First Aid for Pets

April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month. Emergencies strike without warning. It can be a terrifying, stressful and devastating event. When a pet is hurt during an emergency, it can be difficult to remain calm and not panic but that is what you have to do for their sake. If they are conscious, they will pick up on your emotions and react accordingly – which can be more dangerous for them. There are a few things that can help you to be prepared in case of an emergency, for example having a “game plan” before an emergency occurs can help save time that may be critical for your pet.  This blog will discuss several things including: preparing for a health emergency, preventing certain types of emergencies, top 14 emergencies that should receive immediate veterinary care, warning signs of an emergency situation, and useful phone numbers in an emergency.


If I can be candid for this first section, health care is expensive! Whether it is for yourself, your child or your pet, staying healthy is going to cost you. In an emergency situation, these costs usually increase as well. Having to make a fatal decision on your pet based exclusively on money can be extremely heartbreaking. One way to lower this aspect of decision making is to be prepared. There are several different pet insurance companies out there. ASPCA pet insurance, Nationwide , Embrace, and Pet Plan are a few pet insurance companies. Just like other insurances, do your research on the company to find the best one for your family. If having pet insurance on your pets doesn’t sound like something for your group (especially if you’re a multi-pet household like myself), another option is Care Credit. Care Credit is a healthcare credit card that many human and animal healthcare providers accept. They have lower monthly interest rates than your regular credit cards. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a multi-pet household. When I started with my very first two cats, I set up a bank account that I didn’t touch for anything else but their care. Every paycheck since that time, I have set aside a certain amount of money to go into that account. The money will accrue interest, so that when your pet has an emergency – you’ll have a “cushion” and not have to panic about where the money will come from for their care. Trust me, a few years ago my Great Dane had to have emergency bloat surgery. I was easily looking at over $1,000 for the surgery with no guarantee that she would survive through the surgery. Because I had the savings account, I was able to decide to give the surgery a chance. I’m glad to say that I have been blessed for the past eight and a half years to have her by my side.
Monetary preparation isn’t the only thing you can do for your pet. Take a pet first aid class. Many colleges and Red Cross facilities offers a course in pet first aid. There you can learn how to take their heart rate, respiratory rate, pulse and CPR. These are vital skills that can help during the time it takes to get your pet to a veterinary hospital. The Red Cross developed a wonderful Dog and Cat first aid comprehensive guides with DVDs that you can keep with another great item to have, a Pet First Aid kit. I actually have one in my house and in my car. They do sell already pre-made kits but I like to make my own and I can stock a lot of items for both my human family and pet first aid kits with the same items. I keep the pet first aid kits in a waterproof container (for natural disaster preparedness but that is a discussion for another time). Make sure everyone in the house and any pet caregivers (i.e. pet sitters) know where the kit is kept.  Kits should include:

·         Disposable exam gloves ·         Muzzle
·         Gauze sponges of varying sizes ·         Water-based sterile lubricant
·         Gauze roll, 2 inch width ·         Digital “fever” Thermometer
·         Elastic cling bandage ·         3% Hydrogen peroxide
·         Adhesive tape ·         Sterile saline wash
·         Non-adherent sterile pads ·         Eye dropper or oral syringe
·         Nylon leash ·         List of emergency phone numbers
·         Towel and/or blanket ·         List of medications and supplements your pet is currently taking & their scheduled times.


If your pet is already diagnosed with a certain illness or disease (such as Diabetes, seizures, Addison’s, etc.) customize your pet first aid kit to include items they would need in a crisis state.


Now, that you’re prepared. There are some emergencies that can be prevented or at least minimized.


  1. Don’t allow your pet to roam unsupervised / off-leash outside. Hit by a car, attacks from other animals, being shot or poisoned by someone who doesn’t want animals on their property are just a few injuries your pet can suffer from when running at large.
  1. Create a safe home environment. Just like you would child-proof your home, you should create a pet-safe environment.

