Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 1, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Would you know what to do if your pet had a medical emergency? Administering first aid until you can get your pet to a veterinarian can save your pet’s life. Most of us have some basic knowledge of first aid for humans – but would you know what to do for your pet?
The following situations will generally all require the attention of a veterinarian, and are only designed to help you stabilize your pet until you can reach your veterinary hospital.
Arterial bleeding is an immediate, life-threatening emergency. Arterial blood will be bright red, bleed in spurts, and will be difficult to stop. For any type of bleeding, place a clean cloth or sterile gauze over the injured area and apply direct pressure for at least 5-7 minutes. Don’t apply a tourniquet unless absolutely necessary.
Loss of Consciousness
In case of drowning, clear the lungs of fluid by lifting the animal’s hindquarters higher than his head and squeezing the chest firmly until fluid stops draining. In case of electrical shock, DO NOT touch the pet until it is no longer in contact with the electrical source, or you’ll get shocked yourself. In case of airway obstruction, check for a foreign object and attempt to gently remove it (see Choking). If the animal is not breathing or has no pulse, begin CPR.
Pets vomit for many reasons, not all of them are medical emergencies. In order to determine whether you’re dealing with an emergency, examine vomit for blood or other clues as to cause. If you suspect poisoning, bring a sample of the suspected poison, preferably in its original packaging, to the veterinarian. Gently press the pet’s stomach to check for any abdominal pain. Abdominal pain, enlarged stomach, and unproductive vomiting are serious signs – call your veterinarian immediately.
Gently pull your pet’s tongue forward and inspect mouth and throat. If you can see a foreign object, hold the mouth open and try to remove it by hand,with tweezers, or a small pair of pliers. Take care not to push the object further down the animal’s throat. If the animal is not breathing, start CPR.
This is a life-threatening emergency. If you can’t get your pet to a veterinarian immediately, place the pet in a cool or shady area. Bathe the animal with tepid water, and monitor rectal temperature. When temperature drops below 103°, dry the pet off. Continue monitoring temperature while transporting your pet to the clinic.
Bee or Wasp Sting
Bee stings are acid, use baking soda to neutralize the venom. Wasp stings are alkaline, use vinegar or lemon juice to neutralize the venom. Apply a cold pack to the sting. Watch for allergic reactions – in case of severe swelling or difficulty breathing, transport your pet to a clinic immediately.
Lay the animal on his side and remove any airway obstructions. If the airway is clear, extend the animal’s neck, hold the tongue out of his mouth, and close the animal’s jaw over his tongue. Holding the jaws closed, breathe into both nostrils for 5 to 6 breaths. If there is no response, continue artificial respiration.
If there is also no pulse, begin cardiac compressions. Depress the widest part of the chest wall 1.5 to 3 inches with one or two hands:
Dogs over 60 lbs: 60 times per minute
Animals 11-60 lbs: 80-100 times per minute
Animals 5-11 lbs: 120-140 times per minute
For very small animals (1-5 lbs), place hands around the pet’s ribcage and begin cardiac massage.
Continue artificial respiration:
Dogs over 60 lbs: 12 breaths per minute
Animals 11-60 lbs: 16-20 breaths per minute
Animals less than 10 lbs: 30+ breaths per minute
Normal Vital Signs
Normal temperature for dogs and cats: 100.5° – 102.5°
Normal heart rate for cats: 160-240 beats per minutes
Normal heart rates for dogs: 70-160 beats per minute
Normal respiratory rate for cats: 20-30 breaths per minute
Normal respiratory rate for dogs: 10-30 breaths per minute
The American Red Cross offers Pet Safety and First Aid check lists and training. Check your local chapter for a course in your area. They also offer cat and dog first aid books that come with a DVD demonstrating some of the techniques.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.