First Aid for Pets
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The goals of first aid are to stabilize the animal for transport to a veterinary clinic, keep the animal’s injury from getting worse, and avoid harm to people handling the animal. First aid can save an animal’s life, but it does not replace care at a veterinary hospital.
Keep a first aid kit for your pets. Have contact information for animal poison control and nearby veterinary emergency clinics on hand. If possible, call the emergency clinic before you arrive with your pet.
Handling an injured animal
Bee stings/insect bites
If you can see the stinger in the animal’s skin, carefully remove it. Swelling of the face or throat that causes difficulty breathing is a medical emergency. Contact a veterinarian before giving any medication.
For external bleeding from a skin wound, apply gentle pressure with a gauze pad or clean cloth for at least a couple of minutes, until the blood clots. Do not use a tourniquet unless blood is spurting from a wound and the animal’s life is in danger (tourniquets can cause serious damage).
For thermal or electrical burns, remove the source of heat or electricity and apply cool compresses with a wet cloth. For chemical burns, flush the area with a large volume of water. Do not apply butter, ointment, or ice to the burn; seek veterinary care instead.
Coughing and reverse sneezing can be mistaken for choking. If the animal is truly choking on something in the throat, do a finger sweep of the mouth (only if you can do so without being bitten) and remove the object if possible. Be careful not to push the object farther down. If the animal collapses because of choking, try the Heimlich maneuver: lay the animal on its side and strike the rib cage a few times with the flat of your hand.
In most cases you won’t know if your pet really has a fracture until a veterinarian has taken radiographs. Minimize your pet’s movement as much as possible during transport. Don’t give pain medication unless a veterinarian has specifically recommended it. Don’t try to splint the limb; the splint might make things worse and you could be bitten in the attempt.
Heat stroke can happen quickly, especially if an animal is left in a car in warm weather. First aid should not delay immediate transport to a veterinary clinic. If you can’t transport the pet right away, move the pet into a cooler, shaded area. Apply towels soaked in cool water or pour cool water over the animal’s body, especially the neck, armpits, belly, and groin (between the back legs). Don’t use ice.
Not breathing, no heartbeat
Unfortunately, most animals with cardiac arrest die, even if they receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation. If you try resuscitation, it’s best to do it on the way to the veterinary clinic while someone else drives (no delay in transport). The first step is to check inside the mouth for an object blocking the airway. Then hold the mouth closed and breathe into the animal’s nose until the chest expands. Breathe every 4 to 6 seconds, checking after every few breaths to see if the animal can breathe on its own. After you have begun rescue breaths and if the animal still has no heartbeat, begin chest compressions. Lay the animal on its right side, place one hand under the ribs, and place the other hand on top of the ribs at the widest part of the rib cage (just behind the elbow). Push down on the ribs at least 1 inch, more for large dogs. For cats and other very small animals, cup the chest in one hand and squeeze the ribs between the thumb and fingers. Apply 80 to 120 compressions per minute for large dogs and 100 to 150 compressions per minute for cats and small dogs. Every 4 to 6 seconds, stop the chest compressions and give a breath. Continue until you have arrived at the clinic or the animal’s heart is beating and the animal is breathing.
If you think your pet has eaten or been exposed to a dangerous substance, call a veterinary clinic or an animal poison control hotline. Note the time of exposure, the amount you think your pet swallowed or was exposed to, and the symptoms. Keep the packaging material, if available, so the ingredients can be identified. If your pet vomits, take a sample of the vomit to the veterinary facility in case it’s needed for analysis. Don’t give anything to induce vomiting unless a veterinarian or animal poison control specialist has specifically recommended it.
If possible, time the seizure and note what the animal did before, during, and after the convulsions (for example, acting “spaced out,” paddling the legs, or urinating). Keep your hands away from the animal’s face and don’t try to hold the animal. Move objects that could hurt the animal out of the way. If the animal is having a seizure near stairs, the edge of a deck, or another drop, use a physical barrier to keep the animal from falling.
Snakebites can be very painful, so use a muzzle to protect yourself from being bitten by your pet. Take a photo of the snake if possible, but stay away from it! Don’t try to catch or kill the snake. Keep your pet as calm as you can while you travel to the veterinary clinic. Don’t apply a tourniquet or ice, and don’t try to draw venom out of the wound.
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Photo by Oscar Sutton on Unsplash
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Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.