First-Aid Tips Every Pet Owner Should Know

What if your dog took a bad tumble and started limping, or your cat nibbled on a toxic plant? Would you know what to do? Until you can make contact with a veterinarian, it’s up to you to care for your pet in a medical emergency. So it’s critical to know what (and what not) to do. Here are some basic tips for pet first aid that every animal parent should know.

How to approach an injured animal

petting a sick catCredit: krblokhin/Getty Images

Any animal who’s sick or injured might be in a lot more discomfort than they’re showing. And if you try to approach them like normal, you run the risk of being injured — or doing further damage to your pet. “Never assume that even the gentlest pet will not bite or scratch if injured,” according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. “Pain and fear can make animals unpredictable or even dangerous.”

When approaching an animal who’s showing signs of injury or illness, move calmly and quietly, the AVMA says. Refrain from trying to comfort them with hugs or kisses (and always keep your face away from their mouth) because that might further aggravate them. Examine them gently, but stop if it causes more discomfort.

Call your veterinarian before moving the animal, so they can advise you and be ready for your arrival at the clinic if need be. Ask your vet how to stabilize any injuries, and confine your pet to a small, but comfortable space while in transit. You might need to muzzle a dog or wrap a cat or other small animal in a blanket or towel for safety reasons. But always make sure they can breathe and you’re not causing any more harm, and never muzzle an animal who’s vomiting.

Furthermore, even if you think an injury or illness is minor, it’s best to seek a professional opinion as soon as possible. “Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care,” the AVMA says. “First aid care is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet’s life until it receives veterinary treatment.”

Common pet first-aid scenarios

sick dog lying on floorCredit: alex_ugalek/Getty Images

Every medical emergency with an animal is different, and no advice can replace individualized veterinary care. Still, here are some basic tips the AVMA offers for common scenarios that might require pet first aid.

Toxin exposure

Many foods, plants and other household products are toxic to pets. And awareness of them is key in preventing medical emergencies. But if your pet does manage to get a hold of something toxic, quick action is critical.

If your animal’s skin or eyes are exposed, follow the instructions on the product’s label (if possible) for what to do when people are exposed, the AVMA says. This might include flushing the area with water or washing skin with soap and water. Then, call your veterinarian for further advice. And if your pet has swallowed something toxic, immediately call a vet or poison control hotline. Give as much information about the substance as possible, including how much your pet ate and how long ago it happened. The vet might give you countermeasures to do right away before you bring your pet in for treatment.


Watching your pet having a seizure can be incredibly scary. If possible, time the seizure as soon as you see it happening. “Keep your pet away from any objects (including furniture) that might hurt it,” according to the AVMA. “Do not try to restrain the pet.” Once the seizure is over, keep your pet quiet and warm, and call your vet.


If your pet suddenly isn’t putting weight on a leg, there’s a good chance they have a bad sprain or fracture. To prevent further damage, create a makeshift stretcher using a board or other firm surface on which you can carry them, the AVMA recommends. Or use a blanket or towel as a sling. Avoid putting any pressure on the injured area. And leave any splinting to the veterinarian (unless they direct you otherwise) because a poor splint can make the injury worse.


For external bleeding, put pressure on the wound using a clean gauze pad until the blood starts to clot, which might take several minutes. “Instead of checking it every few seconds to see if it has clotted, hold pressure on it for a minimum of 3 minutes and then check it,” according to the AVMA. For severe bleeding on the legs, you might need to tie a tourniquet. It’s important to have your vet walk you through this, and get your animal in for treatment immediately.

For internal bleeding, knowing the symptoms can save your animal’s life. They include “bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, blood in urine, pale gums, collapse, weak and rapid pulse,” according to the AVMA. Keep your animal comfortable and warm, and head to the vet right away.


Symptoms of choking in an animal include “difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at the mouth, choking sounds when breathing or coughing, blue-tinged lips/tongue,” according to the AVMA. Be warned that a panicked, choking animal might become aggressive. If you can see a foreign object in your pet’s mouth, try to remove it with tweezers or pliers, taking care not to push it further down. But if you don’t think you can do this and your pet still can breathe, head to the vet immediately.

If your pet can’t breathe or collapses, you’ll likely have to provide treatment before you get to the vet. “Place both hands on the side of your pet’s rib cage and apply firm quick pressure, or lay your pet on its side and strike the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand 3-4 times,” the AVMA says. “The idea behind this is to sharply push air out of their lungs and push the object out from behind.” It’s ideal to learn this technique if you have animals through your vet or a class, so you’re able to confidently take action in an emergency.


The best way to combat heatstroke is to prevent it from ever happening. Never leave your animal in a car, even on mildly warm days. Provide them with shaded areas and water outdoors. And be especially cautious about more susceptible animals, such as brachycephalic dog breeds.

If heatstroke does occur, move your pet to a cool area out of direct sunlight. “Place a cool or cold, wet towel around its neck and head (do not cover your pet’s eyes, nose or mouth),” the AVMA says. “Remove the towel, wring it out, and rewet it and rewrap it every few minutes as you cool the animal.” Also, try running water over your animal’s body — a hose is helpful — and wash the water away as it absorbs heat. And of course, take your animal to the vet as soon as you can.

What goes into a pet first-aid kit

dog holding pet first aid kit in its mouthCredit: PK-Photos/Getty Images

Although you hope you’ll never have to use it, preparing a pet first-aid kit could make all the difference in an emergency. These are some items the ASPCA and PetMD recommend including in your kit.

  • Vet contact information and medical records
  • Disposable gloves
  • Tools: Scissors, tweezers, thermometer, oral syringe or turkey baster, small flashlight
  • Bandages: Gauze, adhesive tape, nonadhesive vet wrap
  • Medications: Diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl — for allergic reactions), styptic powder (for minor cuts), 3% hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting in dogs only under vet instructions), saline eye wash, antibiotic ointment
  • Ice pack
  • Cotton balls or swabs
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Towels
  • Restraining devices: Leash, muzzle, blanket, bag
  • Treats

Finally, because you’ll probably be the person administering the pet first aid, make sure you’re comfortable with the basics. Ask your vet for some pointers or recommendations for classes you should take, as many communities offer pet CPR and first-aid courses. So if a medical emergency does arise with your animal, you’ll have the skills you need to help them get back to their happy, healthy selves.

Main image credit: Fly_dragonfly/Getty Images


Chad Anderson
Chad A29 days ago

Thank you.

Yvonne T
Yvonne T4 months ago

thanks for sharing

Paula A
Past Member 4 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Chrissie R
Chrissie R5 months ago

Thanks, Mary, for your well written and informative articles!

Vincent T
Vincent T5 months ago


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danii p5 months ago


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Ingrid A
Past Member 5 months ago

thank you

Daniel N
Past Member 5 months ago

thank you for posting