Pet First Aid Tips and Information

Bite Wounds:
Approach pet carefully to avoid getting bitten. Muzzle animal. Check wound for contamination or debris. If significant debris is present, clean wound with large amounts of saline or balanced electrolyte solution. If these aren’t available, use regular water. Wrap large open wounds in a clean cloth. Apply pressure to profusely bleeding wounds. Do not use tourniquet. Wear gloves if possible. Bite wounds often become infected and need professional care. Call your veterinarian.

Apply firm, direct pressure over bleeding area until bleeding stops. Hold pressure for at least 10 straight minutes (continually releasing pressure to check wound will hamper clotting). Avoid bandages that cut off circulation. Call your veterinarian immediately.

Breathing Stops:
Check to see if animal is choking on foreign object. If animal is not breathing, place on firm surface with left side up. Check for heartbeat by listening at area where elbow touches chest. If you hear heartbeat but not breathing, close animal’s mouth and breathe directly into nose–not mouth–until chest expands. Repeat 12-15 times/minute. If there is no pulse, apply heart massage at same time. The heart is located in lower half of chest, behind elbow of front left leg. Place one hand below heart to support chest. Place other hand over heart and compress gently. To massage the heart of cats or tiny pets, compress chest with thumb and forefingers of one hand. Apply heart massage 80-120 times/minute for larger animals and 100-150 times/minute for smaller ones. Alternate heart massage with breathing. Please note: Even in the hands of veterinary health professionals, success of resuscitation is very low overall. Success may be slightly higher in cases of drowning or electrical shock. Call your veterinarian immediately.

Burns (chemical, electrical, or heat):
Symptoms: singed hair, blistering, swelling, redness.
Flush burn immediately with large amounts of cool, running water. Apply ice pack for 15-20 minutes. Do not place ice pack directly on skin – wrap pack in light towel/cover. If animal has large quantities of dry chemicals on skin, brush off. Water may activate some dry chemicals. Call your veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms: difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at mouth, blue lips and tongue.
Be sure to protect yourself and the animal – it may be frantic and likely to bite. If it can still partially breathe, it’s best to keep animal calm and get to a veterinarian ASAP. Look in mouth to see if foreign object in throat is visible. If possible, clear airway by removing object with pliers or tweezers. Be careful not to push it down farther. If it’s lodged too deep or if pet collapses, place hands on both sides of animal’s rib cage and apply firm, quick pressure. Or place animal on its side and strike side of ribcage firmly with palm of your hand three or four times. Repeat procedure until object is dislodged or you arrive at the veterinarian’s office. Call your veterinarian immediately!

Withhold food for 12-24 hours, but not water. Sometimes pets that appear to be straining are sore from diarrhea rather than from constipation. Your veterinarian can help decide which it is and what will help. Trying at-home treatments without knowing the real cause can make things worse. Call your veterinarian.

Eye Injuries:
Symptoms: Squinting, pawing at face, tearing or mucus discharge from eyes.
If eye is bleeding but no foreign object is visible, hold a cold moist cloth over eye with some pressure. If there is a foreign object, be careful not to push it farther into the eye. If pet is suddenly squinting and tearing, they may have a corneal ulcer. Call your veterinarian in all of these cases.

Symptoms: Pain, inability to use limb, or limb at odd angle.
Muzzle pet and look for bleeding. If you can control bleeding without causing more injury, then do so. Watch for signs of shock. DO NOT TRY TO SET THE FRACTURE by pulling or tugging on the limb. Transport pet to veterinarian immediately, supporting injured part as best you can.

Symptoms: Shivering, depression, slowed breathing, extremities cold to the touch.
Bring pet into warm environment. Soak extremities in warm, not hot, water for 20 minutes to melt ice crystals and restore circulation. Do not rub frostbitten tissue. Once pet is warm, wrap in blankets. Call your veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms: Rapid or labored breathing, vomiting, high temperature, collapse.
Place the animal in a tub of cool water or gently soak with a garden hose or wrap in a cool, wet towel. Do not overcool the animal. Stop cooling when rectal temperature reaches 103º F. Call your veterinarian immediately.

Hit By Car:
If your pet has been hit by a car, call your veterinarian immediately, even if they show no signs of injury.

Insect Bites/Stings:
If your pet has been bitten or stung and develops hives or can’t breathe due to facial swelling, call your veterinarian immediately. Medical treatment and/or an antihistamine may be needed. Always keep liquid children’s diphenhydramine (Benadryl) available at home.

Symptoms: Vomiting, convulsions, diarrhea, salivation, weakness, depression, pain.
Record what the pet ingested and how much. Immediately call your veterinarian or poison control center. Do not induce vomiting. In case of toxins or chemicals on the skin from oils, paints, insecticides and other contact irritants, request directions on if and how to wash the toxin off.

Symptoms: salivation, loss of control of urine or stool, violent muscle twitching, loss of consciousness.
Move pet away from any objects that could be harmful during the seizure. Use a blanket for padding and protection. Do not put yourself at risk by restraining the pet during the seizure. Time the seizure. They usually last 2 to 3 minutes. Afterwards, keep pet calm and quiet. Call your veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms: irregular breathing, dilated pupils.
Shock may occur as a result of a serious injury or fright. Keep the animal gently restrained, quiet, and warm, with the lower body elevated. Call your veterinarian immediately.

Withhold food for 12-24 hours. Give pet ice cubes for two hours after vomiting stops, then, slowly increase the amount of water and food given over a 24-hour period. Call your veterinarian.

How to take your pet’s temperature:
Gently insert a rectal thermometer, lubricated with Vaseline or K-Y Jelly, 1-2 inches into anus beneath tail. Ear thermometers are also available for pets. Normal readings are 101-102º F. A high temperature may mean your pet has an infection. However, heavy exercise, excitement or laying in the sun on a hot day can cause false elevations. Subnormal readings can indicate weakness and lethargy, but don’t be fooled by cold weather or after-nap chills.

Evaluating your pet’s gum color:
Lift pet’s lip and look at the tongue and gum above upper teeth. It should be pink to red. The gum should blanch to white and return to pink when pushed, released, and observed. Poor blood circulation is indicated if it takes more than two seconds to return to pink. Pale or white gums can mean anemia or shock. Yellow gums are a sign of liver disease or anemia caused by red blood cell destruction. Very red painful gums point to gingivitis. This test is easy to perform unless your pet has naturally black gums or dislikes having its mouth manipulated.

Measuring your pet’s pulse:
Softly press your fingertips against upper inner thigh of pet. You can also place your hand against chest behind left front leg. The normal resting dog or cat heart beats between 80 and 150 times/minute. Rapid heartbeats can indicate pain, heart disease or shock, especially if pulse is weak. If pet faints or has seizures, slow beats can also point to disease. As with temperature, levels are lower with rest and higher with exercise and excitement.

If you need to muzzle your pet:
Use a strip of soft cloth, rope, necktie, or nylon stocking. Wrap around nose, under chin and tie behind ears. Care must be taken when handling weak or injured pets. Even normally docile pets will bite when in pain. Allow pet to pant after handling by loosening or removing muzzle. Do not muzzle in a case of vomiting. Cats and small pets may be difficult to muzzle – a towel placed around head will help control small pets.

If your pet can’t walk:
A door, board, blanket, or floor mat can be used as a stretcher to transport injured or weak animals.

Information courtesy of the
Amercian Animal Hospital Association and
New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association.

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