Blog Post

How to Deal With a Pet Emergency

Encountering an emergency situation with your pet can be one of the scariest things pet owners may have to go through. Knowing some of this basic first aid information can help you deal with the situation in the best possible way and in some cases may even save your pets life.  

If your pet is in need of emergency care there are some key things to remember. Firstly stay calm – If you panic, it is likely you will make the situation worse. Secondly, be aware of basic first aid for common emergency situations and act efficiently but calmly. Finally, call your veterinary surgery or out of hours veterinary surgery immediately. They will offer further advice and call you down to the surgery if necessary. 

First Aid

Situations where you may need to use first aid are:

  • Poisoning
  • Seizures and fits
  • Fractures
  • Internal and external bleeding
  • Chocking
  • Not breathing
  • No heartbeat

Something all pet owners should have in their home is a first aid box especially for their pets. This should include items which can be used in emergency situations and should always be stocked and checked regularly. This box should include:

Scissors – used for cutting tape, bandages or fur
A warm blanket – used for keeping pets warm and comfortable, to combat shock and to wrap your pet in for their journey to the vets.
Thermometer and lubrication – to measure your pet’s temperature. Usually inserted rectally as this will give you the most accurate reading. Always lubricate the end before inserting.  
Latex gloves -  wearing gloves helps to reduce any further contamination of the injury. Discard after use.
Bandages - used to help control bleeding and keep wounds clean until they can be treated by your veterinary surgeon. Non-adhesive vet wrap is also ideal to have in a pet first aid kit, as it does not stick to animal fur and is easier to remove.
Saline solution(or a bottle of sterile water) – can be used to wash out wounds before dressings are applied

Possible emergencies and how to deal with them

No respiration

Signs to watch out for:

Visual signs your pet is breathing – watching your pet’s stomach move up and down or feeling breath from nose or mouth 

What to do - Contact your vet immediately. They may advice you to perform CPR on your way to the veterinary practice. How to do this: Cradle small pets in your lap, or lay a larger pet on the floor on their side. Straighten the neck by lifting the chin. The airway must be a straight shot into the lungs to ensure your breath is not blocked.

Hold your pet’s mouth closed with one or both hands to seal the lips then place your mouth entirely over the nose.

Blow two quick breaths just hard enough to move the sides, and watch to see if the chest expands. Blowing into the nose directs air to the lungs when the lips are properly sealed. For small pets perform sharp but gentle breaths or you could over-inflate and damage the lungs. However, you’ll need to blow pretty hard to expand the lungs of a larger pet. Between breaths, pull your mouth away to let the air naturally escape before giving another breath. Continue rescue breathing at a rate of 15 to 20 breaths per minute until they start  breathing on their own, or you reach the veterinary practice.


Signs to watch out for:

Abnormal coloured tongue and gums (purple, blue or grey), swollen or painful abdomen, bleeding from nose or mouth, tremors, weakness, collapsing, difficulty breathing - shallow or rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, vomiting or diarrhoea - with blood or violent episodes. 

What to do – If you suspect your pet has been poisoned contact your vet immediately. They can advise you on how to deal with actions depending on what type of poison you suspect your pet has come into contact with. In most cases; your vet will advise you to come straight down to your veterinary practice and they may induce vomiting or take other action as necessary. 

Seizures and fits 

Signs to watch out for:

Desire to be alone, confused behaviour, uncontrollable body movements or possible aggression. 

What to do – It is important you do not touch your pet while they are fitting unless absolutely necessary. It will be frightening to watch however you must let it run its course. Dim the lights and leave the room, watching through a door or window until your pet has stopped fitting. Contact your vet immediately and visit your veterinary practice after your pet has stopped fitting. To transport a fitting pet – wrap them in a large blanket and move them very slowly and carefully into and out of vehicles. 

Fractures/broken bones 

Signs to watch out for:  

Limping, obvious signs of pain, whelping/crying unwilling to be touched and Visual signs – bone visible through skin. 

What to do – keep your pet warm in a blanket always remembering to be very careful when handling your pet. Prevent your pet from moving at all or putting pressure on the injured area and contact your veterinary practice immediately. 

