First Aid For Pets: A Quick Guide

Posted on

Learning a little pet first aid can be a life saver. Literally. Anyone who has done a human first aid course will know that timing is everything. You can save lives with good training and split second decisions. This is no different for our pets.

In 2008 a study found that an estimated 230,000 cats are hit by cars each year in the UK. While the numbers for dogs was lower, the result for owners is no less painful. Another study found that around 50% of cats will ingest a ‘linear foreign object’ (like cotton thread or wool) during their lifetime. Once again, the numbers were lower for dogs, but 22% of dogs will die on the operating table trying to remove a blockage.

These numbers are scary. We can’t always prevent our animals from getting into danger, but we can be prepared to help if danger presents itself. Even just recognising the symptoms and getting veterinary attention fast can save your pet’s life. Below we’ve listed some of the most common reasons your pet may need first aid, with some information to help you confidently help your pet.

Common First Aid Emergencies

As a side note: these tips are not meant to be a replacement for veterinary care, just as first aid isn’t meant to be a replacement for medical attention. Always seek your vet’s opinion where your furry companions are concerned.



Just as with humans, wounds can be minor or dangerous. All wounds have the potential to get infected, so always seek advice from your veterinarian as soon as possible.

If your pet is bleeding, apply pressure to the wound with a clean paper towel or pad. If blood soaks through do not remove the pad, simply apply another one over the top. Apply a tourniquet above the wound only if the severity doesn’t lessen. Loosen the tourniquet for 15 seconds ever 15 minutes on the way to the vet.



To check a pet’s heartbeat, put your fingers just behind the elbow on the left side of the chest. An animal’s heartbeat is usually irregular, but if there is none present and your pet inst breathing you can try CPR. As a warning, pet C

PR is not often successful (as CPR in humans isn’t often successful), but it is a chance. It may be just the chance your pet needs to to get to the veterinary hospital.

To perform CPR, lay your dog or cat on their right side, cover up to one half of their chest with your hands and give approximately 100 compressions per minute.

You can try breathing for your pet by covering their mouth and nose with your hands. Keep their lips closed and breathe into their nose. Try two breaths per 30 compressions.

Stop CPR every minute or so to see if your pet is breathing on their own.

Image credit: Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care


Back Injuries

Back injuries in dogs and cats can be just as damaging as back injuries in humans. The general advice is not to move your pet until a vet has arrived. It is vital that no one else is put at risk whilst moving the injured pet. Move the pet carefully to minimise the risk of further injuries.

Use a stiff board or piece of wood and gently put it behind your pet’s back, and slide your pet onto the makeshift stretcher while trying to minimise their movement. You will need to wrap them in something, such as a blanket, to keep them warm and minimise movement. Get them to the vet as soon as possible and watch out for signs of shock.

Burns can occur from heat (such as hot metal or water), chemicals, or friction. The first thing to do in most cases is try to cool the area with water. Bathe the area for a good few minutes to wash away any chemicals and/or heat. As it can be difficult to know how bad a burn is, always get a vet to check your pet over.

Image credit: Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care


Mischievous dogs and cats can have a habit of picking up all sorts of things they aren’t supposed to. If your pet is coughing but still breathing, rush him to the vet as soon as possible. If your pet  is choking and no longer breathing you can perform a version of the Heimlich manoeuvre on your pet to try to dislodge the blockage.

Check if the blockage can be removed using your fingers or a pair of tweezers before trying the Heimlich manoeuvre. If not, lay your pet on his side on the ground and push firmly on the widest part of your pet’s chest to push as much air out as possible. Continue until the blockage has dislodged or until you arrive at your veterinary practice.

Image source:



Just as in humans, there are three degrees of burn. First degree burns affects just the top layer of skin and can usually be treated with a topical antibiotic cream. Second degree burns will lead to blistering as they are deeper; these are usually treated with an oral antibiotic and pain relief. Third degree burns are very deep and can be life threatening, your vet will advise you on a specific course of action. First aid tips for first (and second to a point) degree burns are similar to humans; bathe in cool water for a minimum of ten minutes and get to a veterinarian as soon as possible.



Being too cold is not good, for you or your pets. Hypothermia, can set in when your pet gets too cold, especially if its wet and windy outside. Be warned that, although your pet will shiver at the early stages of hypothermia, they will eventually stop shivering and this is the danger zone.

If you believe your pet is suffering from hypothermia, aim to get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. On the way wrap them in a warm blanket (or coat, or whatever is to hand) and try to warm them up gently with hot water bottles or other bodies (such as yours!). If your pet will drink, offer them warm water, but do not try to force them to drink as they could panic and bring water into their lungs effectively drowning.

Do not try to rub any areas of their bodies that may be suffering from frost bite, as this could cause more damage.


We discussed the dangers of heatstroke in both our 16 Summer Tips blog and our Essential Travel Tips blog.

This can be a dangerous condition that, like humans, can escalate quickly and is best avoided by keeping your pet out of direct sunlight and monitoring them during hot weather.

If you think your pet is suffering from heatstroke, the best things is to try and cool them down slowly. Use wet towels soaked in cold water to pat your pet down. You can run cool, but not very cold, water over your pet to cool them down. Try to get them to drink but do not force them to drink.

Above all: get your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Time is everything.



Animals can suffer with conditions such as epilepsy, just like humans, and seizures can be very scary for both your pet and you.

All seizures should be followed up by a trip to your vet, but usually seizures that last less than two minutes are not considered too dangerous.

If your pet suffers from a seizure there are a few things you can do to help. Firstly, stay calm. Your pet will need you to at least pretend to be calm, they read body language and tone of voice a lot more than we care to realise. Remove furniture and other obstacles to give your pet space, and do not place anything in their mouth.

Take care to note the length of the seizure and what it looked like. If the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, go straight to the vet. If it is less than five minutes, call your vet to get their advice and make an appointment.



We recently celebrated World Chocolate Day and suggested sharing the day with your pet by getting some pet safe chocolate! We also warned that 97% of poisoning cases in dogs involved chocolate.

If you suspect your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have, call your vet immediately. Follow the vet’s directions and only induce vomiting or give activated charcoal if directed to do so.

Take the packaging of the product with you if possible and, if your pet does vomit, try to take a sample of the vomit with you for analysis.



Animals can suffer from shock, as humans can do. There can be many causes, such as blood loss, injury, trauma, infections and many more. The symptoms of shock in our pets is similar to that of humans: rapid heartbeat, weakness, disorientation, and collapsing.

If your pet is suffering from shock, cover them to keep them warm and lay them flat and level. Take your pet to the nearest veterinary clinic as an emergency and try to stop any bleeding that may occur.


We sincerely hope you will never have to use any of this first aid advice. We do, however, hope you have gained some knowledge of pet first aid should you need it in the future.

If you would like any more information on pet first aid, there are many courses run throughout the UK, Scotland and Ireland. Contact your local vet who will be able to provide you with more information.


2 responses to “First Aid For Pets: A Quick Guide”

  1. Michael says:

    Well-said. It may sound simple, but having the knowledge for such cases and being prepared will make you thankful that you have been able and ready when such situations occur.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *