First Aid Tips

by Jeff Fleischer

(Chicagoland Tails, April 2007)

When your pets are severely injured, it’s important to get them veterinary attention. But just like with humans, there are simple first-aid procedures that can make a big difference.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to put together a pet first-aid kit you can access easily at home. Supplies should include: latex gloves, tweezers, a rectal thermometer (digital if possible), adhesive tape, gauze pads, cotton balls or swabs, a penlight or small flashlight, ice packs, towels, hydrogen peroxide, petroleum jelly, nail clippers or small scissors, an eyedropper, saline solution, antiseptic lotion or spray, styptic powder, materials to make a splint, and an Elizabethan collar (the cone that goes around a pet’s neck and prevents him from licking an irritated area).

These can all come in handy in a number of situations, and should be kept near a pet carrier, as well as your vet’s contact information and copies of your pet’s medical and vaccination records. “It might seem like a lot, but you can put together a first-aid kit for as little as $20, depending on the supplies,” explains Jim Pavelka, a pet CPR and first-aid instructor for the American Red Cross. “But it can save you a lot of money in the long run. And of course, first aid can help save your pet.”

April is National Pet First Aid Awareness Month. With that in mind, here are 10 common first-aid situations and what you can do for your pet:

1. Animal bite

If your dog or cat has a bite, do not bandage the wound. Shave or trim the hair around the wound. Use clean water or a saline wash to flush the blood from the wound, and let it drain until bleeding stops. If the bleeding persists, cover the wound with a sterile cloth and apply firm pressure, repeating as needed. If possible, wear latex gloves the whole time to avoid infection.

If the blood is bright red and keeps coming in spurts, it is arterial bleeding–and life-threatening. See a vet immediately. Deep wounds might also require immediate stitches at the vet. The other main danger from a bite is rabies. It’s important to check with the biter’s guardians to make sure the animal is inoculated against the disease. If your pet’s shots are not up to date, again get to the vet as quickly as possible.

2. Bee sting

Scrape the stinger off with a dull knife or other object without pinching the area. If the area around the sting is swollen, apply cortisone cream and then an ice pack. Next give the animal an antihistamine, but only one milligram for each pound of the pet’s weight. If your pet has trouble breathing or experiences swelling, there may be an allergic reaction–get to the vet immediately.

3. Swallowing dangerous objects

If your pet eats chocolate or another food that can cause internal problems, you can use hydrogen peroxide or a teaspoon of salt to induce vomiting.

4. Poisoning

If the animal ingests poison–such as household cleaner, battery acid, or nail polish–do not induce vomiting. Instead, find out what she ate and call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 (a small fee applies).

5. Skunk spray

A skunk’s spray is not only foul-smelling, but potentially dangerous. Flush the animal’s eyes with fresh water, and remove and destroy any collar or harness she’s wearing. Give her a bath with soap or shampoo. Then cover her fur with plain tomato juice, wait a few minutes, and bathe her again. (There are also skunk-odor neutralizers you can use to wash your pet.) Again, rabies is a potential problem, so contact your vet.

6. Broken nail

If an animal breaks a nail or otherwise develops a slight cut on her paw, apply a small amount of styptic powder to the injured area. “A lot of groomers use it to stop bleeding,” Pavelka says. “It seals the cut so there’s less pain and prevents bacteria from getting in there.”

7. Choking

Open your pet’s mouth, gently pull her tongue forward and examine the throat. If you see the item causing the choking, use a tweezers to remove it. Make sure not to push it farther back and don’t be afraid to use your index finger to sweep the area if you don’t think tweezers will cut it.

8. CPR

If your pet isn’t breathing, and removing the obstruction doesn’t work or isn’t possible, you’ll need to perform CPR. Make sure your pet’s windpipe is clear, then hold her tongue out of her mouth and gently close her jaws. Holding them closed, breathe six times into both nostrils. If that doesn’t work, continue artificial breathing, with 12 breaths per minute for large animals (more than 60 pounds), and 30 for pets smaller than 10 pounds. We recommend taking a pet CPR course beforehand. Classes are offered at many local Red Cross chapters as well as at local shelters.

9. Burns

Immediately run cold water over the burn (for chemical burns, brush off any dry chemicals before using water). Then wrap an ice pack in a shirt or towel and apply it to the burn for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

10. Diarrhea

Diarrhea has a number of causes, and it’s important to find out which is at play. First, withhold food (not water) for between 12 and 24 hours. Then provide bland food, easing the animal back to its regular diet as the stool returns to normal. Call your vet if the diarrhea contains blood or lasts more than a day, as it could be a sign of infection.

The American Red Cross offers pet first-aid classes. Visit for details.

Jeff Fleischer has worked as an editorial fellow at Mother Jones, a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, a reporter for the Daily Herald and as the national politics and op-ed editor for U-Wire. He lives in Chicagoland with six lovably eccentric cats.

Tags: , , , , , ,