Pet First Aid: How to Prepare for and Handle Pet Emergencies

Pet First Aid

Our animal companions are not only cherished members of our families, but they also rely entirely on us for their safety and wellbeing

A pet first aid kit and basic first aid knowledge are vital for immediate response to pet injuries or emergencies. They can prevent the worsening of injuries, reduce pain, and save lives. Quick action with the right supplies and skills ensures your pet receives timely care, enhancing their chances of a speedy recovery.

Recognising Emergency Situations 

Pets can’t verbalise their needs like humans can, so it’s important for pet owners to be vigilant and know what red flags to look out for. Recognising emergency situations involving pets is vital in making sure appropriate treatment is undertaken right away. 

The following signs from a pet can be an example of an emergency situation: 

  • Rapid breathing or panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Restlessness 
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Disorientation 
  • Paling of the gums
  • Seizures
  • Limping
  • Refusal of water and food 
  • Sudden changes in behaviour 

Pet owners are the best people to advocate for their furry friends. They should be aware of their pet’s baseline behaviour and health in order to notice deviations. Regular veterinary check-ups can further ensure your pet is in good health.

Essential Items for Your Pet First Aid Kit

A well-equipped pet safety kit is essential for providing immediate care to your furry friend in the case of injury.

Some items that should be included in a pet first aid kid: 

  • Secure container: To store all of the pet first aid supplies. 
  • Phone number list: Include the number for your vet, a local emergency veterinary clinic, and a poison control centre. 
  • Clean towels: To wrap around your pet to keep them warm and restrained, or dampened to help cool them down.
  • Soft muzzle: To safely restrain your pet if they become agitated or aggressive due to pain. 
  • Disposable gloves: Worn to protect you and your pet from contamination during the administration of first aid. 
  • Non-stick sterile wound dressings: These can be used to control bleeding and cover wounds to protect against infection. 
  • Gauze roll and stretchy bandages: Used to support or immobilise injuries. 
  • Saline solution: For flushing out eyes or wounds. 
  • Adhesive tapes such as surgical tapes: For holding bandages and dressings in place. 
  • Blunt-ended scissors: To cut bandages or tape, or trim fur. 
  • Cotton balls or swabs: To help clean a wound. 
  • Tweezers or needle-nose pliers: To remove debris such as splinters, ticks and other foreign objects from your pet’s skin. 
  • Bottle of water: Offer your pet a drink to help them rehydrate, or dampen a towel to help cool and relax your pet. Water can be used to flush wounds in the absence of saline solution. 

First Aid Tips for Common Pet Emergencies

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke in pets is a medical emergency that requires prompt attention to prevent serious injury. 

Signs of heat stroke include: 

  • Excessive panting
  • Extreme drooling
  • Rapid breathing and heart beat
  • Elevated body temperature (over 40°C)
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Collapse

If you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke, follow these steps:

  1. Move your pet to a cooler area.
  2. Wet them with cool water or damp towels. 
  3. Use a fan or air conditioning to aid cooling and ensure sufficient air flow around the pet. 
  4. Offer small amounts of cool water for them to drink.
  5. Contact your vet immediately, even if symptoms have subsided.

Poisoning or Toxicity

Poisoning or toxicity can occur if your pet comes into contact with, or ingests, something toxic or poisonous. 

Signs of poisoning and toxicity include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden change in behaviour 

If your pet ingests a toxic substance: 

  1. Remove your pet from the source.
  2. Contact your vet immediately and call poison control for immediate advice. 
  3. Use a damp towel to gently wipe around the face and mouth. 
  4. Don’t try to induce vomiting unless instructed by your vet. 
  5. Collect the toxic material or poison container for identification. 

Venomous Bites

Signs of venomous bites in pets, often from snakes or insects, may include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain at the bite site
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis 
  • Collapse 

In the event of a venomous bite or sting:

  1. Keep your pet calm and restrict movement to slow venom circulation. 
  2. Remove any tight collars or accessories. 
  3. Seek immediate veterinary care for anti-venom treatment. 
  4. Identify what caused the bite or sting if safe to do so. 

Trauma and Bleeding

Accidents can happen that lead to injury, or pets may be injured by other animals. Signs of trauma and bleeding in pets include: 

  • Bleeding from wound/s
  • Bruising
  • Limping
  • Swelling
  • Broken bones
  • Collapse

Trauma and bleeding injuries can vary in severity, but most wounds will require first aid attention. To provide first aid to your pet suffering from trauma or bleeding:

  1. Ensure your safety and try to keep the pet calm.
  2. Apply pressure with a clean cloth or bandage to control bleeding.
  3. Use a sterile dressing to cover wounds and secure it with a bandage or tape.
  4. Keep the injured area elevated if possible.
  5. Seek immediate veterinary care, especially for severe bleeding or if there’s an underlying injury like a fracture. Be aware there may be internal injuries and transport them carefully.


