None of us wants to think about our pets getting injured or experiencing any type of life- threatening situation and naturally we want to use professional veterinary care whenever possible. However, there may be a time that you become your pet’s only and best chance at a successful outcome!

What if:

  • Your vet’s office is closed?
  • You are not anywhere near a veterinary hospital?
  • Your pet is experiencing a life- threatening emergency and action must be taken right away?

First Aid is the immediate and temporary assistance given to a pet but should always be followed up with professional veterinary care! Our role is to stabilize our pets and minimize the emergency until a veterinarian can provide the care they need.

How do you know if your pet is experiencing an emergency?

Sometimes it’s obvious when your pet is experiencing an emergency, but sometimes it isn’t so clear. The best way to know if something is not right with your pet is to know what is normal for your pet: It is helpful to be aware of your pet’s normal:

  • Heart Rate (dogs: 60-120 beats per minute, cats: 110-220 beats per minute in general)
  • Respiratory Rate (dogs: 10-30 breaths per minute, cats: 20-40 breaths per minute in general)
  • Body Temperature (for dogs: 99.5-102.5, cats: 100.5-102.5 in general)
  • Gum Color (pink and moist are good- white, pale, bluish, purple, yellow, or bright red could indicate severe problems)
  • ”Capillary Refill Time” (the number of seconds it takes for a blanched out portion of the gum to return to normal coloring- should be less than 2 seconds in most cases)
  • Weight as this may direct how some first aid assistance is given.

These ”normals” can vary which is why it is so important to know your pets!

The list of emergencies your pet can experience can seem endless. Some common examples include:

  • Cardiopulmonary Arrest or Respiratory DistressDog wearing an Ohio State Jersey with a cast on left front leg.
  • Choking
  • Fractures/sprains/strains
  • Impaling wounds
  • Ingestion of poisons or toxins
  • Electrocution
  • Heat stroke or hypothermia
  • Burns
  • Bloat
  • Urinary Obstruction

And unfortunately, many more.

During an emergency, your pet will rely solely on you to help them and possibly save their lives. But you don’t have to panic! You can handle these emergency situations with the right information, plan, and training.

There are three steps to prepare for an emergency:

1.  Get a First Aid Kit– A kit doesn’t have to be fancy- any sturdy container will do. The important thing is to keep it well stocked and easily accessible. It is a good idea to keep a Pet First Aid Guide in your kit and you can also consider the American Red Cross’s Pet First Aid app that you can download directly in to your smartphone. There are many things you could consider including in your pet’s first aid kit so for some good resources with lists and suggestions you can visit:

2.  Make a Plan having a plan ready means that you know ahead of time how you will deal with emergencies. Obtain important phone numbers and addresses for local emergency veterinary hospitals, including those in areas you may be visiting away from home. Making a Plan may also include knowing, for example, how you will lift and transport an injured pet in situations where assistance will be needed from friends or neighbors.

3.  Get Informed –this will take a little time and effort but is worth it for the peace of mind it will bring knowing that you have to training and skills needed to help your pet. There are several options for getting the information and training you need to perform first aid assistance successfully, including:

  • Participating in a structured training class provides a great deal of information and the ability to ask questions of a knowledgeable provider as well as the opportunity to engage in direct, hands- on skills practice. Consider taking part in an American Red Cross Pet First Aid Certification class in your area.
  • Pet First Aid Guides have a lot of the information necessary to get you through some of the basics.
  • The web offers many well- written articles and resources, including basic first aid procedures, first aid tips for pet owners, and how to give first aid to your dog


When you encounter an emergency situation, one of the first things to consider is how to protect yourself Dog with a gauze muzzlefrom being bitten. Biting is a reflexive response to pain and even the gentlest animals may bite when scared or in pain. Therefore, as long as your pet is NOT choking or having any difficulty breathing, in cardiopulmonary arrest, vomiting, or experiencing a seizure or heat- related illness, it is recommended that you muzzle your pet first. A commercially produced muzzles is best but you can also easily fashion a homemade muzzle out of a long strip of gauze.

As you assess the situation, different approaches will work in different scenarios. Below are some of the most basic procedures to keep in mind for some of the common emergencies:

  • The most common emergency we will face with our pets is a Bleeding Wound. Cuts, tears, Dog leg with bandagelacerations, or impaling injuries can occur during a fight or even when your pet is at play. You can help your pet by applying direct pressure with a clean, non- stick sterile gauze pad to the wound. If the pad soaks through, do not remove the gauze but rather, continue to place gauze pads on top of the existing gauze until the bleeding has slowed or stopped. Then wrap or tape to secure the gauze compression pads in place and transport to the vet.


  • Our pets, especially our dogs, love to get into things they shouldn’t and Choking hazards can be Woman performing Heimlich maneuver on a dog.frightening. But keep in mind that foreign objects are not the only cause of airway obstructions! Blood, vomit, mucous, and even inflammation in the airway may prevent our pets from being able to breathe normally. If you can remove the obstruction with a finger sweep or suction tube then do so however if an object is lodged in the airway, you will need to assist your pets. A Heimlich Maneuver or Shoulder Strikes can help push the object out.


  • Cardiopulmonary Arrest is perhaps the most frightening of all- this is the complete absence of a Woman in a white medical coat performing chest compressions on a dogpulse and respiration. Immediate action is required: Place your pet on their right side lying down and gently extend the head and neck to open the airway-Check the airway for any obstructions-Perform 10-20 chest compressions to every 1 rescue breath stopping after a minute to assess if the heart has begun beating on its own. Continue for up to 20 minutes or until you reach the hospital


There are many things to learn and know when it comes to being able to save your pet’s life but it can be learned and you can be prepared with a little training and homework. Begin today by Getting a Kit, Making a Plan, and Getting Informed! – Rita DiPaolo

Rita DiPaolo is a Licensed Training Provider in Pet First Aid Certification Training for the American Red Cross as well as a Licensed Veterinary Technician. She is the owner of a local pet care service, A Pet Care Affair, and her goal is to make Columbus, Ohio the safest place in the country to be a pet!

Image credits:

  1. OSU dog with broken leg:  The Wexner Center
  2. Dog with gauze muzzle, bleeding, and choking:  Infovets
  3. Dog CPR:  Pawshpal Blog