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Animal First-Aid

While it is preferable to have an acutely sick or seriously injured animal in the care of a veterinary medical professional, there are times when the owner or someone else must administer immediate "first-aid".


Learn animal first-aid before it is necessary to use it.

Have your veterinarian's phone number immediately accessible. Also, the address and phone number of the nearest after-hours emergency care facility, the phone number of the Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435 (there may be a fee for the call), etc.

Practice handling your pet as may be needed in an emergency.

Practice what you may need to do to control bleeding if your animal is seriously injured.

Have supplies on hand that may be needed in a medical emergency, or even to treat minor injuries. These would include: a digital thermometer, hair clippers, scissors, tweezers, eye-droppers, cotton compresses, Q-tips, gauze, adhesive tape, alcohol, Vaseline, antiseptic, mineral oil, 2% hydrogen peroxide solution, anti-biotic ointment, anti-bacterial liquid soap, sodium hypochlorite bleach solution, tincture of iodine, syringes, measuring and mixing containers, plastic squirt bottles, atomizer bottle, scrubbing brushes, and plenty of sterile water.

Have a well lighted, sanitary area where the animal can be placed in order to administer additional first-aid after doing what can be done on-the-spot.

Remember, moving a seriously injured animal requires considerable care.

And also remember, the behavior of an injured animal, even if it is your own, can be unpredictable, so take precautions to protect yourself.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has a first-aid sub-website with several web-pages dedicated to specifics. They include much very useful information. Here they are:

First-Aid - Base-Page

Supplies for First-Aid Kit
Handling a Sick/Injured Animal
First-Aid Procedures
First-Aid When Traveling
Disaster Planning Considerations



Keep the animal safe from things that may do harm.

Animals can and do "get into things" that can do them harm.

A ferret is an animal that needs supervision if he/she is not confined. Allowing liberty requires vigilance. Ferrets are prone to doing things that get them into trouble. For example: getting under the cushions of a couch, or pulling on the chord of an iron that is above them on the ironing board.

A dog may eat things that are not good for him/her. For example, one young pitbull got into the garage and ate an assortment of hardware (screws, nails, and other small objects) followed by downing a container of Gorilla Glue. The result: a solid mass that had to be surgically removed by peeling the stomach away from the stomach-shaped artifact that the vet asked to keep as a display object. "Loco" recovered and was sent to live in the country.

Any animal may ingest things that are poisonous to the animal. Some are commonly eaten by people, but can be poisonous to the animal. Chocolate is poisonous to a dog, for instance.

Kittens have died from eating "clumpable" litter. If you use clumpable litter for your cat, which many people have been doing with no problem, observe to be sure the cat isn't eating it.

So, the owner of an animal must try to anticipate such problems. Objects that can fall need to be secured. Those that can cut or puncture, need to be removed. Anything that an animal may eat which could do the animal harm needs to be kept away from the animal.

When the weather is warm, do not leave an animal, infant, or small child in a closed car in direct sunlight. "Car Ovens" can kill.


Be aware of how your animal is acting. When an animal is sick or injured it may not be apparent; they hide it. But, there may be signs. The animal is doing something it hasn't done before. The animal is spending an unusual amount of time by the water bowl, or in or next to the litter box.


If you notice that your animal is behaving strangely, take him/her to the veterinarian for an examination and blood-testing. It's better to be safe than sorry. If there is something wrong, you'll want to address it as soon as possible. If there is nothing wrong, you will have spent a good bit of money needlessly, but you will have bought some peace of mind.

Take immediate action as the need arises. Don't wait, unless there is no option.

In an emergency, time is critical. Don't be concerned with overreacting or annoying your veterinarian. By acting quickly and promptly, you can minimize the consequences of an injury or illness.


Clear the airway and restore breathing it if necessary

Be sure there is an airway. If not, get the animal's tongue pulled out and check for, and remove, any obstructions. If there is still no airway, you can try to "Heimlich" your pet by causing a full and rapid exhalation of the air in the lungs; but take special care not to do injury, or further injury, to the animal. To "Heimlich", lay the animal on his/her side and apply forceful and rapid pressure to the ribcage. This may need to be done several times to dislodge an obstriction with the air rushing out of the lungs. If the animal is not breathing, and there is an airway, blow air into the animal to inflate the lungs. The size of the animal will determine how this is done. for an animal of moderate size, use "mouth-to-nose" with the animal's mouth held closed so that air passed through the nose only. For a small animal, use your mouth over both nose and mouth of the animal. Take care not to over-inflate the animal's lungs. Watch the chest (in a mirror possibly) or feel it, to find out how much it takes to inflate the lungs.

