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Emergency First Aid for Pets

by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM


Life is full of surprises…some of them very unwelcome. Any pet can be injured or become seriously ill, even at home, but especially outdoors, whether in a yard, dog park, or out walking or hiking.

It’s always best to be prepared to deal with such emergencies. Put your veterinarian’s or emergency clinic’s number in your cell phone or wallet, so that if their services are needed, you can call ahead so they’ll be ready. Keep a pet first-aid kit in the house and/or car, and review the accompanying manual so you’ll have a head start on what to do in case of emergency.

One addition we recommend to any first aid kit is Rescue Remedy. This flower essence formula can be used for an immediate calming effect in any stressful situation, or when your pet needs help overcoming a variety of emotional or behavioral problems [I.e., fear of loud noises, separation anxiety, excessive barking or hissing, and more] .

Homeospathic remedies are fast acting and effective, so having a few on hand can be useful, and sometimes even life-saving. Here are some types you may want to consider:

  • Homeopathic anxiety formula can help keep a sick or injured pet calm and encourage it to allow treatment.
  • Homeopathic trauma formula to have on hand for bumps and bruises as well as more serious trauma.
  • Homeopathic digestive formula may be handy for animals with acute digestive problems. While vomiting and diarrhea are rarely emergencies, when they are severe, this remedy can keep your pet comfortable while you’re on your way to the vet.

Here are some practical tips that every pet owner should be aware of for emergency situations you may encounter:


Poisoning: Most products that are dangerous for people are also harmful to pets. However, things like chocolate, macadamia nuts, raisins, and drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are also toxic to pets. Never give a human medication to your pet without specific instructions from your vet. If you know or suspect that your pet has eaten something toxic, contact your veterinarian, emergency clinic, or Animal Poison Control Center hotline (888-426-4435, available 24/7) immediately (there is a fee for the consultation). Do not induce vomiting unless instructed to do so.

If your pet has already vomited, collect any remnants of the item or substance in a baggie and take it with you to the vet.

Seizures: When your pet has a seizure, you can help them most by remaining calm. Don’t try to restrain your pet, never put your hands near your pet’s mouth during a seizure, but do move them away from furniture or other objects they may hit or hurt themselves on. If possible, time the length of the seizure and observe your pet carefully so you’re able to give your veterinarian as clear, and accurate, account of the event as possible. Contact your veterinarian promptly.

Fracture or sprains: These injuries can be extremely painful, and can cause any pet to bite. For safety, muzzle your pet with a leash or a gauze strip. If possible, splint the leg to stabilize it for transport. Move the animal onto a flat surface that can serve as a stretcher or a blanket or rug that can be used as a sling. See veterinary care immediately.

Fracture or sprains: These injuries can be extremely painful, and can cause any pet to bite. For safety, muzzle your pet with a leash or a gauze strip. If possible, splint the leg to stabilize it for transport. Move the animal onto a flat surface that can serve as a stretcher or a blanket or rug that can be used as a sling. See veterinary care immediately.

Bleeding: If the pet is stressed, use a muzzle. For minor bleeding, such as a toenail, a styptic pencil can be used. For more serious wounds, cover the area with a gauze pad, clean cloth, or even folded newspaper (which is relatively sterile), and use direct pressure (firm, but not excessive—which can inhibit clotting) with your hands to stop the bleeding. Keep pressure on for 3 minutes, or until the blood clots is strong enough to stop the bleeding.

Choking: If your pet has difficulty breathing, is pawing at the mouth, or makes choking sounds when breathing or coughing, it may be choking. Look into the pet's mouth to see if a foreign object is visible. If you see an object, you can gently try to remove it with pliers or tweezers, or slip a spoon behind it and pop it out; but be careful--it is very easy to push the object further down the throat, which could make the problem worse. Don't waste time fussing with it; get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.

If the pet can’t breathe or collapses, you can do a sort of modified Heimlich maneuver. Lay the animal on its side, place your hands on the rib cage, and apply firm quick pressure, or strike the ribs firmly with the palm of your hand a few times. The idea is to push a burst of air out of the lungs to eject the object out from behind. Repeating until the object is dislodged or you arrive at the veterinarian's office.

Emergency treatment and first aid for pets should never be used as a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet's life on the way to your veterinarian and/or emergency veterinary facility.

Remember, a sick or injured pet may be in pain, scared, and confused, which can make it unpredictable. Even the calmest, gentlest pet may bite or scratch if injured. Handle the animal with a light touch and appropriate caution, and keep your hands and face away from its mouth.



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The articles and information in the Holistic Healthcare Library are presented for informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product. The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian. Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff, guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care products.

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