Internal and external bleeding 

Sign to look out for – 

Visual signs of bleeding – cuts, wounds or grazes disorientation 

What to do – It is important not to panic even though the sight of blood may be worrying.  The main focus should be on attempting to stop the flow of blood from the wound or area. This is most easily done by locating the wound site and applying direct pressure. Hold pressure on the wound for a few minutes, while attempting to calm your pet and reduce their blood pressure. Remember, the calmer you are, the easier it will be to calm your pet. In minor wounds, this may stop the bleeding, but larger wounds may need further attention. If the bleeding continues, wash out the wound with saline solution or sterile water and apply a dressing to the wound which will help prevent further blood loss while you travel to the veterinary clinic. A small piece of clean gauze or cloth can be used to cover the wound and can be secured in place with tape or bandage. If the blood passes through this dressing, place a thicker one on top. Never remove a dressing until your veterinary surgeon asks you to. Visit your veterinary practice immediately. 

No heartbeat 

Signs to look out for:

Collapsed/unconscious – no heartbeat heard or felt at HR sights –(feel on pets chest or inside of leg where the artery is more prominent) 

What to do - Gently lay your pet on its right side on a firm surface. The heart is located in the lower half of the chest on the left side, just behind the elbow of the front left leg. Place one hand underneath the pet's chest for support and place the other hand over the heart.

For dogs, press down gently on your pet's heart about one inch for medium-sized dogs; press harder for larger animals and with less force for smaller animals.

To massage the hearts of cats and other tiny pets, cradle your hand around the animal's chest so your thumb is on the left side of the chest and your fingers are on the right side of the chest, and compress the chest by squeezing it between your thumb and fingers.

Press down 80-120 times per minute for larger animals and 100-150 times per minute for smaller ones.

Don't perform rescue breathing and chest compressions at the same exact time; alternate the chest compressions with the rescue breaths, or work as a team with another person so one person performs chest compressions for 4-5 seconds and stops long enough to allow the other person to give one rescue breath.

Continue until you can hear a heartbeat and your pet is breathing regularly, or you have arrived at the veterinary practice and they can take over the resuscitation attempts.

Precautions when handling or transporting injured animals 

If your pet is injured, it could be in pain and is also most likely scared and confused. You need to be careful to avoid getting hurt, bitten or scratched and also ensure you do not cause further harm to your pet. 

  • Never assume that even the gentlest pet will not bite or scratch if injured. Pain and fear can make animals unpredictable. 
  • Don't attempt to hug an injured pet, and always keep your face away from its mouth. Although this may be your first impulse to comfort your pet, it might only scare the animal more or cause them pain.
  • Call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic before you move your pet so they can be ready for you when you arrive.
  • If necessary and if your pet is not vomiting, place a muzzle on the pet to reduce the chances of you being bitten. 
  • Cats and other small animals may be wrapped in a towel to restrain them, but make sure your pet is not wrapped in the towel too tightly and its nose is uncovered so it can breathe.
  • If possible, try to avoid contact with the injured area and try not to move it too much 
  • While transporting your injured pet, keep it confined in a small area to reduce the risk of additional injury. Pet carriers work well, or you can use a box or other container (but make sure your pet has enough air). For larger dogs, you can use a board, toboggan/sled, door, throw rug, blanket or something similar to act as a stretcher.
  • You should always keep your pet's medical records in a safe, easily accessible place. Bring these with you when you take your dog for emergency treatment.
  • Remember to keep calm during this process – rushing will only risk further injury 

How to avoid animal emergencies 

No-one plans an unfortunate emergency however one of the best ways you can avoid them is by arming yourself with knowledge and having a plan of action in the event an emergency does occur. Here are a few steps every pet owner should take to protect their pets from medical emergencies:

• Eliminate potential household dangers - making sure your pet’s environment is free from potential dangers can eliminate a large number of emergency situations. Remove or safely store chemicals and foods that can lead to ingestions or poisonings. You should also keep your pet safely secured in your home or backyard and away from traffic and other animals in order to eliminate potential trauma.

• Know the signs of illnesses - regularly check your pet’s body for any outward signs of injury, and pay attention to any changes in their mood, which can be a sign of pain. Familiarizing yourself with the signs of illnesses in pets related to injuries, toxic and poisonous exposure, and trauma can save your pet valuable time and possibly even their life in the event of an emergency.

• Stay calm - when your pet faces an emergency, remaining calm can be difficult. However, in order to provide your pet with efficient care, you will need to stay focused.

• Seek professional help immediately - do not take any chances when it comes to your pet’s health. If you believe your pet needs medical attention, do not attempt to self-diagnose or treat your companion. Do not give any over-the-counter pain medications without specific instructions from a veterinarian. Seek immediate veterinary care for your pet.


Student Veterinary Nurse