This page is intended to help you with your pet. It is not intended to replace professional veterinary care. The information presented will help you handle your pet’s condition well enough to get them to a veterinary clinic for an exam and further treatment. The best way to manage an emergency is to be prepared – know where to take your pet and what numbers to call when you have questions.
How to Approach an Injured Animal
Approach the animal slowly while talking in a calm, soothing voice. ALWAYS muzzle an animal in pain or have someone restrain the head before examining the injured area. Try to assess the nature of the emergency as quickly as possible. Use the information on this page to help stabilize and transport the animal. Call a veterinarian as soon as possible and seek professional care for your pet immediately.
First Aid Kit
Carrying a few basic items can ease the stress of simple emergencies when away from home. Start with a small collection of the following:
- Roll gauze and gauze sponge
- Antibiotic ointment
- Latex Gloves
- Sterile saline (contact lens solution)
- Adhesive tape
- Nylon leash
DO NOT give your pet any medications (Advil, Tylenol, Aspirin, etc.) without checking with a veterinarian first. Many human drugs are toxic to animals and could prevent use of important medications to help your pet.
SYMPTOMS AND CONDITIONS
SIGNS: Whining, listless, restless, lethargic, arching back, unable to get comfortable, vomiting, diarrhea, bloated or distended abdomen.
ACTION: DO NOT give your pet food or water – this may induce vomiting and make the condition worse. Abdominal pain can be very serious and is often life threatening if not addressed. Limit the activity of your pet. Carry them if possible. You can put small pets in a box or carrier. Call a veterinarian immediately and seek professional help as soon as possible.
SIGNS: Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, scratching, chewing at feet, swollen face, puffiness around eyes, trouble breathing.
ACTION: Call a veterinarian immediately. Allergic reactions should be treated as soon as possible to prevent shock. An exam by a veterinarian should still be performed on your pet, even if the reaction gets better. It may be appropriate to give the animal over-the-counter antihistamine, diphenhydramine, IF you have spoken to your veterinarian in advance and have received approval.
ACTION: As always, approach the animal slowly. Injured animals often communicate their pain through aggressive or defensive actions, especially after a bite injury. MUZZLE the animal or have someone restrain the head. Examine the entire area for bleeding, lacerations or pain. Multiple bite wounds can be hard to find under thick coats. If you cannot quickly reach a veterinarian, flush each wound with saline (if not available, clean water will do). Wrap large wounds as best as possible. Small wounds can be left uncovered. DO NOT use tourniquets to stop bleeding – use firm pressure if needed. Seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY – bite wounds often need to be flushed extensively or sutured to help prevent infection. Wounds that are managed within 6 hours of the injury require less intensive care.
ACTION: First aid is needed for chemical, electrical or thermal (heat) burns. Immediately flush the area with cool water for 5 minutes. After flushing, apply a cold compress to the area for 10 to 15 minutes. NEVER apply an ice pack directly to the skin. Wrap the pack in a thin towel or available material. Call a veterinarian immediately and seek professional help and examination. Burns do need to be addressed immediately and can be life threatening when severe.
SIGNS: Collapse, weakness, bluish or gray gum color, rapid or slow heart rate.
ACTION: Call or seek veterinary care immediately. Such emergencies should not be taken lightly as they are often life threatening. Limit your pet’s activities and carry them if possible. If your pet stops breathing or loses consciousness, see the pet CPR section.
SIGNS: Shivering (excessive, relentless), lethargy, weakness, inability to use limbs.
ACTIONS: Move your pet from the wind and cold into a warm place. Wrap your pet in warm (woolen) and dry blankets or clothing. DO NOT rub your pet with the blankets. This can damage cold tissue and make frostbite worse. Try to raise your pet’s body temperature slowly over the course of 20 minutes. Hot water bottles (wrapped in towels to avoid direct contact with skin) can be used under the blankets to help increase your pet’s temperature. To take your pet’s temperature, use only an approved rectal thermometer. Normal temperature should be 100 to 102.5 degrees. If an area if discolored (bluish or pale), the body part or skin may have been frozen and is exhibiting signs of frostbite. Take the animal out of the cold and transport to the nearest veterinary hospital. DO NOT use electric heat in any form.
ACTION: A few episodes of diarrhea can be due to stress or change in the animal’s diet. Make sure that your pet continues to drink water but withhold food for 12 to 24 hours. If the diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours or if there is blood in the diarrhea, seek veterinary care promptly. If your pet is showing other signs of illness (vomiting, lethargy, weakness), do not wait 12 to 24 hours. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Diarrhea can often be a symptom of more serious illness or disease.
SIGNS: Scratching at ears, shaking head, head tilting, swollen/puffy ear flaps, strange odor or discharge from ear(s).
ACTION: MUZZLE your pet or have someone hold the mouth closed while you examine the ears. Look for signs of redness, swelling of the ear flap, discharge or unusual odor. Look for any obvious foreign body (plant material, etc.) and pull it out, if possible. If the signs of ear problems persist, call a veterinarian and have your pet seen as soon as possible. If the ear needs flushing, it is advisable to have your veterinarian do this. Regardless, it should only be done with sterile saline solution. Try to prevent your pet from scratching at the ears or shaking the head excessively as this can make the problem worse. Ask your family veterinarian for an ear “drying” agent if your pet loves playing in water and or frequently experiences ear infections. Never use objects such as Q-tips as you may inadvertently damage the ear drum.
