No matter how much you try to protect your pet, unexpected accidents and emergencies can—and most likely will—occur. While such bad situations are upsetting, anticipating an unfortunate event can help you prepare and plan for the unexpected, and your proactive actions can improve your pet’s outcome and potentially save their life.

First aid is a key component of every pet owner’s preparedness plan. To help you get started, here’s a pet first aid primer from your trusted Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team.

What is first aid for pets?

First aid is the term for any temporary care or assistance administered after an injury or accident. Like human first aid, pet first aid includes protecting life, minimizing pain, and preventing the injury or condition from becoming worse. Regardless of the pet’s condition, pet first aid should always be followed by professional veterinary attention at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers

When is first aid appropriate for pets?

Pet first aid is never an incorrect choice, but should never be a substitute for professional veterinary care. Common applications for first aid include:

  • Insect bites and stings
  • Paw injuries (e.g., splinters, thorns, lacerations)
  • Minor wounds 
  • Toxin exposure
  • Seizures
  • Bleeding 
  • Burns
  • Choking
  • Heat stroke

If your pet is actively seizing, unresponsive, in respiratory distress, or experiencing significant blood loss, you must immediately transport them to the nearest veterinary emergency center or Neighborhood Veterinary Centers.

Building your pet first aid kit

Every household that includes pets should have a well-stocked pet first aid kit. You can purchase a pre-stocked kit from many major pet retailers or build your own using human and pet medical supplies. If you routinely travel with your pet, we recommend that you keep an extra pet first aid kit in the car for on-the-go emergencies.

Every pet first aid kit should include:

  • Spare leash
  • Muzzle
  • Emergency phone numbers (e.g., your veterinarian, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center)
  • Gauze pads and rolls
  • Non-stick bandages
  • Adhesive tape
  • Bandage scissors  
  • Digital thermometer
  • Tweezers
  • Ice pack
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Eyedropper or oral syringes
  • Emergency blanket

Optional items include canned pet food, bottled water, collapsible bowls, daily medications, flashlight, vaccine records, and a magnifying glass.

Replace any used items immediately and check your pet first aid kit at least annually for expired or damaged products.

Helpful first aid resources for pet owners

General pet first aid isn’t complicated and most pet owners can easily learn the basics by familiarizing themselves with the most common and important techniques found in books, apps, online classes, video tutorials, and in-person first aid courses, which pet training facilities and shelters offer routinely.

Pet cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes are an investment that could save a pet’s life. RECOVER Pet CPR training provides industry-leading online and in-person CPR education for pet owners and professionals.

General pet first aid tips

Pet accidents and injuries can vary in type and severity, but basic first aid principles remain the same. No matter your pet’s situation, follow these general rules until you can get them professional veterinary care:

  • Stay calm — If you’re scared, your pet will sense your stress and likely panic. Breathe slowly, reassure your pet, and stay focused on what you need to do.
  • Note the time — Knowing approximately when an event occurred, or when you found your pet, can help your veterinarian make key treatment decisions.
  • Use a muzzle — Scared and painful pets may bite out of self-defense. All pets, including friendly, well-behaved pets, should be muzzled prior to handling, care, or transport.
  • Do not administer oral treatments or medications without veterinary approval Contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center before inducing vomiting or medicating your pet. 
  • Keep your pet still — Physical activity can worsen bleeding and unseen internal injuries. Seriously injured pets may be able to walk, because adrenaline is masking their pain and injury, but you must keep your pet still to avoid worsening trauma.
  • Apply pressure — If your pet is bleeding, apply steady, even pressure with gauze or any absorbent material. If possible, maintain pressure until you reach the veterinary hospital.
  • Take overheated pets indoors — Pets in heat distress should be relocated to a cool or air-conditioned location. Take the pet’s temperature and wet them down using cool—never cold—water. Ensure you protect the pet’s head and monitor for loss of consciousness until you can transport the pet for veterinary care.

First aid can reduce pet suffering and, in emergency situations, literally make the difference between life and death. Although ideally you’ll never need to use pet first aid, you can feel confident that you are prepared with the knowledge and tools, and if—or when—the time comes, you’ll know how to help your beloved pet. 

For additional pet first aid resources and all your veterinary care needs, turn to your trusted neighbors at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers. Contact a location near you.