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Australian Veterinary Hospital

Pet First Aid

When your pet has an emergency, being prepared is very important. We cannot stress enough that you SHOULD NOT get on-line during a pet emergency or when your pet is seriously ill. In an emergency, first aid is not a substitute for veterinary treatment. However, before you are able to get your pet to a veterinarian, knowing some basic first aid can help. Always seek veterinary care following first-aid attempts.




Bite Wounds

Approach the pet carefully to avoid getting bitten. Muzzle the animal. Check the wound for contamination or debris. If significant debris is present, then clean the wound with large amounts of saline or balanced electrolyte solution. If these are not available, then regular water may be used. Wrap large open wounds to keep them clean. Apply pressure to profusely bleeding wounds. Do not use a tourniquet. Wear gloves when possible.

Bite wounds often become infected and need professional care. Call your veterinarian.



Apply firm, direct pressure over the bleeding area until the bleeding stops. Hold the pressure for at least 10 straight minutes (continually releasing the pressure to check the wound will hamper the clotting). Avoid bandages that cut off circulation.

Call your veterinarian immediately.

Breathing Stops

Check to see if the animal is choking on a foreign object. If an animal is not breathing, place it on a firm surface with its left side up. Check for a heartbeat by listening at the area where the elbow touches the chest. If you hear a heartbeat but not breathing, close the animal’s mouth and breathe directly into its nose--not the mouth--until the chest expands. Repeat 12 to 15 times per minute. If there is no pulse, apply heart massage at the same time. The heart is located in the lower half of the chest, behind the elbow of the front left leg. Place one hand below the heart to support the chest. Place other hand over the heart and compress gently. To massage the hearts of cats and other tiny pets, compress the chest with the thumb and forefingers of one hand. Apply heart massage 80-120 times per minute for larger animals and 100-150 per minute for smaller ones. Alternate heart massage with breathing.

Please note: Even in the hands of well-trained veterinary health professionals, the success of resuscitation is very low overall. Success may be slightly higher in the cases of drowning or electrical shock.

Call your veterinarian immediately.


(Chemical, electrical, or heat including from a heating pad) Symptoms: singed hair, blistering, swelling, redness of skin. Flush the burn immediately with large amounts of cool, running water. Apply an ice pack for 15-20 minutes. Do not place an ice pack directly on the skin. Wrap the pack in a light towel or other cover. If the animal has large quantities of dry chemicals on its skin, brush them off. Water may activate some dry chemicals.

Call your veterinarian immediately.


Symptoms include difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at the mouth, blue lips and tongue. Be sure to protect yourself as well as the animal, as the pet will likely be frantic and may be more likely to bite. If the pet can still partially breathe, it’s best to keep the animal calm and get to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Look into the mouth to see if foreign object in throat is visible. If you can, clear the airway by removing the object with pliers or tweezers, being careful not to push it farther down the throat. If it is lodged too deep or if the pet collapses, then place your hands on both sides of the animal’s rib cage and apply firm, quick pressure. Or place the animal on its side and strike the side of the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand three or four times. Repeat this procedure until the object is dislodged or you arrive at the veterinarian’s office.

Call your veterinarian immediately.


Withhold food for 12-24 hours, but not water. Sometimes pets that appear to be straining are sore from diarrhea rather than from constipation. Your veterinarian can help you decide which it is and what will help. Trying at-home treatments without knowing the real cause can just make things worse.

Call your veterinarian.


Symptoms include pain, inability to use a limb, or limb at odd angle. Muzzle the pet and look for bleeding. If you can control bleeding without causing more injury, then do so. Watch for signs of shock. DO NOT TRY TO SET THE FRACTURE by pulling or tugging on the limb. Transport the pet to the veterinarian immediately, supporting the injured part as best you can.


Symptoms include rapid or labored breathing, vomiting, high body temperature, collapse. Place the animal in a tub of cool water. Or, gently soak the animal with a garden hose or wrap it in a cool, wet towel. Do not overcool the animal. Stop cooling when rectal temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

Call veterinarian immediately.


Symptoms include vomiting, convulsions, diarrhea, salivation, weakness, depression, pain. Record what the pet ingested and how much. Immediately call your veterinarian or poison control center. Do not induce vomiting. In case of toxins or chemicals on the skin from oils, paints, insecticides and other contact irritants, request directions on if and how to wash the toxin off.


