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Pet First Aid: A Guide to The Most Common Emergencies

Pet First Aid: A Guide to The Most Common Emergencies

Pet First Aid: A Guide to The Most Common Emergencies

Your pet might be counting on you for life-saving help if it gets injured. Each second counts when you’re faced with a pet emergency before you can get to a vet. 

Use this guide to administer first aid for the most common pet emergencies.

pets sat on sofa

What is animal first aid?

Animal first aid is emergency treatment given to a domestic animal before it can be seen by a professional licensed vet. While some medical procedures can only be done by a veterinarian, untrained people can deliver first aid to stabilise an animal and make it feel more comfortable before it can be seen by a vet. 

Basic Animal First Aid

Basic animal first aid follows three principles and four rules. These are the same for human first aid and are referred to by pet owners, vets, and animal care personnel when dealing with an injured or unwell animal. 

The 3 Aims of Animal First Aid

For taking care of an animal that is in critical condition:

1. Preserve life

2. Prevent suffering

3. Prevent the situation from deteriorating

The 4 Rules of Animal First Aid

To provide the best level of care possible:

1. Keep calm

2. Maintain the airway

3. Control any haemorrhage

4. Seek assistance if required

If you are an untrained person dealing with an injured animal, refer to these rules and principles. The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 states that only trained and licensed vets can perform certain procedures on animals. This is to protect them from harm if an untrained person tries to carry out a procedure without the proper knowledge.

However, in the instance of an emergency when a vet isn’t present, any person can provide first aid, protected under section 3 of the Act. This is because, in an emergency, seconds count and your help could mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

Wound Cleaning

If you can, you should try to clean your pet’s wound before dressing it. Dressing it beforehand could result in pushing debris further into the wound and making the situation worse. You could also use a gauze swab to blot the area.

Use tweezers to remove any debris that is protruding from the wound, but do not insert tweezers into a wound, this could push foreign objects further in. Use sterile wipes to wipe over and around a wound, or squeeze sterile wash over a wound. Steroplast eyewash pods can be used for this (do not push the end of the pipette into the wound).

While cleaning a wound it’s important that you don’t cause cross-contamination from your own hands, or risk injuring yourself, so be sure to use disposable gloves.

Find out about the principles of animal first aid in more detail in our blog post The 3 Aims of First Aid in Animals and The Law. We cover what untrained people can and can’t do in an emergency.

A Pet First Aid Kit

Buy a Stero-paws Pet First Aid Kit 

Administering first aid to pets is made possible and much easier with a pet first aid kit. If you are a pet owner, having a pet first aid kit to hand could be the difference between life and death for your pet. Even in less serious situations. Being able to give first aid to your animal will make them more comfortable and speed up recovery time. 

Consult our Essential Pet First Aid Kit Checklist to make sure you’re always stocked with the right supplies for animal accidents and emergencies. Order first aid supplies from the Veterinary Essentials section of our website.

Essential Pet First Aid Guide

We cover cat first aid and dog first aid in our blog. But, basic pet first aid doesn’t differ much from animal to animal. Here’s what to do in the most common pet emergencies.

Pet owner or vet applying a bandage to an injured dog

Bleeding

The most common type of pet emergency first aid is the treatment of cuts and wounds. Here’s what to do:

1. Locate where the blood is coming from by gently feeling over your pet with clean hands (or use nitrile gloves).

2. When you have located where the bleeding is coming from, check whether any foreign objects are sticking out of the wound. You might be able to remove something if it is small with tweezers as long as you don’t need to insert them into the wound (never do this).

3. If you can, clean the wound gently with a sterile wipe or run sterile solution over it and pat it dry.

4. Apply firm pressure using a clean gauze swab or clean towel if you don’t have any gauze swabs.

5. Wrap a bandage around the area to hold the dressing in place.

6. Do not remove the bandage as it could interfere with any clots and can cause the bleeding to start again.

7. Call your vet and arrange to take your pet in for treatment.  

Bites

1. Never try to break up an animal fight because you could end up getting hurt. Try to cause a distraction by shouting or making a loud noise, or pour cold water on the animals from as far away as you can.

