Pet First Aid for poisining , choking, burns, and more

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NOTE: While emergency treatment and first aid for pets should never be used as a substitute for veterinary care, it may save your pet's life in an emergency.

Poisoning and Exposure to Toxins

In general, any product that is harmful to humans is also harmful to pets. Examples include obvious things such as cleaning products, rodent poisons and antifreeze but can also be common food items. For a complete guide of foods and common household items that may cause harm to your pet please reference the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) brochure What You Should Know About Household Hazards to Pets.

If your pet's skin or eyes are exposed to a toxic product, check the product label, if present, for exposure instructions. If the label instructs you to wash your hands with soap and water if you are exposed, then wash your pet's skin with soap and water taking care not to get any into the eyes, mouth, or nose. If the label tells you to flush the skin or eyes with water, do this for your pet as soon as possible if you can do it safely, and call a veterinarian immediately.

If you know your pet has consumed something that may be harmful, or if the animal is having seizures, losing consciousness, is unconscious, or is having difficulty breathing, immediately telephone your veterinarian, an emergency veterinary clinic, or the Animal Poison Control Center hotline 888.426.4435 – available 365 days/year, 24 hours/day. There is a fee for the consultation.

If possible, have the following information available:

  • Species, breed, age, sex, weight and number of animals involved
  • Symptoms
  • Name/description of the substance that is in question; the amount the animal was exposed to; and the length of time since the exposure
  • Have the product container/packaging available for reference.

Collect any material your pet may have vomited or chewed, and place it in a plastic sealable bag to take with you when you bring your animal in for veterinary treatment.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers additional information and resources on their website.


If your pet is having a seizure take the following steps:

  • Keep your pet away from any objects including furniture that might hurt it. Do not try to restrain the pet.
  • Time the seizure; they usually last 2-3 minutes.
  • After the seizure has stopped, contact your veterinarian and keep your pet as warm and quiet as possible.


To help your pet with a fracture the following actions should be taken:

  • Muzzle your pet.
  • Gently lay your pet on a flat surface for support.
  • While transporting your injured pet to a veterinarian, stabilize the injured part by securing the pet to a stretcher, any kind of board or firm surface, or use a throw rug or blanket as a sling.
  • If you feel comfortable you can attempt to set the fracture with a homemade splint. If in doubt it is always best to leave the splinting to a veterinarian as a badly placed splint can cause more harm than good.

Bleeding (External)

  • Muzzle your pet
  • Press a clean, thick gauze pad over the wound maintaining pressure with your hand until the blood starts clotting, about three minutes, then check it.
  • If bleeding is severe and on the legs, apply a tourniquet between the wound and the body using either an elastic band or gauze, and apply a bandage and pressure over the wound. Every 15-20 minutes loosen the tourniquet for 20 seconds. Severe bleeding can quickly be life-threatening so it is important to get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.

Bleeding (Internal)

Symptoms of internal bleeding include:

  • bleeding from nose
  • bleeding from mouth
  • bleeding from rectum
  • coughing up blood
  • blood in urine
  • pale gums
  • collapse
  • weak or rapid pulse.
Keep your pet as warm and quiet as possible and transport immediately to a veterinarian.



  • Muzzle the animal
  • Flush burn immediately with large quantities of water for about 15 minutes


  • Muzzle the animal
  • Quickly apply ice water compress to burned area


Symptoms of choking include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive pawing at the mouth
  • Choking sounds when breathing or coughing
  • Blue-tinged lips or tongue

If the pet can still breathe, keep it calm and get it to a veterinarian. Use caution when assisting your pet because a choking pet is more likely to bite in its panic. If you can, look into the pet's mouth to see if a foreign object is visible. If something is there, gently try to remove it with pliers or tweezers taking care not to push the object further down the throat. If you have difficulty retrieving the object bring your pet to a veterinarian.

If you can't remove the object or your pet collapses, place both hands on the side of your pet's rib cage and apply firm quick pressure, or lay your pet on its side and strike the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand three to four times to try to dislodge the object. Keep repeating this until the object is removed or you arrive at your veterinarians office.


You should never leave your pet in the car on warm days because the temperature inside can rise to dangerous levels very quickly even on milder days. In order to give your pet the best chance at survival you should bring them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If you cannot get care immediately:

  • Move your pet to a shaded area and out of direct sunlight.
  • Place a cool or cold, wet towel around its neck and head taking care not to cover your pet's eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Rewet and rewrap the towel every few minutes as you cool the animal.
  • Pour or use a hose to keep water running over the animals abdomen and hind legs. Use your hands to massage its legs and sweep the water away as it absorbs the body heat.


Shock usually follows severe injury or extreme fright. Symptoms of shock include:

  • Weak pulse
  • Shallow breathing
  • Nervousness
  • Dazed eyes

If you pet is exhibits symptoms of shock, keep your pet restrained, warm and quiet. If it is unconscious, keep its head level with the rest of the body. Transport your pet immediate to a veterinarian.

What to do if your pet is not breathing

If your pet is not breathing it is important to remain calm. If possible, have another person call the veterinarian while you are helping your pet. You should:

  • Check to see if your pet is unconscious.
  • Open your pet's airway by gently grasping its tongue and pulling it forward (out of the mouth) until it is flat.
  • Check the animal's throat to see if there are any foreign objects blocking the airway. (Reference the section on choking above)
  • Perform rescue breathing by holding your pet's mouth closed with your hand and breathing with your mouth directly into its nose until you see the animal's chest expand. Once the chest expands, continue the rescue breathing once every four or five seconds.

What to do if your pet has no heartbeat

Do not begin chest compressions until you've secured an airway and started rescue breathing. Take these steps:

  • Gently lay your pet on its right side on a firm surface. Place one hand underneath the pet's chest for support and place the other hand over the heart which is located in the lower half of the chest on the left side, just behind the elbow of the front left leg.
  • For dogs, press down gently on your pet's heart about one inch for medium-sized dogs; press harder for larger animals and with less force for smaller animals.
  • To massage the hearts of cats and other tiny pets, cradle your hand around the animal's chest so your thumb is on the left side of the chest and your fingers are on the right side of the chest, and compress the chest by squeezing it between your thumb and fingers.
  • Press down 80-120 times per minute for larger animals and 100-150 times per minute for smaller ones.
  • Do not perform rescue breathing and chest compressions at the same exact time rather alternate chest compressions with rescue breaths, or work as a team with another person so one person performs chest compressions for four to five seconds and stops long enough to allow the other person to give one rescue breath.
  • Continue until you can hear a heartbeat and your pet is breathing regularly, or you have arrived at the veterinary clinic and they can take over the resuscitation attempts.

Please remember that your pet's likelihood of surviving with resuscitation is very low. However, in an emergency it may give your pet its only chance.

For additional information, please visit the following sites:

How to spot illness and need for a vet

First aid

Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. While emergency treatment and first aid for pets should never be used as a substitute for veterinary care, it may save your pet's life in an emergency.

If you need first aid for your pet, seek veterinary care at our westside Santa Cruz animal hospital today.
Companion Animal Hospital & Veterinary Clinic • 2301 Mission Street, Santa Cruz • 831.425.1970

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