Symptoms include salivation, loss of control of urine or stool, violent muscle twitching, loss of consciousness. Move the pet away from any objects that could be harmful during the seizure. Use a blanket for padding and protection. Do not put yourself at risk by restraining the pet during the seizure. Time the seizure. They usually last only 2 to 3 minutes. Afterwards, keep the animal calm and quiet.

Call your veterinarian immediately.


Symptoms include irregular breathing, dilated pupils. Shock may occur as a result of a serious injury or fright. Keep the animal gently restrained, quiet, and warm, with the lower body elevated.

Call your veterinarian immediately.


Withhold food for 12-24 hours. Give the pet ice cubes for two hours after vomiting stops, then slowly increase the amount of water and foods given over a 24-hour period.

Call your veterinarian.

If you need to muzzle your pet use a strip of soft cloth, rope, necktie, or nylon stocking. Wrap around the nose, under the chin and tie behind the ears. Care must be taken when handling weak or injured pets. Even normally docile pets will bite when in pain. Allow the pet to pant after handling by loosening or removing the muzzle. Do not use a muzzle in a case of vomiting. Cats and small pets may be difficult to muzzle. A towel placed around the head will help control small pets.

If your pet can’t walk A door, board, blanket, or floor mat can be used as a stretcher to transport injured or weak animals.

Straining to Eliminate

Straining is a frequent and sometimes exaggerated effort to have a bowel movement or to urinate.

It is often difficult to tell if the pet is having trouble urinating or defecating. Most owners think their pet is constipated when they first notice them straining. Straining produced by constipation may be identical to straining produced by a blocked urethra, diarrhea or an inflamed colon. Therefore, treatment of an assumed cause of straining may be the opposite of what is actually needed.

In cats, straining is often indicative of urinary tract inflammation. Cats sometimes develop a condition called feline lower urinary tract disease in which the bladder becomes inflamed due to an unknown cause.  This can also sometimes be accompanied by tiny crystals in their urine. When there are too many crystals, they can plug the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder) and prevent the bladder from emptying – this is a life-threatening emergency! The bladder becomes distended and the pet strains to relieve itself. Urethral obstructions are more common in male cats, while both males and females can be afflicted with urinary tract inflammation. Without help, this pet may be in critical condition within 12 hours. True urinary tract infections are actually quite rare in male cats. Dogs may also have obstructed urinary tracts due to stones, tumors or inflammation.



Fainting/Dizziness (Syncope)

Fainting is the sudden loss of consciousness or a sudden and marked weakness. It may be associated with numerous medical conditions and can be caused by anything from low blood sugar and neurological diseases to severe heart disease.  What to Do Immediately position the pet with the head down and the hind quarters elevated. This will improve brain blood flow.  Cover the pet with a blanket to preserve body heat. If the pet vomits, make sure he or she does not inhale any of the vomitus into his lungs by keeping the head down.  Seek veterinary attention.


Difficult Birth


Puppies are born 59 to 65 days after mating.  The cat gestation period is similar at 63 to 65 days. At the beginning of labor, the contractions may be infrequent, weak, or incomplete. The female may continue for up to 3 hours before a veterinary examination is necessary as long as she does not seem to be ill or in undue pain. If the contractions are frequent, regular, and strong, and no young is produced in 15 to 30 minutes, the pet should be taken to a veterinarian. A dark green vaginal discharge called lochia should be followed within 5 to 10 minutes by puppy or kitten, but only before the first one.


Cats can take up to 24 hours to complete the birthing process, while most dogs have completed the process within 4 to 6 hours.

About two out of three cases of difficult birth (known as dystocia) that need to be seen by a veterinarian will need to have an emergency C-section performed. It is good practice to know long before the due date where your local veterinary emergency facility is, and when and if they can perform a C-section. C-sections are risky and expensive surgeries and careful consideration should be given to the decision to breed your pet or not. X-rays taken after the 42nd day of gestation can show how many babies will be born. This will allow you to know when the mother is done giving birth.
Reddish to brownish vaginal discharge can continue for several weeks after a normal birth. If the mother is eating normally and is normally active, this isn’t a problem. If she becomes lethargic, stops eating or acts ill, prompt veterinary attention is needed.

Some new mothers can experience a condition called eclampsia in which their blood calcium levels drop dangerously low. This is due to the large amount of calcium secreted in milk for the newborns. Dogs with eclampsia experience severe muscle tremors, difficulty walking and seizures. Immediate veterinary care is needed if your dog is showing any of these signs. Eclampsia can happen anytime around birth, but is most common during peak milk production (2 to 4 weeks after birth).