Pet First Aid

I have had clients ask on various occasions what they could do at home when minor emergencies happen to their pets, especially when they occur outside of regular clinic hours. Now the key word here is MINOR, and neither I, nor the other veterinarians at Hillcrest Animal Hospital recommend by-passing veterinary care in an emergency. However, there are things you can do prior to seeking veterinary help that can increase the chances of a favourable outcome. And given April is National Pet First Aid Awareness month, I thought it would be the perfect time to give some first aid advice. Here are just a few common emergencies that would benefit from first aid, in addition to veterinary attention.

Bleeding – Apply direct pressure to the bleeding area until it stops. Seek veterinary care immediately if bleeding does not stop after 5-10 minutes. Avoid applying anything that would cut off circulation.

Bite wounds – Clean wound(s) with sterile saline, or if not available then use luke warm water. Apply pressure to any bleeding and bandage if possible. Most bite wounds can become infected so seek veterinary care in a timely manner.

Choking – A choking animal is likely to bite due to distress. IF your pet is calm enough, check mouth for cause of choking and remove if safe to do so, preferably using a pair of pliers or other instrument and not your fingers. If the animal collapses or the object is too deep, place your hands on both sides of the pet’s rib cage and apply firm, quick pressure. Alternatively, 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. Seek immediate veterinary care.

Diarrhea – Withhold food (not water) for 12-24 hours. If diarrhea persists, see your veterinarian.

Heatstroke – Symptoms include rapid or laboured breathing, vomiting, high body temperature, and collapse. Place the animal in a tub of cool water, soak the animal with a garden hose, or wrap it in a cool, wet towel. Do not overcool the animal and do not use ice as it will cool too quickly. Stop cooling when rectal temperature reaches 39.5oC (103oF). Seek immediate veterinary care.

Vomiting – Withhold food and water for 12 hours. If vomiting stops, offer small amounts of water or ice cubes. If no vomiting after 24 hours reintroduce small amounts of food. A vomiting pet can become dehydrated quickly so be sure to contact your veterinarian if vomiting is continuous or persists beyond 24 hours.

Pet First Aid Courses and Kits

There are various courses available in pet first aid. Walks n’ Wags based out of Vancouver, BC provides courses throughout Canada as well as a distance education program. When looking into courses, be sure to check the company’s credentials and ask for references from other people who have taken the course.
If learning how to do CPR on your pet seems daunting then a first aid course may not be for you. Even so, being prepared for minor problems can be as simple as having a pet first aid kit handy. There are various first aid kits available to purchase online (Walks n’ Wags, Humane Society of Canada, ASPCA) or you could put together your own kit.

A typical first aid kit would include (but not limited to):

– a portable box or bag to put contents in (a fanny pack works well)
– important phone numbers (your veterinarian, local emergency clinic, animal control, pet poison control)
– a copy of your pets vaccination certificate
– latex-free examination gloves
– sterile alcohol wipes
– sting relief pads
– sterile gauze pads
– conform gauze
– sterile non-stick dressing
– VetrapTM or other self-adhesive flexible bandaging material
– tensor bandage(s)
– 1” medical tape
– cotton swabs
– bandaids
– scissors
– hot/cold pack
– tweezers
– antibiotic ointment (eg. Polysporin)
– emergency blanket
– Kwik stop or other styptic powder for those accidental too short nail trims
– penlight or small flashlight
– cloth triangle bandages & safety pins

Optional items may include:

– sterile saline for rinsing wounds and eyes
– digital thermometer and water-based lubricating jelly
– Benadryl (ask your Veterinarian for dosing instructions for your pet)
– Aspirin* (only use as directed by a veterinarian)
– 3% hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting)
– liquid bandage (great for small cuts on pads of feet or nose)
– oral syringes
– Tick Twister® (if in an endemic tick area)
– muzzle that fits your pet (ANY animal in distress is likely to bite)
– extra leash +/- collar
– elizabethan collar (plastic “cone” to prevent licking/chewing/scratching)

Other handy things to have readily available:

Skunk spray remedy

1L 3% hydrogen peroxide (unopened bottle)
1/4 cup of baking soda
1 tsp liquid dish soap


Bathe pet in solution while wearing gloves and let sit for 10 minutes before rinsing. Be careful not to get into pet’s eyes or mouth. Rinse eyes with cool water or eye flush if appear irritated.

“Normal” Values for Dogs and Cats

Heart Rates: 70-140 bpm for large breeds, up to 180 bpm for small breeds of dogs (puppies up to 220). 120-240 bpm for cats.
Respiratory Rates: 12-40 per minute for dogs, 20-40 per minute for cats
Rectal Temperature: normal range is 38.0 celsius to 39.5 celsius

Phone Numbers and Websites of Interest

Hillcrest Animal Hospital 613-394-4811
Kingston Regional Pet Hospital (after-hours and weekend emergencies) 613-634-5370
ASPCA Pet Poison Control 1-888-426-4435
Pet Poison Helpline 1-800-213-6680
Walks n’ Wags
Veterinary Partner (First Aid)
AVMA First Aid Tips
Lomsnes Veterinary Hospital


Dr. Adrianna Sage
Hillcrest Animal Hospital
April, 2012

*Never give aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to a cat as they are extremely toxic. And never give ibuprofen (Advil) to a dog as it can cause kidney failure.