Choking can be life-threatening. Signs your pet may be choking include: 

  • Gagging
  • Wheezing
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Distress
  • Bluish gums
  • Attempting to retch 

If your pet is choking, follow these steps:

  1. If they aren’t breathing or have collapsed, call the vet immediately before starting first aid. 
  2. Open their mouth to check for any visible obstruction and gently remove it if safe.
  3. In the case of small pets, gently lift them by the hind legs. For large breeds, use a ‘wheelbarrow’ style hold by lifting their hindquarters. Give four to five back blows with the heel of your hand between the shoulder blades. 
  4. Seek immediate veterinary help, even if the obstruction is removed.


Tick poisoning in pets is a serious condition. Signs of a tick bite include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness of the hind legs
  • Swelling and irritation at the bite site
  • Paralysis 

In the event of a tick bite: 

  1. Find the tick by feeling all over your pet. 
  2. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  3. Pull upward with steady, even pressure.
  4. Avoid squeezing or twisting, and be careful not to leave any part of the tick behind.
  5. Disinfect the bite area and wash your hands.
  6. Save the tick in a sealed container for identification in case of illness.
  7. Even if your pet appears well, take them to the vet to ensure they aren’t at any risk from residual poison. 

Seizures and Convulsions

The signs of seizures and convulsions in pets include:

  • Sudden uncontrolled muscle twitching
  • Jerking movements
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Drooling
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence 
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Disorientation

If your pet experiences a seizure:

  1. Stay calm and ensure their safety by moving objects away. Make sure they can’t injure themselves by falling off anything. 
  2. If possible, keep a timer to monitor the duration of the seizure. 
  3. Contact your vet immediately to assess the underlying cause and determine if emergency care is needed.

Grass Seed Wounds: A Hidden Danger

Grass seed wounds pose a significant danger to pets. Grass seeds, with their sharp, pointed tips, can easily become embedded in a pet’s fur, skin, or body orifices, leading to various health issues. Signs of grass seed wounds in pets include:

  • Pain and discomfort: Pets may exhibit signs of pain, such as limping or constant licking or scratching at the affected area.
  • Infection: Grass seeds can introduce bacteria, leading to infections that may require antibiotics.
  • Localised swelling and abscesses: The body’s response to a foreign object can lead to localised swelling and abscess formation, requiring drainage and surgical intervention.
  • Respiratory issues: Inhalation or ingestion of grass seeds can cause coughing, gagging, or difficulty breathing.

If your pet has a grass seed wound:

  • Gently examine the area: Look for signs of a grass seed, but avoid probing if it’s deeply embedded.
  • Don’t attempt removal: Trying to remove a deeply embedded seed can push it farther in or cause additional damage. Seek professional veterinary help.
  • Keep the area clean: Prevent licking or scratching, and keep the area clean to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Consult a veterinarian: Contact your vet immediately. They have the expertise and tools to safely locate and remove grass seeds and provide appropriate treatment, such as antibiotics or wound care.

Understanding Healthy Vital Signs in Pets

Checking the vital signs of your pet is an essential part of monitoring their overall health and wellbeing. Here’s a guide on what’s considered normal and healthy for your pet:


Heart rate: A normal heart rate for cats ranges from 140 to 220 beats per minute. 

Respiratory rate: Normal respiration rate is 20 to 30 breaths per minute. 

Small dogs

Heart rate: For small dogs, the normal heart rate range is 100 to 140 beats per minute.

Respiratory rate: Small dogs have a respiratory rate of between 20 and 30 breaths per minute. 

Medium and large dogs 

Heart rate: Medium to large dogs have a normal range of 60 to 100 beats per minute. 

Respiratory rate: Medium to large dogs have a normal respiratory rate range of 10 to 30 breaths per minute.


Heart rate: Puppies have a normal heart rate of 120 to 160 beats per minute. 

Respiratory rate: Puppies have a slightly higher respiratory rate than most adult dogs, at 15 to 40 breaths per minute. 

If you have any concerns about the heart rate or respiratory rate of your pet, seek advice from your vet. 

The Importance of Being Prepared 

Being prepared for emergencies involving pets is paramount. Having a well-stocked pet first aid kit and knowledge of basic first aid can make a lifesaving difference. In emergencies, being prepared is the key to effective and compassionate pet care. 


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