First Aid For Pets: Beginner Tips & Tricks

Accidentents are always unexpected, and a nightmare! If they were entirely preventable, they would never happen. Especially when it comes to our furry friends, it’s the last thing we ever expect or want. Many times, they might have too much fun and hurt themselves. Although it’s really nobody’s fault, in times like these, knowing or at least understanding basic pet first aid principles can be the fine line between seeing another day or crossing the rainbow bridge. 

In an emergency, knowing the basics of pet first aid can help you to care for your pet before bringing them to the hospital or vet safely. You can have a sense of security that you did all you could, without harming them any further. But remember, first aid is just a precautionary step in the right direction, and it can’t be replaced with proper medical care from a professional. If any emergency situation occurs, as pet parents, please take a deep breath and take your beloved pet to the vet or hospital as soon as possible. 

What’s an emergency? 

Whenever something unpredictable happens, everybody has a different scale and reaction to a situation, especially when it comes to those close to our hearts like our pets. Our pets might still ”feel” fine and continue playing even though their legs are clearly not okay! The most important thing is you should always keep an eye out for any abnormalities so you can take them to the vet as soon as possible. Especially the listed symptoms below, it doesn’t matter if an accident has occurred or not, whether it’s a genetic condition, or never happened before, please take immediate action. 

  • Difficulty breathing or no breath 
  • Unresponsive 
  • Unable to get back up after falling 
  • Seizures 
  • Broken or fractured bones 
  • Issues with movement 
  • Ingested poisonous substances (Read: Which plants are toxic to pets?)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea for over 24 hours
  • Excessive bleeding

Even if these symptoms are not present, if you feel uneasy and unsure about your pet’s condition and you feel like something is wrong, still take them to see a professional. Trust your gut instincts! 

Your Pet’s First Aid Kit

While we humans have a first aid kit tucked away somewhere in our homes, households with pets should also have this but for the little critters! So you’re well-equipped to give them first aid if they ever need it. A pet’s first aid kit should have the following: 

  • Bandage
  • Gauze
  • Rounded scissors
  • Wound disinfectant
  • Cotton
  • Tweezers
  • Bandage tape
  • Rubber gloves
  • Foil
  • Disinfecting wet wipes

Having a first aid kit for pets comes in handy whenever anything happens around the house. You can also bring these to any place you’re traveling with your pets to – whether that would be during a day trip, or a longer holiday. It’s also a good idea to just have a spare kit in the car, you never know! 

How to give pets First Aid?

There are many types of mishaps that can happen more often than others, so we’ve compiled a list of the most common types of accidents and how to deal with them as a pet parent. 

Warning: If you feel like some of the procedures are a little too difficult or that it might take too long to prepare, taking your pet to the vet at that moment will be the best solution. If these steps aren’t followed properly, it might cause more harm to your pet, so if you don’t feel comfortable or confident, please take them to the vet. 

Choking: If experienced by your pet, you will notice they will have issues breathing and they might cough when they breathe. Their lips might turn a darker shade.

What to do: Try to hold your pet’s mouth open and try to observe if there are any obstructions in their throat or airway. If you can see it, try to use pliers or tweezers to remove the object. Try not to push it down further, or get bitten by our pet. If your pet has already collapsed or you can’t remove the object, make your pet lie on their back, place your hands between their ribs firmly, and quickly push down. Or lay them sideways and press down on their ribs with your hands. Do this until you reach the hospital. 

Not Breathing: If your pet is not breathing, immediately contact the vet or hospital ASAP, then conduct first aid. 

What to do: Check if your pet is still conscious or still has a pulse. Open up their airway by very gently tugging on their tongue and checking if there is anything in their throat. If there is, try to remove it. If there isn’t, close their mouth and breathe into their nose until you see their chest puff up. Do this every five seconds, if your pet doesn’t wake up, immediately take them to the hospital. 

No Pulse: If your pet has no pulse, call the vet or hospital now and conduct the first aid steps mentioned below until they are in the care of a professional vet. 

What to do: Try and listen for a pulse. Lay them on the side on a hard and flat surface. Place your hands on their chest and place your other hand on their heart (behind their front left elbow). Press with the speed of 100-120 pumps per minute to defibrillate. Once you’ve reached the 30th pump, start mouth-to-mouth and blow air. Do this alternately until you feel a pulse, or until you reach the vet. 