2. Approach your pet cautiously after a fight as they could be frightened and aggressive if they have been bitten.

3. Check the animal for other bite wounds and treat them as needed following the steps in the ‘Bleeding’ section.

4. Call your vet and arrange to bring your pet in. If they were bitten by a wild animal (or even a domestic animal) they could be at risk of infection.


A pet first aid kit is ideal for small bites as they can be cleaned and dressed. Cover areas with skin missing with a dressing and secure with a bandage. Apply pressure to larger bites to stop heavy bleeding.

Stings

1. Remove the sting with tweezers, taking care to ensure the whole sting has come out. 

2. Clean the area with a sterile wipe

3. Monitor the area for the next few days. If redness and swelling occur, or do not go down, contact your vet for a routine appointment. Redness, swelling, or an area that feels hot and hard where the sting was are indicators of infection. 

If your animal has a tick, this can be removed safely with a tick twister, available in our animal first aid kit.

Cat in the middle of the road

Road Accidents

1. Check the road is clear before approaching the animal

2. Check the animal’s breathing (you can do this by holding some fur under its nose and mouth). Perform CPR if you think you need to. 

3. Check the animal for wounds or injuries. Take care when approaching and touching the animal. It could be frightened and aggressive.

4. Move the animal carefully. Pick up an animal by holding it on its chest above the front legs with one hand and under the tummy with the other. If the animal is on its side and you don’t want to move it too much, ask someone to help you and gently transfer the animal to a blanket, piece of cardboard, box, or the parcel shelf of your car. Be sure to support its head, shoulders and hips. 

5. If you can, treat wounds using the steps in the ‘Bleeding’ section. Keeping an animal first aid kit in your car is handy in case you ever hit an animal or find one on the road. 

6. Call your vet or find the nearest vet practice.

Collapsing and Unconsciousness

1. Check it’s safe to approach the animal. If they have been electrocuted, take care not to step into water or touch them when you’re not certain they’ve lost contact with the current.

2. Call out your pets name and pat them gently to see if they respond.

3. Check whether your pet is breathing by holding some fur under its nose and mouth.

4. Perform CPR if you think you can and your pet is not breathing and there is no heartbeat.

5. Keep your pet warm, a foil blanket is especially useful. 

6. Call your vet and arrange for them to see your pet.

Choking

If a pet is choking keep an eye on them until they stop. Most pets will easily cough something up and audible choking is a sign that they are still breathing. If they continue to choke or stop breathing you should intervene with these steps:

1. Open the animal’s mouth if you can and do a finger sweep inside to remove any objects.

2. Try to see inside and check whether anything can be removed. Don’t push your fingers down their throat to grab something, you could push it further down. Using tweezers is helpful if something is slippery and difficult to remove with your fingers. 

3. Perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on your pet if you feel you can. To do this position your pet’s back against your stomach and put your fist below their ribcage. Gently pull in and upwards with your fist in two to three movements to try and dislodge the obstruction.

Vomiting

Vomiting is not uncommon in pets and isn’t often a sign of an emergency. If vomit has blood in it or if the animal continues to have episodes of vomiting, you should take your animal to the vet for a check-up.

Dog getting a check up by vet

Fractures and Broken Bones

You may notice a fracture or broken bone through a swollen or misshapen limb. The animal could have limited mobility and be limping, or not moving at all. 

Arrange to take your pet to the vet. Gently put them in a box padded with blankets and keep them warm. Pad the injured area with blankets to support them on the journey to the vet.

Do not bandage or splint a broken or fractured bone. This could make the injury worse.

Seizures and Fits

  • Clear the area and make sure your pet won’t knock into things and hurt themself. 
  • Remove bright lights and loud noises from the area
  • Monitor your pet and wait for the seizure to end before taking them to the vet if the seizure is unexpected. If it doesn’t stop after two minutes take them to a vet immediately.

Don’t restrain an animal during a seizure. There’s no need to restrain them and it could cause them more stress. Filming a seizure might be helpful for your vet to see afterwards.

Burns

Apply cold water to the area of a burn, but don’t use ice or ice water. Using a showerhead or hose is a good way to do this. If the animal has had a chemical burn call your vet before rinsing them with water and follow their advice. Do not apply ointment or cream unless prescribed by a vet. Use a blanket like a foil blanket to keep your pet warm while you attend to a burn. 

Impaling

If your pet runs or falls onto an object and becomes impaled do not try to remove them or remove the object. This could result in major bleeding. If they must be moved prepare for heavy bleeding and keep pressure on any wounds. 

Take them to the nearest vet for emergency treatment. 

Dog wrapped in blanket

Exposure

For heatstroke:

1. Remove your pet from the source and put them in a cool, dark, quiet room.

2. Gently wet your pet’s fur with water using your hands and fan them.

3. Call your vet and follow their advice.

For cold exposure:

1. Use a foil blanket and a thick blanket on top to wrap up your pet and keep them in a warm environment. Make sure they have room to breathe and aren’t being squeezed.

2. Call your vet and follow their advice.

Poison

1. Call your vet and arrange to bring your pet in.

2. Try to identify the source of the poison and bring a sample with you along with any packaging. If your pet has eaten a plant get a photo of the plant on your phone so the vet can attempt to identify the species. It’s also helpful if you can determine how much your pet ingested.

Cat at vet clinic being checked by vets

Ingestion of Foreign Objects

1. Check for signs of choking and perform the steps in the ‘Choking’ section if you need to.

2. Call your vet and arrange to bring your pet in.

3. Bring a part of the material or object if not all was ingested.

Pet First Aid: CPR

You might be able to perform CPR if your pet is not breathing and there is no heartbeat. This will give them a chance of survival when there aren’t any medically trained professionals nearby to help them. Here’s a guide on how to give pet CPR.

Ask someone to help you if you can and have them call a vet while you perform CPR. The vet may be able to help along over the phone while you wait for assistance.

1. Check for breathing and for a heartbeat. If neither are present then continue. If there is a heartbeat but no breathing, follow the steps in the ‘Choking’ section.

2. Lay your pet on its side. Dogs with wide chests will need to be laid on their backs with compressions on the midpoint of their chests.

3. Open the mouth and inspect for obstructions. Pull the tongue out and to the side to check. If there is something in the throat do not put your fingers down to retrieve it. You could push it further down.

4. If the throat and mouth are clear, continue.

5. Apply compressions to the widest part of the chest at a rate of two per second. Different pressure is needed for different animals:

  • Large dogs: both hands locked together.
  • Small dogs: one hand. 
  • Cats: one hand used to squeeze either side of the chest.

Apply enough pressure to depress the chest by half or two thirds, letting the chest come back up before the next compression. 

1. Apply thirty compressions and then straighten the animal’s neck and head (imagine you are making the windpipe into a straight line). 

2. Close their mouth by firmly grasping their snout in your hand and blow down their nose. Make sure you have a good seal around their nose Give two breaths, one second long each with a second for the chest to fall in between.

3. Check for breathing or a heartbeat. If they are present, keep the animal warm and monitor them until the vet arrives. If they are not present continue with steps five to seven.

You can use a resusciade which allows for hygienic contact with the nose and mouth when you administer the breaths. A resusciade is included in our pet first aid kit

Printable Pet First Aid Guide

Looking up pet first aid online is an excellent first step to preparing for a first aid eventuality. When a pet is hurt, looking up first aid steps on your phone can take time and, if you’re faced with a pet emergency, it can be difficult to remember what you should do.

Keeping an animal first aid leaflet with your animal first aid kit means you can refer to guidance while you’re administering first aid. That’s why we created this pet first aid guide PDF. The pet first aid PDF contains all the information in this guide. Print a copy of the pet first aid pamphlet to keep with your pet first aid kit so you’ll know what to do in an emergency. 

Please enter your details into the form below along with any questions or comments and a member of our team will be happy to provide you with more information:

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