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Basic first aid for your pet

3 Nov 2020 by Vetsmiths

Knowing what to do in an emergency could save your pet’s life!

Each year, hundreds of pets are involved in road traffic incidents, suffer from heatstroke, stings, cuts, swallowing poisonous substances and other minor accidents.

We’ve put together some basic information to help in the first instance, but the most important factor is to try and remain as calm as possible.  We know this is difficult but our pets pick up on our vibes and these can easily transfer to them making them stressful and in some situations even aggressive.

Once you have made yourself and your pet safe, call your vet (it’s always a good idea to have their number in your phone).  They will advise you on the next course of action to take and whether they feel it necessary to see your pet for treatment.


The basics

We think it’s helpful to remember the following acronym … ‘Dr ABCs’

  • Danger – keep yourself and others around you safe
  • Response – check if your pet responds to their name or touch
  • Airway – check their airway is clear
  • Breathing – check they’re breathing
  • Circulation – check for a pulse or heartbeat
  • Seek – help/veterinary assistance as soon as possible


Road accidents

Unfortunately these can happen and it can be distressing for all involved.

Firstly, make sure you and your pet are safe from other vehicles on the road.  Talk to your pet calmly and try not to make sudden movements that might frighten them.  If you can, pop a lead on your dog (to keep them safe) and be careful of their mouth area in case they snap (due to pain and stress).

For smaller dogs and cats, pick them up carefully by placing one hand at the front of the chest and the other under the hindquarters. You can make a stretcher for larger dogs with a coat or a blanket.  If your pet cannot move (paralysed), this could be due to a spinal injury.  In this situation, try to find something rigid, such as cardboard. Slide your pet gently across and cover with a blanket/coat to reduce heat loss.

Call your vet to let them know you are coming down.  This way they can be ready for your arrival.



If you don’t have a basic pet first aid kit with you, you can improvise by making a bandage out of a towel in the car, or an item of clothing.  If you find the blood is seeping through, apply another layer tightly around the wound.

If you do have bandaging items with you, place a non-adhesive dressing on the wound and cover with swabs or a cotton bandage. Place a layer of cotton wool and cover this with more cotton bandage. Secure with surgical tape.

Call your vet to let them know what has happened and they will advise whether they want to see your pet.


Basic resuscitation

Place your pet on their side.  Check that breathing has definitely stopped (hold a wisp of fur to the nostrils and you will be able to see if it moves or not).  Open the mouth, pull the tongue forwards and check for any obstructions.  Take care not to get bitten when removing anything from the mouth or throat area.

If breathing does not start, extend the head (nose pointing forwards). Hold the mouth closed and blow into the nose about 20 times a minute. If you can’t feel a heartbeat, push on the chest just behind the front legs every second. Give two breaths into the nose for every 15 compressions of the chest. Continue this pattern for three minutes and it’s hopeful this will successfully revive your pet.

Contact your vet immediately!


Burns and scalds

Run cold water over these for a minimum of five minutes (as with humans) and call your vet for advice.  Don’t apply any lotions to the affected area unless your vet advises this.  They will want to see your pet for treatment.



Pull the sting out, below the poison sac, then bathe the area in water or use a solution of bicarbonate of soda if you have some.  Applying ice will help to soothe the area. If the sting is in your pet’s mouth or throat, you should contact your vet as this could swell and interfere with their breathing.


Heat stroke

During the warmer months and particularly on hot days, if you find your dog panting heavily and distressed, especially short nosed dogs, like Boxers, Pugs etc, they’re overweight or have been playing or exercising excessively, in the heat you need to think heatstroke!

Immediately move your pet into a shady, cool, preferably draughty spot and wet their coat with tepid water.

Contact your vet immediately for advice.



Try to find the packaging from the substance that has been swallowed and have it with you when you call your vet.  If you suspect you pet has chewed at a poisonous plant, try to find out its identity and call your vet immediately.

Do not try to make your dog sick unless the vet tells you to do so.


Ball stuck in your dog’s throat

You need to get to your vet quickly.  You may be able to push the ball out by pushing on the throat/neck from the outside. If the gums or tongue are turning blue or your dog has collapsed, try the following (you will need someone to help you).  One person hold the mouth open, while the other reaches inside.  Take care not to get bitten.  If you can’t pull the ball out, lay your dog on their side and push down suddenly and sharply on the tummy just behind the last rib. The person holding the mouth should be ready to grab the ball as it hopefully reappears.



Unfortunately these happen.  If your cat or dog seems in shock, dull or distressed after a fight, we advise you to speak to your vet.

Puncture wounds to the head or body need to be seen immediately.  Injuries to limbs may not necessarily need immediate treatment, unless severe or very painful, but we still recommend contacting your vet for advice and possible appointment as antibiotics may be required.


Other reasons to phone your vet

  • Your pet seems weak, is reluctant to get up, or is dull and depressed.
  • Your pet seems to have difficulty in breathing, or it is noisier or more rapid than normal.  Similarly, if there is continual coughing causing distress.
  • Repeated vomiting, particularly with young or elderly pets.  Diarrhoea is less serious, unless extremely severe, bloody or your pet seems weak or unwell. We recommend feeding small amounts of a bland diet (boiled chicken or white fish) and make an appointment with your vet if this persists for more than one day.
  • Your pet seems to be in severe pain or discomfort.
  • They are trying to urinate or poo, but are unable to. Blockage of the bladder sometimes occurs, especially in males, and can kill if not treated.
  • Sudden difficulties with balance.
  • A bitch with suckling puppies is agitated, shaking and shivering and will not settle. This could be eclampsia, needing urgent treatment.


If you’d like to know more about pet first aid the PDSA run courses.  You can find out more information here.