Heatstroke: This happens when your pet has been exposed to excessive heat. If your pet is hyperventilating or panting, with red swollen gums, excessive salivation, confusion, experiencing seizures, or unable to stand, then it’s a pretty clear sign they’re experiencing a heatstroke.

What to do: Take them to an area that’s well-ventilated, and use a damp towel to wipe around their body to help the heat escape. Do not use super cold water or ice because it might make your pet’s blood pressure change too drastically. Use a fan to slowly cool them down, and let them drink room temperature water. Don’t force them to drink it, let them go at their own pace. If their condition worsens or doesn’t get better, take them to the nearest vet as soon as possible. 

Shock: This can happen when pets suddenly become injured, react to severe disease, or they’re terribly afraid. Symptoms might include a very low pulse, light breathing, loss of consciousness, and eyes full of daze.

What to do: Take them to the vet immediately, when traveling, make sure to place your pet’s head and heart in leveled planes. You can use a piece of cloth as a muzzle or for them to bite. Why? Because when animals get really scared or are experiencing a lot of pain, they might accidentally bite those around them.

Poison: After pets have ingested or come into contact with any poisonous substance, they will either vomit or experience diarrhea. They might act strange and suddenly lose their appetite, have pale gums, have seizures, have low energy, and may be unable to keep balance. 

What to do: Contact the vet ASAP, because first aid for being poisoned will vary depending on the substance. Once you’ve gone on with the basic first aid procedures according to the veterinarian’s suggestion. If you know what your pet has ingested, remember the name of the substance, take a picture, or even bring the said substance to the vet so they give it a thorough check. 

Seizures: These might be a sign of epilepsy or other neurological conditions. Usually, symptoms will also be combined with other signs such as anxiety, depression, shakiness, unwanted excretion during the episode, foaming saliva, etc.

What to do: Call the vet and don’t forget to log in the time the seizure starts. Make sure everything around the area is cleared – you don’t want things to be falling on your friend. Don’t try to lock their body so they’re still, let them stay in a quiet and calm space with consistent lighting, then take them to a hospital or vet clinic. 

Burns: These might be caused by chemicals or actual burns. Pet parents should keep an eye out and try to find the source of the burns to protect other members of the family as well. 

What to do: As usual, contact the vet as soon as you can. Wash the impacted area with a lot of water for both physical and chemical burns. But be careful if it’s a chemical burn, don’t let the water you’re using to wash the area get into your eyes or any sensitive parts of the body. 

Internal Bleeding: This might be hard to detect but it has severe consequences and will need immediate care. Some physical symptoms you can notice include pale gums, low pulse, inflated tummy, weakness, and bleeding from the nose, mouth, or backside. 

What to do: Make sure they are warm and don’t make any loud noises since that can startle them even further. Contact the vet or hospital as soon as possible and immediately bring them there for proper care. 

External Bleeding: If your pet is losing a lot of blood from a big wound, you should take them to the vet as soon as you can – because this can be life-threatening. 

What to do: While you’re transporting them, use a clean cloth and press gently on the area for at least 3 minutes. Then check if there is still any bleeding. Cover the area with wound dressing and keep firmly pressing on it. You can loosely remove the pressure for 20 seconds each time whenever you’ve pressed for 15-20 minutes periodically.  

Broken Bones: There might be some swelling in the immediate area, they might flinch or show signs of pain, and they’re probably unable to put any kind of pressure on the area. 

What to do: Limit their movement by putting them in a cage, if they can’t walk at all, then make sure they are laying down while you transport them to the vet. 

Although pain and accidents are unpredictable, there is no guaranteed way to avoid them. It happens from time to time, and as pet parents, knowing the initial steps you can take can help you control your emotions and the proper care your pets need at the moment. 

Despite this, first aid is just the first step. A preliminary precaution you can take before you take them for proper care. If you are not confident or comfortable with conducting first aid on your pet, or you think it’ll take too much time to research or prepare, calling your vet is your best bet. Then, take them to the hospital as soon as possible, it’s not a last resort but it’s a necessary one. In moments of emergency like these, our pet’s life and well-being are always the priority. 

This article is reviewed by the veterinarian from Small Animal Teaching Hospital, Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University (CUVET)

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