When you're a pet parent, you sometimes have to embrace the unknown. Our dogs and cats, while joyful spirits that enrich our lives are independent creatures whose curiosity can get the best of them. Whether boredom provokes a late-night trash can binge (yikes) or your well-planned hike ends in injury, it's important to be prepared for the unexpected.
If your pet becomes ill or injured, time is often of the essence. Let's walk through what needs to be done if an emergency should arise with your pet.
Basic pet first aid techniques
Note: Before attempting any of the procedures below, you may have to muzzle your pet. Unfortunately, even a typically gentle pet might bite if it’s afraid or in pain.
Gently clean any open wounds. If you see a bone poking through the skin, take your pet immediately to the veterinarian.
Keep your pet as still as possible. If you know how to apply a splint, immobilize the limb. If you don't, it's best to leave it alone, because you could end up doing more harm than good.
If your pet is unable to bear weight on the limb, carry them to your vehicle for transportation to the veterinarian. If your pet is too big to lift, you may need to use a flat surface, such as a board, to move them.
Examine your pet thoroughly to locate the source of the blood. If your pet was in a fight or an accident, they may have multiple wounds that may be hard to locate under fur. A vet visit is highly recommended for any severe injury or animal attack.
Clean out the wound(s) carefully with water or an antiseptic solution.
If the bleeding is from a nail that was clipped too short, apply styptic powder or cornstarch to the area.
Using a clean cloth or gauze pad, apply gentle pressure to the wound until the bleeding stops. If the blood soaks through, apply a new compress on top of the original one.
If your pet's limb is bleeding severely, you'll need to take them to the veterinarian ASAP. In the meantime, you may want to apply a tourniquet between the wound and the body while pressing gently on the wound. After approximately 15 minutes, loosen the tourniquet.
Gently pry open your pet's mouth. If you see an object stuck in their mouth, try to remove it. Don't attempt to retrieve it if there's a danger of pushing it further into your pet's throat.
If your pet is small, hold them with their back against your chest. Press one fist against the ribcage just below the sternum, with your thumb against the abdomen. Then place your other hand over your fist. Thrust upwards five times to try and dislodge the object.
For a large dog, wrap your arms around the abdomen. Place your fist with your thumb against your pet's abdomen, then place your other hand on top of your fist. Thrust upwards five times to force air into your pet's lungs. Check to see if the object is dislodged.
If your pet is overheated, move them immediately to a cool place, out of the sun.
Cool your pet down with wet towels or, if possible, place them in a tub partially filled with room-temperature water.
Take your pet to the veterinarian for medical attention.
Make sure that your pet is not choking on an object.
If your pet isn't choking or you've cleared away the object, begin rescue breathing by holding your pet's mouth closed with one hand and breathing into your pet's nose with your mouth until you see their chest rise. Repeat every 30 seconds until your pet can breathe on its own.
Take your pet to the veterinarian ASAP.
Why you might need to know first aid for your pet
These basic first aid steps can be used for minor wounds and illnesses or to stabilize a pet before taking them for treatment by a veterinarian. These measures can also be taken if you're in an area where you don't have access to care, such as when you're camping in a remote location. By no means should these steps replace appropriate treatment from a veterinarian.
Your pet depends on you to take care of them when they're sick or injured. That often means knowing the difference between a minor issue you can take care of yourself or one that requires veterinarian attention. Responsible pet ownership also means having a health fund and/or pet insurance to help pay for unexpected bills which can escalate quickly.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.