammation of the skin.
  • Prevent your pet from licking the affected area by using an e-collar.
  • For proper care, let a veterinarian or veterinary technician clip the fur.
  • Avoid applying Polysporin.
  • Depending on severity, your veterinarian may prescribe medicated creams or antibiotics.

Extreme Case Hotspot from PetMD

Respiratory and Cardiac Arrest: Acting Swiftly

In the event of respiratory or cardiac arrest, it’s important to act quickly. Here’s what you can do:

  • Stay calm.
  • Contact your veterinarian.
  • Check if the pet is unconscious and not breathing.
  • Open their mouth to check for blockages and remove any foreign material.
  • If the pet is still not breathing, close their mouth and breathe directly into their nose until you see the chest rising.
  • Continue rescue breathing every 4-5 seconds.


If the heart stops beating:

  • Lay the pet on their right side on a firm surface.
  • Locate the heart, which is just behind the elbow on the left side.
  • Place one hand under the pet where the heart should be and the other hand on top behind the elbow.
  • Begin chest compressions by pressing down gently. Adjust the force based on the size of the animal.
  • Aim for 80-120 compressions per minute for larger animals, and 100-150 for cats and small dogs.
  • Continue until the heart starts beating or until you reach a veterinary hospital.

Choking Prevention and Response

If your pet is choking, follow these steps:

  • Look out for signs such as choking sounds, pawing at the mouth, or blue gums and tongue.
  • Be cautious, as a choking pet may panic and bite.
  • If you can see the object and safely remove it with tweezers, do so carefully.
  • If the animal can still breathe and remains conscious, leave the object in place and seek veterinary assistance.
  • If the animal loses consciousness, perform rescue breathing and chest compressions to remove the obstruction.

Heat Stroke: A Preventable Emergency

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition, and preventing it is crucial:

  • Never leave your pet alone in a car on a warm or hot day, even with cracked windows.
  • Immediately remove your pet from direct sunlight and place them in a cool, shaded area.
  • Apply cold wet towels to their neck.
  • Apply alcohol to their ear flaps, armpits, groin, and paw pads.
  • Take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
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Hit By Car: Stay Calm and Take Quick Action

If your pet is hit by a car, follow these steps:

  • Stay calm.
  • Ensure it’s safe to approach the animal (no traffic).
  • Approach the animal carefully, as they may bite when in pain, frightened, or disoriented. Muzzle the pet if conscious.
  • Use a blanket, towel, or jacket to cover the animal. For larger dogs, use a large blanket or a board as a stretcher.
  • Contact your veterinarian.
  • If bleeding, apply pressure to the affected area.
  • If the animal is not breathing or their heart has stopped, perform rescue breathing and CPR.
  • If the owner is not present, contact the local animal control before bringing the pet to the veterinary hospital.

Hypoglycemia: Low Blood Sugar

Hypoglycemia can occur in diabetics, puppies, kittens, and toy breed dogs. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Symptoms include lethargy, unbalance, and loss of consciousness.
  • If you have a glucometer, check the glucose levels.
  • Apply corn syrup (~1-2 mL) along the gums or rectally if the pet is unconscious.
  • Contact your veterinarian immediately.

Internal Bleeding: An Urgent Situation

Internal bleeding can result from trauma, toxicity, or bleeding disorders. Look out for these signs:

  • Bruising
  • Pale gums
  • Bleeding from the nose, mouth, rectum, or in the urine
  • Coughing up blood
  • Collapse
  • Increased heart rate
  • Black tarry bowel movements

If you suspect internal bleeding, seek veterinary assistance immediately.

Lacerations and External Bleeding

In the case of lacerations and external bleeding, take these steps:

  • Apply pressure to the wound with a gauze pad if there is bleeding.
  • Muzzle your pet if they are in pain.
  • Keep continuous pressure for at least 3 minutes before checking to see if the bleeding has stopped.
  • If the bleeding does not stop, seek immediate veterinary help.
  • If you cannot reach a veterinarian immediately, bandage the wound with gauze, Telfa pad, Kling, and VetWrap. Avoid bandaging too tightly, and remove the bandage within a few hours.
  • Lacerations must be seen by a veterinarian promptly to determine if sutures are necessary and to apply a proper bandage.
  • Prevent your pet from chewing or scratching at wounds using an e-collar, bandages, plastic booties, or a t-shirt.

Lameness and Fractures: Handling With Care

If your pet is limping or showing signs of lameness or fractures, take the following measures:

  • Keep your pet calm and quiet to prevent further injury. If possible, confine them in a crate.
  • Your veterinarian may require radiographs (X-rays) to check for broken bones.
  • While not an immediate emergency, the pet should be examined by a veterinarian and provided with pain medication.
  • Never give over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol or Advil to your pet.

Seizures: Stay Calm and Seek Veterinary Help

If your pet experiences a seizure, here’s what you should do:

  • Stay calm and do not attempt to restrain your pet.
  • Ensure your pet cannot harm themselves by keeping them away from stairs, furniture, or beds.
  • If possible, record the episode to show your veterinarian and time the seizure (it should not last more than 2-3 minutes).
  • Contact your veterinarian once the seizure has stopped.
  • After a seizure, your pet may be disoriented and could become aggressive, so exercise caution.
  • Seizures can be caused by illness, epilepsy, or toxicity.

Toxicity: Recognizing and Responding to Poisoning

Pets can be exposed to various toxins, including household cleaners, rat poison, plants, human foods, medications, and more. If you suspect poisoning:

  • Contact your veterinarian immediately to determine if the product is toxic.
  • The sooner your pet receives veterinary care, the better their chances of recovery.
  • Provide your veterinarian with information about the substance, such as how much was consumed and when.
  • If possible, bring the packaging to the veterinarian for reference.

Never induce vomiting without instructions from a veterinarian. Some substances can cause more harm if vomited. Many toxins can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, bleeding, loss of consciousness, or even death.

Some Common Toxins

Here are some examples of common toxins:

  • Cleaning products
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco, nicotine products, and drugs
  • Prescription drugs, ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and cold medicines
  • Batteries
  • Inhalers
  • Antifreeze (including windshield wash and ice-melting products)
  • Lilies and other plants
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Chocolate
  • Garlic and onions (including onion and garlic powder)
  • Xylitol (found in sugar-free gum)
  • Peach, plum, and cherry pits, as well as apple cores
  • Coffee
  • Certain mushrooms
  • Moldy foods
  • Avocado and macadamia nuts
  • Raw eggs and dairy products
  • Pyrethrin (found in over-the-counter dog dewormers, lethal to cats!)

Remember, when in doubt, call your veterinarian!

Update January 2016:

St. John’s Ambulance now offers Pet First Aid courses. Visit their website for more information and to register for a First Aid Course.

Written by Sunrise Animal Hospital

For more information about pet first aid and to ensure your furry friend’s safety, visit Katten TrimSalon.