The basics of emergency pet first aid

Mar 17, 2022

The basics of emergency pet first aid

Pet emergencies happen and when they do, it is important to have some guidance on pet first aid to help your pet through a pet emergency. Even though you try to do everything right for your pet – like staying on top of dental cleanings and routine exams, and offering your pet a balanced diet and a warm place to sleep – unfortunately, pet emergencies happen. The good news is that you can be prepared ahead of time with the following guidance on pet first aid.

Anticipate emergencies by creating a pet first aid kit

One of the easiest things you can do is to prepare ahead of time. So in the event a pet emergency arises, you’ll have many of the tools to help you help your pet.

Put together the following items in a box or bag stored beside your pet’s carrier:

  • Gauze pads (regular and non-stick, such as Telfa brand)
  • Adhesive medical tape
  • Syringe without a needle also referred to as an oral syringe
  • Tweezers
  • Digital rectal thermometer and sterile lube
  • Rubber gloves
  • Hydrogen peroxide 3% (used to induce vomiting for suspected poisoning.) Do not give hydrogen peroxide to a cat. Only give to your dog on the direct advice of a veterinarian. Make sure that your peroxide is not expired.
  • Muzzle and leash if you own a dog
  • E-collar (plastic or inflatable cone)
  • Download the Airvet app for free. You’ll be one click away from speaking to a licensed vet 24/7/365.

How to help your pet in an emergency

If your pet suffers from a burn, wound, bone fracture or break, there are things you can do to help stabilize your pet and offer first aid.


Your pet may get burned by coming into contact with hot liquids, heated grates or other hardware, as well as contact with a household iron, or a heating pad that is set too high.

Types of burns:
  • Third-degree burns are the most severe and dangerous. This type of burn requires immediate medical attention, because muscle, fat, bone and other tissues may have been damaged, as well as the skin. Blistering will likely follow and your pet could go into shock.  Seek immediate professional help. You cannot safely treat a third-degree burn yourself.
    Second and first-degree burns are more superficial, but are painful and require prompt attention.
  • Chemical or caustic burns are not caused by heat, but by corrosive irritants. Car battery acids, bleach, ammonia, tooth whitening products and pool chlorination products are a common cause of caustic and/or chemical burns.
  • Electrical burns, like those from a downed power cable, are especially dangerous because this type of a burn may cause internal injuries without leaving a visible mark on the skin. This is the primary reason to discourage pets (especially rabbits!) from chewing on cables and cords.

What NOT to do to a burn:

  • Do NOT apply cream or ointment to the burn.
  • Do NOT apply ice directly to the burn.

Here’s what to do to render first aid to a burn:

  • First, calling a 24/7 vet chat service like Airvet can provide you with a fast, on-the-spot evaluation in minutes. From there, you’ll be directed to either treat your pet at home, follow up with your regular vet, or get to a vet immediately.
  • For most burns, soak a clean cloth in cold water and apply as a compress to the burn for 10 minutes at a time. For chemical burns specifically, flush the area with cool water.
  • Remove collars, pet clothes, bandanas or any other items which may carry chemical residue. Remember to protect yourself before attempting to help your pet.
  • Use eye protection and rubber gloves. Do not flush a chemical burn on a pet if you don’t have the proper equipment, as you may injure yourself as well.
  • Depending on the situation, you can gently pour cool water over the affected area to help remove any caustic residue.
  • Do not cover the burn with a non-stick bandage if and until you are directed to do so by a veterinarian. If you’re not sure, talk to a veterinarian at Airvet.
  • Prevent your pet from licking or chewing the wound. Place an e-collar if necessary.

The sight of blood can be disturbing. It signals damage, and our first instinct is to clean the wound and stop the bleeding. Here, we’ll walk you through the basics of pet first aid care for wounds.

External bleeding indicates damage to the skin and possibly underlying tissue, and the wound makes it possible for harmful bacteria to enter the body and do further damage. If the site of the bleeding is very small (no larger than the eraser on the end of a pencil), and the wound closes easily and cleanly, your pet may not be in immediate danger. However, most wounds warrant a vet visit.

Here’s how to deal with a pet’s flesh wound:

  • If your pet is a dog, muzzle the pet to protect yourself from injury. In brachycephalic dogs (dogs with round heads such as Pugs) it is better to place an e-collar than a muzzle.
  • Apply a clean, thick non-stick gauze pad to the injury and keep pressure on it. Check every 5 minutes until clotting appears. Don’t check too often – this will break the barrier that the clotting blood is forming.
  • A severe wound on the legs may require more aggressive intervention. If the bleeding is on a leg and the blood-flow seems extreme, prepare to move your pet to the car for veterinary care.
  • Apply direct pressure to the wound.
  • If the bleeding continues, seek immediate treatment.
Internal bleeding

Internal bleeding is harder to detect – you may see evidence excreted in your pet’s feces, urine, saliva or vomit. Other signs of internal bleeding include nosebleeds, pale gums, or a weak and/or rapid pulse.

Internal bleeding often indicates damage to an organ, ulceration, or other serious condition. Internal bleeding may happen as the result of physical trauma that you may or may not have witnessed, such as getting bumped by a moving car. Only a licensed veterinarian can ascertain the damage and severity of the situation. If you suspect internal injury and internal bleeding, seek help immediately.

Bone fractures and breaks

Pets may experience damage to a bone by falling from a great height or getting hit by a car. If you witness this sort of accident, seek urgent examination and treatment.

If you did not witness the event but notice that your pet is limping, whining or is in obvious pain, you may be seeing the evidence of a bone fracture, break, sprain or strain. Note that cats are notorious for hiding their pain, so pay special attention to subtle changes in behavior.

talk to an airvet veterinarian for medical care for your pet

How to transport an injured pet

You’ve determined that your pet has suffered a serious injury and needs to be transported to your vet. The situation may be very distressing for both you and your pet.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Protect Yourself. Realize that the animal is in pain, and may snap or be very agitated. Take special precautions to protect yourself.
  • If the pet is a dog, muzzle or place an e-collar on the animal to avoid unintentional bites to you, veterinary staff and other animals.
  • Don’t attempt to reposition your pet by yourself. Seek immediate treatment.
  • The best way to move your pet is by placing them on a flat surface. Depending on their size and weight, you may be able to do this by using a board– even an ironing board, or a large cutting board can work!
  • Wrap your pet in a blanket or towel, and place them in a crate or carrier if possible for secure transport. For professional guidance, contact Airvet.

Situations requiring professional assistance

Many other common pet incidents are too risky to attempt intervening without professional help. Among these are bloating, choking, collapse, and pets who are not breathing.  If you observe these symptoms, seek immediate professional help.

Need help now?

Download the Airvet app and start speaking with a licensed vet in minutes. It’s always prudent to seek professional medical care at the first sign of trouble.