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Pet First Aid – Handling Common Emergencies

In my last blog, I gave you a list of items you should have in your pet’s first aid kit. This time I would like to go over how to handle some of the more common health emergencies associated with dogs and cats. As always, please call a veterinarian for serious or life threatening situations. When in doubt, they are your best bet for providing proper care to a sick or injured pet. Always remember that animals in pain may bite out of fear, so approach injured and sick pets with caution and NEVER touch wild or unfamiliar animals without assistance from qualified wildlife handlers.


Symptoms: Bluish color to paws, tail, or other extremities. Extremely cold to touch.

Treatment: Immediately get your pet out of the cold and into a warm environment. Fill the bath tub or sink with warm water that is approximately 85-90 degrees and submerge the animal in the water, being careful to hold your pet’s head up so it cannot slip under. The skin may appear pink when it is warming up, but this is good. If you cannot get your pet to warm water, gently massage the affected area with your hands to increase blood circulation and cover the animal with a warm towel or blanket until you can get him/her to a vet.


Symptoms: Unable to breath or swallow, drooling, change in color and/or pawing at the face

Treatment: Make absolutely sure that you are not mistaking difficulty breathing with choking. If you know for sure your pet has ingested something he/she cannot swallow, then precede with the following. First, see if you can physically remove the item from your pet’s throat by opening the mouth and examining the inside for the object. Only stick your hand into your pet’s throat if you can see the object, NEVER blindly reach inside as you may cause more harm than good. If you cannot remove the object yourself, use an open palm and slap your pet on the back between the shoulder blades to see if you can dislodge the object. Be careful with small dogs, cats or other small pets. If this does not work, a modified Heimlich maneuver can be attempted. Hold your pet around the waist with his/her rear facing you, placing a fist just behind the ribs, compress the abdomen several times with rapid pushing motions. Do this several times and check the mouth to see if the item has been dislodged enough to be removed. If you are able to get the item out, still take your pet to the vet to check for internal injuries.


Symptoms: Open wound that is bleeding

Treatment: First apply pressure directly to the wound using a clean towel or cloth in order to slow the bleeding. Depending on the severity of the wound, this may take a few seconds or several minutes. Clean the wound using mild soap and water and apply a mild antiseptic to clear it of bacteria and dirt before bandaging. Apply gauze to the cut and wrap the pet’s wound with bandaging found in your first aid kit. Be sure that the bandage is wrapped tightly enough to stay on, but not too tight as to cut off circulation. Change the bandaging frequently and wash the wound out each time you do so to prevent infection until you can take your pet to a vet. Usually mild cuts and scrapes heal quickly and will not require emergency assistance, but any wound that is profusely bleeding or especially deep may require stitches and should be attended to by a vet immediately.


Symptoms: Frequent watery stool

Treatment: Though diarrhea may not seem like an emergency, frequent loss of water through diarrhea can result in dehydration which can be fatal. If your pet has prolonged diarrhea (lasting more than a week), or if you notice a marked change in your pet’s behavior, you should schedule a vet appointment for as soon as possible. Provide your pet with plenty of water mixed with pedialyte or another drink high in electrolytes, but low in sugar. You may need to administer water with a dropper or baby bottle to get fluids into smaller pets if they refuse to drink. Minimize food portions and adjust the diet to something bland, such as cooked chicken and rice. Keep your pet inside away from extreme heat and try to keep him/her calm, minimizing stressful activity.

Snake or Spider Bite

Symptoms: Two round puncture wounds on the body, can be accompanied by swelling

CopperheadTreatment: If your pet is bitten by a venomous snake or spider, the best thing to do is immediately tie off the area surrounding the wound with a make-shift tourniquet such as a belt, a ribbon, or even a rubber band. The circulation around the bite should be cut off as much as possible to prevent the venom from spreading through your pet’s body. Keep the bitten limb elevated if possible and rush your pet to the nearest emergency vet. DO NOT suck out the venom or try to drain the wound with cutting. These methods do not work, and can actually cause harm to your pet. If possible, try to get a picture of the snake or spider that bit your pet with your cell phone or camera, so that the species can be determined and the right anti-venom can be administered to your pet. NEVER try to capture or kill a snake or you may be bitten yourself and then you and your pet are both in trouble. If you can safely scoop up a spider into a small container and take it with you to the vet, do so with caution.

One comment

  1. avatar
    Shannon's Pet-Sitting

    I HIGHLY recommend people take Pet CPR & First Aid courses. As a pet sitter this is one of my qualifications & one of the best things I have ever done! I can’t put a price on being able to save a pets life!
    I have search high & low trying to get into a Pet CPR course through the Red Cross. Even met with a rep at a pet Expo & still nothing in the NW Suburbs of Chicago!
    I went through a nationwide company called PetTech. They had several trainers in my area. The classes were 4-8 hours long depending on what program you choose. Your certification is good for 2 years.

About jeppley

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Jess has been an employee at That Fish Place/That Pet Place since 2005, stationed in both the Reptile and Small Animal rooms. She specializes in small animal care, and focuses particularly on rats, giving her the nickname of “The Rat Girl” by her customers and fellow employees. She has an Associate degree in Liberal Arts from Penn State York and is currently attending English courses online at University of Maryland University College. Her passion has always been animals and she has owned just about every variety of them, including cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, and even millipedes! She also loves writing and is working on publishing a series of young adult fantasy novels.
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