2.1.   Keeping electrical wires away from chewing mouths will avoid burns and electrocution.

2.2.   Store poisons (weed, rat, etc.), fertilizers, cleaners, and insecticides in plastic containers away from where your pet is allowed to go.

2.3.   Restrict areas of your house if you have certain plants or medications (*see last week’s post about pet toxins). Storing medications in a                                secure, elevated cabinet.

2.4.   Use pet friendly de-icers.

2.5.   Don’t burn candles with flames. Use plug-ins or candle warmers.

2.6.   Have covered trash bins or store them in a pantry or closet.

2.7.   Keep toilet lids closed (especially if you use automatic/clip-on bowl cleaners.)

2.8.   Store remote and game controllers in a drawer or location where animals can’t chew on them.

  1. Be aware of temperatures. Hot and cold temperatures can be fatal. Never leave your pet in a car, even in the spring and fall. Poor ventilation, a pet’s higher body temp and “greenhouse effect” inside vehicles can cause death within minutes.
  1. Avoid vigorous exercise right before or after meals. All dog breeds, but large, deep-chested dogs are more susceptible to a life-threatening condition called Gastric Dilation-volvulus or bloat. I have the “no swimming after eating” rule with my large breed dogs. They get fed in their crate and rest for an hour after eating.
  1. Provide plenty of fresh, clean water. All animals, especially the very young and the very old, are susceptible to dehydration and kidney disease if deprived of water and can quickly lead to serious conditions.
  1. Secure animals during travel. Cats and small dogs should be in a carrier. Larger dogs can be trained to a seatbelt or in a crate. Dogs should never be allowed to ride in the back of an open truck bed. Also, be mindful of open windows – dogs love having their head out the window but too often they have fallen out and have gotten seriously hurt. Also, if you have powered windows, they may accidently close the window on their throat.
  1. Regular veterinary check-ups and keeping vaccinations up to date. Having your pet regularly examined by a vet can help avoid some disease problems and permit early detection of others, thus facilitating treatment. Many dangerous infectious diseases can be prevented or lessened in severity with a proper vaccination program.

Here is a list of 14 emergencies that should be immediately seen by a vet as recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association:

  1. Severe bleeding or bleeding that doesn’t stop within 5 minutes.
  2. Choking, difficulty breathing, blue gums or nonstop coughing and gagging.
  3. Bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, or blood in urine.
  4. Inability to urinate or pass feces (stool), or obvious pain associated with urinating or passing stool.
  5. Injuries to your pet’s eye(s).
  6. You suspect or know your pet has eaten something poisonous (such as antifreeze, xylitol, chocolate, rodent poison, etc.)
  7. Seizures and/or staggering.
  8. Fractured bones, severe lameness or inability to move leg(s).
  9. Obvious signs of pain or extreme anxiety.
  10. Heat stress or heatstroke.
  11. Hypothermia (dog/cat’s body temperature lower than 98°F)
  12. Severe vomiting or diarrhea – more than 2 episodes in a 24-hour period, or either of these combined with obvious illness or any of the other problems listed here.
  13. Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more.
  14. Unconsciousness.

Other warning signs that warrants at least a phone call to the veterinarian:

  1. Restlessness/panting
  2. Dilated pupils
  3. Unproductive retching
  4. Abnormal heart rate
  5. Abnormal breathing pattern

Make sure to note any changes in your pet’s health or behavior. Describing any changes to your pet could help the veterinarian diagnosis your pet’s illness.


In an emergency where you believe your pet has ingested something (poison, too much food, toy, etc.) seek veterinary advice before inducing vomiting. Forcing your pet to vomit could actually cause more harm or even be dangerous if done improperly or at the wrong time.


Getting help early prevents complications and more suffering. Waiting can only result in undue worry, serious deterioration of conditions and make recovery more difficult.


Program these useful phone numbers into your phone:

  • Our vet hospital, Mountain View Veterinary Services, has emergency services: 717-477-8938
  • Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661*
  • ASPCA animal poison control line: (888) 426-4435*

*Consultation fee may be applied.



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