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April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month!

puppy with first aid kit, pet first aid, pet health

We are living in some crazy times right now. You have to plan for disaster in your job, your rent or mortgage, and potentially your family. But have you planned for taking care of your pets? Your pets are family and should be a part of that planning!

At this time many veterinarians are unable to perform routine care for your pets. Now is a great time to familiarize yourself with basic first aid and safety for your pet! You may still need to get your fur baby to a professional but you can manage minor injuries, assess and stabilize, and provide some routine care yourself.

How can you prepare?

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, 25 percent more pets would survive if one pet first aid technique had been applied prior to getting emergency vet care. Many pet owners do not know what constitutes an emergency or what to do in an actual emergency to help stabilize their pets. Here’s how you can change that:

  1. Attend a pet first aid and CPR class! There are many courses out there, both online and in-person, to teach pet owners basic first aid and CPR. The Red Cross and Pet Tech have well known programs. Links to both courses are at the bottom of this post.
  2. Always keep a pet first aid kit nearby! Every pet owner should have a first aid kit at home. If you often take your pets camping, hiking, or hunting you may also want to have a first aid kit in your car. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the ASPCA have good checklists for what should be included. Make sure you check your first aid kit at least once per year to switch out any medications or supplies that have expired. Set a reminder to do so in April during Pet First Aid Awareness!
  3. Pet proof your home, especially your kitchen. Make sure you know what foods your pet should not eat and keep them out of reach from your furry friend. Remove hazardous objects from your pet’s environment, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies tend to examine their world with their mouths and you do not want to have to rush your pup to the vet because he ate a sock or your child’s action figure.

What should you do?

  1. Know your vet and your pet. Regardless of whether you’ve just moved to the area or lived there your whole life, make sure that you (and consequently your pets) have a relationship with a local veterinary clinic. It is important for you to know where your vet is, how to contact them, and that they know your pet and his/her history. It is also important that you know your pet’s “normal” so that you can tell when something is wrong. Make sure you take a resting heart rate, respiration, and temperature so that you have a baseline. Know your pet’s typically eating and eliminating schedule so that you can tell when something is off.
  2. Check the scene and the pet. If you did not witness what happened make sure you look for any potential hazards to you or the pet or clues to what your pet ate or interacted with. Once it is safe to do so, observe your pet’s body, posture, and breathing to inform the vet of their status. If applicable check for a heart rate or pulse, temperature, and level of consciousness and perform necessary CPR or first aid to stabilize your pet. Watch your pet for signs of distress and fear and respect their body language.
  3. In the case of an actual emergency, always call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic or poison control immediately. Relay the necessary information to your veterinarian clearly. If you have taken any first aid steps be sure to tell your vet. Prepare your pet for transport and ensure they are stabilized and safely supported during your trip to the vet. Be prepared for your pet to go into shock if it is a severe injury. Have a blanket or two to wrap around your pet to help maintain body temperature.
  4. Stay calm. Your pet can and will pick up on your stress which could exacerbate their emergency. Keep your voice and movements quiet and steady and do your best to stay in control. This is a scary event but if you can retain a sense of calm then you are already helping your pet.

Common household injuries

  • Abrasions/Hot spots: scrapes to your pet’s skin can be shallow and heal easily or larger and more serious. Hot spots are created by excessive licking or scratching in a certain area and can also vary in severity. Carefully clip the hair around the area so you can see and work on the wound. Wash the wound with warm water or a saline solution first to remove dirt, debris, or clumps of hair. Apply triple antibiotic ointment and try to keep your pet from licking/chewing on the area. You can put a clean sock or a clean gauze pad on the area to prevent licking. If the wound is large, deep, or doesn’t begin to heal in 3-4 days contact your veterinarian.