SIGNS: Squinting, discharge, tearing, redness, swelling, bleeding, different pupil size.
ACTION: If there is an obvious laceration or foreign object in or around the eye, seek veterinary care immediately. DO NOT try to bandage the laceration or remove the object. If the source of the irritation is known to be chemical or fine debris/dirt, flush the eye(s) with sterile saline (or clean water) immediately for 5 to 10 minutes and then seek veterinary care. Eye injuries and infections can get worse very quickly. IMMEDIATE diagnosis and treatment is critical to preserve your pet’s eyesight.
SIGNS: Pain, not using a limb, limb looks bent or swollen.
ACTION: MUZZLE the animal or have someone restrain the head. Check the limb for open wounds or bleeding. If excessive bleeding, wrap the area with a towel or other available material while trying not to move the limb. DO NOT pull on the limb in an attempt to align the fracture. This could result in further injury and increased bleeding. Stabilize the limb as best as possible (carry your pet if possible) and seek professional help immediately. DO NOT give any pain medications to your pet (some are toxic to animals) unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian. Avoid wrapping the leg, as it is easy to impede blood circulation.
Heat Emergencies & Dehydration
SIGNS: Panting (excessive), lethargic, unable to stand, uncoordinated movements, vomiting or diarrhea.
ACTION: Move your pet to a cool area as soon as possible, and seek shade or the indoors. Keep them calm and still. DO NOT try to get them to stop panting, since this is how your pet expels heat. If water is nearby, encourage your pet to stand or lay down in cool water. Put small amounts of water on the tongue or offer them ice cubes to eat. If not vomiting, your pet should respond rapidly (10 to 15 minutes). If your pet does not seem to respond to the cooling therapy, if they lose consciousness or have great difficulty breathing or the skin on the back of their neck does not spring back to normal position immediately when pulled, seek veterinary care immediately. Light colored animals can get sunburned just like people. Encourage them to stay in the shade and ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on sun blocks for your pets.
Insect, Snake Bites & Tick Removal
ACTION: Like people, animals vary in their reactions to venom. The response can range from mild irritation to allergic shock. Check the area for any remaining stinger or insect. Remove them and cleanse the area with soap and water. If you see your pet get bitten by a snake, try to remember what the snake looks like (size, color, location). Do not attempt to catch the snake.
Cool wet towels or gauze can be used (for 20 to 30 minutes) to soothe the area.
Watch your pet for signs of allergic reaction (see allergy section and follow the instructions, if needed). Be particularly mindful of difficulty breathing. Snake bite injuries should be treated by a veterinarian AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
When returning from a park or a hike, check thoroughly for ticks by running your fingers through your pet’s entire coat and inspecting the paws, pads, between toes and inside floppy ears. If you find a tick, place a small amount of tick spray (alcohol, mineral oil or petroleum jelly can be used) on a cotton ball and hold it over the tick. Typically, the tick will back out in 30-60 seconds, allowing you to grab it with tweezers and dispose of it. Apply alcohol or an antibiotic ointment to the site of the bite.
ACTION: As always, approach the animal slowly. Injured animals are often aggressive or defensive. MUZZLE the animal or have someone restrain the head. Examine the entire animal for bleeding, lacerations or pain. Multiple lacerations can be hard to find under thick fur. Flush each laceration with saline (if unavailable, clean water will do). Wrap large lacerations as best as possible. Small wounds can be left uncovered. DO NOT use tourniquets to stop bleeding. Use firm pressure, if needed. Seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY. Lacerations often need to be flushed extensively or sutured to help prevent infection.
SIGNS: Inability to use limb(s), unable to stand, circling, seizures, head tilt, abnormal behavior.
ACTION: Make sure the pet is not near any stairs or steps. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Neurologic disease is often difficult to treat and can be very serious. If your pet is unable to walk, carry them to the car. If they are too big to carry, use a towel (under the abdomen, in front of the rear legs) to support the hind end or use a heavy blanket as a stretcher to carry them to the car. Professional diagnosis and treatment is recommended as soon as possible.
SIGNS: Disorientation, vomiting, seizures, weakness, retching, salivating (excessive).
ACTION: CALL A VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. If the source of the poisoning is known, have the container with you when you call. You will need information on the packaging to determine the appropriate treatment. If the source is unknown, seek emergency assistance IMMEDIATELY. Anti-toxin treatment should be started as soon as possible to minimize the absorption of the poison. If professional medical help is unavailable, VETERINARY POISON CONTROL can be reached at 888-232-8870. Please make a note of the case number provided by poison control. Your veterinarian will need it for reference. If possible, bring the toxic agent with you to the doctor.
SIGNS: Collapse, weakness, bluish or gray gum color, rapid or shallow breathing.
