First aid tips for pet parents

Dog first aid

Emergencies happen to us all – including our beloved pets. Are you prepared in case you find yourself needing to perform first aid on your pet?

April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month, and we’re sharing some important first aid tips you can use when an emergency arises.

Any medical emergency should always involve a trip to the vet, but a crucial first step is making sure you’re prepared before an emergency occurs. Having a first aid kit for pets in your home and knowing your nearest emergency vet clinic can be critical in times of crisis.

Older woman petting grey cat

Do you know the basic signs of a pet emergency?

You should always contact your vet if you think your pet is experiencing a medical emergency, but these are a few possible signs to be aware of:

  • Breathing or airway issues like labored breathing or panting, specifically when they’re not active.
  • Bleeding from wounds or orifices that doesn't stop after a few minutes. Note: This excludes female animals who are in heat.
  • The color of their gums could indicate a medical emergency. Pink and moist is normal. White or pale pink is a sign of bleeding or shock. Gray or purple can be from a lack of oxygen. If the gums are tacky (your finger sticks to them), they may be dehydrated.

  • Straining to urinate (especially in male cats) can be a sign of urinary blockage.

  • Intestinal blockages or stomach torsions could show as vomiting soon after eating/drinking, abdominal pain or distension, or an animal being weak or unable to stand.

Five first aid tips from an AHS vet

Learn the Heimlich maneuver for your pet.

If an animal is choking, there’s a version of the Heimlich maneuver that can be performed on them. Instructions may vary based on your animal’s size or species, so we recommend learning instructions for your specific pet before an emergency could arise.

Create a temporary bandage for a bleeding animal.

If an animal is bleeding from a wound, place a temporary bandage using a clean towel or piece of clothing. White athletic tape can be used with a bandage but do not use duct tape – the strong adhesive can injure your pet’s skin or tear out hair.

If an animal is having a seizure, don't try to open their mouth.

If an animal is having a seizure, keep close to them but don’t try to open their mouth for risk of injury. Most seizures will last less than a few minutes. The animal will then have a period of time where they may act disoriented and stumble when walking, which can last up to 2 hours.

It’s OK to monitor them at home if they come out of a seizure, as most occur infrequently. But if an animal continues to relapse into a seizure within a few hours or is experiencing a seizure for more than 10 to 20 minutes, this may be an emergency. Animals may require injectable medications, diagnostics, and hospitalization for constant seizing.

Call the Pet Poison Helpline if your pet has ingested a known toxin.

If your pet has ingested a known medication or toxin, call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. They’re located in Minnesota and open 24 hours a day. They will evaluate the situation and let you know if immediate medical attention is required.

Note: This helpline does include an $85 incident fee.

Know when to seek immediate veterinary attention.

If an animal is straining to urinate or having difficulty breathing, there is no first aid that can be done at home and pet parents need to seek immediate veterinary attention.

A list of items to include in a pet first aid kit, such as bandages, sterile saline, athletic tape, thermometer, and disposable gloves

Make your own pet first aid kit

Here are some important over-the-counter items to include in your first aid kit at home!

  • Adhesive bandaging, non-stick pads, and gauze
  • A bottle of sterile saline (contact solution)
  • White athletic tape
  • A thermometer - a temperature over 104 may be an emergency for a cat or dog. Their normal temperature is between 98 and 102 degrees.
  • Disposable latex gloves
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Towels
  • A flashlight
  • The phone number, clinic name, and address of your local emergency vet clinics
  • If your dog flails or bites when they get excited, a dog muzzle may also be beneficial. Train your dog to get into the muzzle before an emergency arises. Never use a muzzle if a dog is having difficulty breathing or is vomiting.

Find your local emergency vet clinic

While AHS doesn’t offer pet emergency care at our vet centers, there are several emergency clinics in the Twin Cities area.

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