  • Allergies/Allergic reactions: The most common causes of allergic reactions are insect bites or stings or skin allergies. If your pet has been stung, make sure the stinger isn’t still present (it would usually be small and black). Do not pick it out as that can release toxins. Use a hard surface like your nail or a credit card to scrape it off. You can apply a cold compress or ice pack to reduce any swelling. You may be able to administer an antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl) but only with approval from your veterinarian. Be sure that the product only contains diphenhydramine as other allergy medicines can contain toxic ingredients and only give the dose recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Diarrhea: We’ve all experienced this with our pets at one point or another. Diarrhea can be caused by many things, both serious and not. If your pet’s diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours, your pet is very old or young, or if there is blood in the diarrhea they should be checked out by a veterinarian. Take away any potential culprit (new food, new treat, new toy) that could be the cause. Put your pet on a bland high-fiber low-fat diet, such as boiled meat with cooked white rice in a 1 part meat to 3 part grain ratio, for 2-3 days before slowly reintroducing the normal diet. As long as there is no vomiting you can give your pet as much water as they’d like but make sure they do not gulp down too much at a time. You can add an electrolyte solution to their water to help replace lost nutrients. Ask your doctor about medications such as Kaolin/pectin or Pepto Bismol.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration can occur anytime but is most common during the summer months if your pet does not get enough water or has too much heat exposure. Dehydration can be serious and should always be discussed with your veterinarian. Chances are your vet will want to examine your pet to determine how severe it is. If your pet is not vomiting you can give him/her an electrolyte replacement drink like Pedialyte. If you suspect heat exhaustion/exposure, try to keep your pet cool and place cold damp clothes around your pet’s neck and on the pads of the feet.
  • Nails/Pad wounds:If your pet gets a broken nail or if you clip a toenail too short apply styptic powder (or cornstarch) to the area. You can also apply direct pressure to the nail with clean gauze or cloth for 5 minutes to stop bleeding. If you successfully stop the bleeding wait 1 day (to ensure you do not disturb the clot) and then soak the paw in warm water and a saline solution to help healing. Monitor the site for infection, swelling, worsening of pain or continued bleeding. If your pet presents any of those signs take him/her to the veterinarian. For pad wounds be sure to remove any foreign objects and wash the area with a saline solution. Dry and bandage the foot. Pads have many blood vessels so all pad wounds will likely bleed a lot and will require at least a call to your veterinarian.

  • Urinary accidents: I’m not talking about your puppy having an accident during potty training (unless they are frequent and excessive). Accidents from dogs who have been potty trained or frequent urination could indicate a urinary tract infection or a weak bladder. Contact your veterinarian to determine the cause and prescribe medication. If your pet is straining to urinate or crying when urinating, if you see blood in the urine, or if your pet is frequently squatting to urinate with only nothing or small drops present take your pet to the vet immediately as this could be a life threatening urinary blockage!
  • Vomiting: Many of us pet owners have had to clean up vomit at one point or another. While it is not normal, most of the time vomiting is a temporary condition and your pet will be fine. Withhold food and water for 8-12 hours (do not do this for young, old, or otherwise ill animals). If vomiting has stopped while not eating or drinking you can offer small quantities of ice chips every few hours as long as vomiting doesn’t recur. Slowly reintroduce water and an electrolyte replacement to prevent dehydration. If vomiting still doesn’t occur add a bland diet in small increments over the next 12 hours. Then slowly reintroduce a larger amount of food and decreased frequency over 48 hours before transitioning your pet back to their normal diet. If vomiting continues after you have withheld food for more than 12-24 hours contact your veterinarian immediately.

Always wash your hands and wear non latex disposable gloves when coming into contact with your pet’s wound or bodily fluids.

Don’t forget about your pocket pets.

Many people in the world also own pocket pets, including guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, hamsters, or rats. When it comes to first aid for these little friends, make sure you know what is normal. If you know what their normal respiration and heart rate are, how much they should weigh, and what is the ideal body temperature, then you can more easily see any abnormalities as they arise. However, although they may be easy to diagnose, pocket pets are often difficult to treat so it is always a good idea to contact your veterinarian. According to Denise Fleck, The Pet Safety Crusader, often unless there is an external physical injury the first sign of any issue is a lack of eating or pooping. Keep your pet warm and supported with a warm towel wrap and contact your veterinarian. Make sure you bring a stool sample to your appointment to test for parasites or other causes. Visible external injuries, such as a limp leg, weakness or paralysis, head tilt, visible bleeding, or  inflammation, also require a trip to a species specific vet. For small cuts and scrapes apply pressure with a clean gauze pad. Once bleeding has stopped wash the area with betadine or hydrogen peroxide and dab on some triple antibiotic ointment.

If you are ever unsure or worried, please contact your veterinarian immediately!

For ASPCA’s poison control hotline click here or call 888-426-4435.

If you’d like more details check out

  • The Red Cross Pet First Aid courses
  • Pet Tech’s Pet First Aid class
  • The Pet Safety Crusader’s courses