If the animal was electrocuted, it may also be necessary to try to restore normal heart pumping by successive regular compressions of the heart. See the AVMA web-page on "procedures" to read how this can be accomplished.

Stop any serious bleeding

Address any serious bleeding with pressure to the wound for some minutes.

If that fails, the bleeding is serious, and the wound is in a limb, press very hard against the limb at points around the limb between the wound and the body. With pressure on the right spot, the bleeding should stop or significantly decrease. When that point is found, apply a wad of something at the point that will press against the bleeding blood vessel (closer to the body (up the limb) than the wound). Then, use a plyable strap or chord (preferably a strap, to minimize injury to the tissues) and wrap it tightly (several times) around the limb, thus pressing hard on the wad. Tie the material, or tape it, so that it stays tight and prevents further bleeding. If this doesn't work, try a proper "tourniquet" made from a loop of strong cloth or doubled chord, and tightened by inserting a rod through the loop and using it to twist the loop until the loop becomes very tight on the limb. In any case, the pressure should be relieved periodically (e.g., every 20 minutes) to allow some fresh blood to flow into the tissues of the limb below the stricture.

If the wound is not in a limb, you'll need to keep pressure on the wound until emergency surgery can be performed.

Do not let an animal become over-heated

Concerning over-heating, prevention is best. Don't work an animal exposed to the Sun on a hot day. Do not run your dog on such days. Especially don't run a dog while you ride, that makes it too easy to over-do it for the dog. Also take care that an animal is not burning his/her feet on hot pavement or ground. And, as pointed out before, don't leave vulnerable living things in closed cars on such days. Sometimes, people will leave a dog tied in the shade in a back yard, not realizing that the area receives full sun later in the day. This can be particularly dangerous if the dog is left without water.

If an animal collapses from the heat, or even shows signs of serious overheating, get him/her cooled. Pour cool water over the animal for a sufficient time to lower the body temperature to normal. Unless the animal is dangerously dehydrated, don't let him/her drink any significant quantity of water until he/she is cooled down. This is an especially important concern for equine animals (i.e., horses, etc.).

Body temperature can be significant

In situations where excessive heat is not the cause, it is generally a matter of great importance to prevent loss of body heat. A blanket suffices when the body can still generate enough heat on its own. If not, a source of heat is needed. Direct warm air from a heater, an electric blanket, a covered incandescent light-bulb in an animal carrier sufficiently covered to prevent excessive heat escape, but not enough to prevent enough air-flow for the animal to breathe adequately.

A source of heat is especially important for new-born and infant animals.

Animals that are medically stressed may also benefit from a source of calories derived from food. Liquid food high in sugar content may serve the immediate purpose.

Control agents of infection

Any wound, including scratches and animal bites, needs to be properly cleaned to prevent infection. Begin by clipping the hair well away from the wound. Then, gently if necessary to prevent further bleeding, or vigorously if possible, scrub out the wound with a small scrub-brush with soft, flexible bristles, soap (anti-bacterial soap if you have it), and warm water (cold if that's all you have). Follow with a rinse with adequate water to remove the soap from the wound. If there is risk of infection with a virus, as in a bite wound, the wound should be rinsed with bleach solution worked into punctures with some sort of sterile probe. After having cleaned the wound, follow with additional anti-bacterial treatment using tincture of iodine, gentian violet, other similar germicide, or antiseptic spray. Also apply a thin coating of anti-biotic ointment. If the wound is laid open, close it as much as possible using crisscrossed thin strips of tape (i.e., butterflies) over skin after the wound is closed as much as possible. Also coat the skin around the wound with anti-biotic ointment or paint it with germicide. Finally, apply a gauze pad, or similar sterile dressing, and tape it in place.

Carefully cool and protect burns with a clean, dry dressing

A serious burn requires very special treatment. The result of a serious burn is the death of skin cells and the cells of underlying tissues. The first thing to do is to stop any further "cooking" of the tissue by flooding it with cool water (not very-cold or ice-water which can cause complications by lowering the body temperature). It's best to keep the burned area as cool as possible, while at the same time keeping the burn victim warm by covering the rest of him/her with a blanket. Do not put any medication on the burned area; especially not anything spread onto the burned area that could reduce the cooling of the burned tissue and be a problem to remove. Simply lay a thin sterile, lint-free cloth over the burn to help exclude foreign matter. Get the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible, so that a pain-relieving drug can be administered, and the burn properly treated.


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