ACTION: Call and seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY. Such emergencies should not be taken lightly as they are often life threatening. Get them to a veterinary hospital AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Limit your pet’s activity. Carry them if possible. If your pet stops breathing or loses consciousness, see the pet CPR section.
SIGNS: Shaking (uncontrollably), tremors, strange facial movements, unable to stand, paddling (swimming action ) with paws, loss of bowel or urinary control.
ACTION: DO NOT try to restrain your pet during an episode. Move objects away that may cause injury during the seizure and, if possible, place the animal on a soft surface such as carpeting. Make sure the animal is not near any stairs or steps. CALL a veterinarian immediately. Try to get your pet to the veterinary hospital as soon as possible.
SIGNS: Frequent urination or straining, blood in urine, difficulty urinating, vomiting.
ACTION: Animals can develop urinary blockage and infections just like people. Once you have detected signs of a problem, CALL your veterinarian and take your pet in as soon as possible. The problem most likely has been going on longer than you realize. DO NOT wait and observe the pet to see how they do.
ACTION: Look for signs of foreign material or strange food in the vomit. When you can call the veterinarian, let them know of any recent history of your pet eating foreign objects or new foods (trash). Rest the stomach for 12-24 hours by offering no food or water. Then try small amounts of water ever 2 hours for 12 hours and then add in small amounts of bland food every 2 hours for 12 more hours. If there is no further vomiting, you can return your pet to a normal diet. If the vomiting persists or if your pet shows other signs of illness, seek veterinary care promptly. If your pet has unproductive vomiting, see your veterinarian immediately.
Taking a heart rate or pulse:
The heartbeat of a dog or cat can be felt at about the point where the left elbow touches the chest (about the 5th rib). Place your hand or stethoscope over this area and count the heartbeats.
Pulses can also be felt with a light touch on the inner thigh approximately halfway between the front and back of the leg, just below the wrist on the front legs or just below the ankle of the rear legs.
Normal Heart and Pulse Rates:
Puppy (until 1 year old): 120-160 beats per minute.
Small Breed Dogs (<30 lbs.): 100-160 beats per minute.
Medium to Large Breed Dogs (30+ lbs.): 60-100 beats per minute.
Cats: 120-220 beats per minute.
- Normal Breathing Rates:
Dogs: 10-30 breaths per minute and up to 200 pants per minute.
Cats: 20-30 breaths per minute. (NOTE: Panting in a cat can be a sign of a serious illness and requires immediate veterinary attention.)
- Normal Temperature:
Dogs: 100-102.5 F
Cats: 100-102.5 F
Check the airway for any foreign objects and then gently hold the muzzle sealing the mouth and lips with your hands. Forcefully blow air into the animal’s nose. Give four or five rapid breaths and then check to see if the animal begins breathing without assistance. If not, repeat until you reach a veterinary hospital or for a maximum of 20 minutes.
DO NOT assume that there is no heartbeat or pulse simply because an animal is not breathing. Do not start chest compressions before checking for a heartbeat. If the animal is conscious and responds to you, then the heart is beating.
Small Dog (<30 lbs.) or Cat:
Lay your pet down on its right side with the chest facing you. Kneel and place the palm of one of your hands over the ribs at the point where the elbow touches the chest. Place your other hand underneath the right side. With your elbows softly locked, compress the chest ½ to 1 inch. If working alone, perform 5 chest compressions for each breath (see above) for five rotations and then check for pulse. If there are two people, have one perform the compressions at a rate of three compressions for each breath, then check for pulse.
Medium to Large Dog (30-90 lbs.)
Stand or kneel with the animal’s chest toward you. Extend your arms at the elbows and cup your hands. At the point where the left elbow lies when pulled back to the chest, compress the chest about 1-3 inches. If working alone, perform 5 chest compressions for each breath (see above) for five rotations and then check for a pulse. If there are two people, have one perform the compressions at a rate of two or three compressions for each breath, then check for pulse.
Giant Dogs (90+ lbs.)
Use technique for medium to large dogs but do 10 compressions for each breath and then check for pulse.
POISONOUS PLANTS AND TOXIC TREATS
Be aware that there are many poisons and hazards that your pet may encounter during the year including food, plants and decorations for the holidays. Some of the more common toxic treats and poisonous plants are listed here for convenience. This is not a comprehensive list and if your pet should at any time get into something suspect, call poison control or Westmoreland and Slappey Animal Hospital immediately.
Paws off Foods:
- Chocolate (fudge, cake, candy bars)
- Apple (seeds)
- Apricot (pits)
- Peach (pits and wilting leaves)
- Cherry (seeds and leaves)
- Avocado (fruit and bulb)
- Potatoes (green growth and tuber)
- Rhubarb (green growth, sprouts)
- Tomato (green fruit, stems, leaves)
Paws off Plants:
Credit: Information provided by the Georgia Veterinary Specialists.
- Aloe Vera
- Autumn Crocus (bulb)
- Christmas Rose
- Easter Lily
- Elephant Ears
- English Ivy
- Holly (leaves and berries)
- Mistletoe (berries)
- Oaks (foliage and acorns)
- Pansy (seeds)
- Poinsettia (low toxicity)
- Tulip (bulb)