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  • Writer's pictureAngel See

Emergent Tips from AVMA

Emergent situations may arise at any point of your pet's lives and it is always better to be prepared. Please take the time to learn of preventative measures you can take to keep your pet safe. This information is not meant to replace professional veterinary care and you should always contact your primary care or emergency veterinarian if your pet is experiencing a medical emergency.

1. Keep a List of 24-Hour Emergency Veterinarians

In an emergency situation, every moment counts, and you need to contact an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. The last thing you want to do is waste time looking for an emergency veterinary hospital. Instead, keep a list handy on your refrigerator, bookmarked in your browser, or taped to the front of a file with all of your pet's information.

2. Keep Your Pet Calm

Keeping your pet as calm and still as possible is important during an emergency – especially if your pet has sustained an injury or trauma.

3. Learn How to Safely Transport Your Pet

When handling and transporting your pet, you risk injuring them further. Learn how to safely handle an injured pet, so you're prepared or ask the emergency veterinarian for instruction when you're on the phone. Never assume that even the gentlest pet will not bite or scratch if injured. Pain and fear can make animals unpredictable or even dangerous.

  • 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.

  • Perform any examination slowly and gently. Stop if your animal becomes more agitated.

  • 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 you'll be bitten.

    • Dogs may be muzzled with towels, stockings or gauze rolls.

    • 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.

  • NEVER muzzle your pet if it is vomiting.

  • If possible, try to stabilize injuries before moving an injured animal by splinting or bandaging them.

  • 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.

Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. First aid care is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet's life until it receives veterinary treatment.

4. Get a First Aid Kit for Your Pet

Keep a pet first aid kit with basic supplies in your home, in your car, and in your pet's travel kit

Phone numbers and your pet's medical record (including medications and vaccination history)

Know these numbers before you need them. If you do not know the number of the emergency clinic in your area, ask your veterinarian or go to the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society Web site for a searchable list of emergency clinics by state or visit, enter the zip code, and check the "emergency" box to get a listing of emergency providers in the area.

Gauze: For wrapping wounds or muzzling the injured animal

Nonstick bandages, towels, or strips of clean cloth: To control bleeding or protect wounds

Adhesive tape for bandages: For securing the gauze wrap or bandage *do NOT use human adhesive bandages (eg, Band-Aids®) on pets

Milk of magnesia or Activated Charcoal: To absorb poison Always contact your veterinarian or local poison control center before inducing vomiting or treating an animal for poison

Hydrogen peroxide (3%): To induce vomiting Always contact your veterinarian or local poison control center before inducing vomiting or treating an animal for poison

Digital Thermometer: you will need a "fever" thermometer because the temperature scale of regular thermometers doesn't go high enough for pets

To check your pet's temperature. Do not insert a thermometer in your pet's mouth, the temperature must be taken rectally.

Eye dropper (or large syringe without needle): To give oral treatments or flush wounds

Muzzle (in an emergency a rope, necktie, soft cloth, nylon stocking, small towel may be used): To cover your pet's head. If your pet is vomiting, do not muzzle it!

Leash: To transport your pet (if your pet is capable of walking without further injury)

Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. First aid care is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet's life until it receives veterinary treatment.

5. Familiarize Yourself With Basic First Aid Procedures for Pets

Read up on some of the basic instructions for administering first aid to your pet. Keep in mind that instructions are different for different situations (i.e. broken bones, bleeding, burns, poisoning, seizures, heatstroke, shock, choking, etc.)

Poisoning and exposure to toxins

Poisoning is a pet emergency that causes a great deal of confusion for pet owners. In general, any products that are harmful for people are also harmful for pets. Examples include cleaning products, rodent poisons and antifreeze. But you also need to be aware of common food items that may be harmful to your pet. The AVMA brochure Household Hazards offers a summary of what foods and common household items may pose a danger to your pet. Additional information and examples can be found on the other Web sites listed in this section.

If your pet's skin or eyes are exposed to a toxic product (such as many cleaning products), check the product label for the instructions for people exposed to the product; if the label instructs you to wash your hands with soap and water if you're exposed, then wash your pet's skin with soap and water (don't get any into its eyes, mouth or nose). If the label tells you to flush the skin or eyes with water, do this for your pet as soon as possible (if you can do it safely), and call a veterinarian immediately.

If you know your pet has consumed something that may be harmful, or if the animal is having seizures, losing consciousness, is unconscious or is having difficulty breathing, telephone your veterinarian, emergency veterinary clinic, the Animal Poison Control Center hotline (888-426-4435) or Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) immediately. There is a fee for the consultation.

If possible, have the following information available:

  • Species, breed, age, sex, weight and number of animals involved

  • Symptoms

  • Name/description of the substance in question; amount the animal was exposed to; and how long it's been since your pet ate it or was exposed to it.

  • Product container/packaging

Collect any material your pet may have vomited or chewed, and place it in a plastic sealable bag to take with you when you bring your animal in for veterinary treatment.


  • Keep your pet away from any objects (including furniture) that might hurt it. Do not try to restrain the pet.

  • Time the seizure (they usually last 2-3 minutes).

  • After the seizure has stopped, keep your pet as warm and quiet as possible and contact your veterinarian.


  • Muzzle your pet.

  • Gently lay your pet on a flat surface for support.

  • While transporting your injured pet to a veterinarian, use a stretcher (you can use a board or other firm surface as a stretcher, or use a throw rug or blanket as a sling). If possible, secure the pet to the stretcher (make sure you don't put pressure on the injured area or the animal's chest) for transport—this may be as simple as wrapping a blanket around them.

  • You can attempt to set the fracture with a homemade splint, but remember that a badly-placed splint may cause more harm than good. If in doubt, it is always best to leave the bandaging and splinting to a veterinarian.

Bleeding (external)

  • Muzzle your pet.

  • Press a clean, thick gauze pad over the wound, and keep pressure over the wound with your hand until the blood starts clotting. This will often take several minutes for the clot to be strong enough to stop the bleeding. Instead of checking it every few seconds to see if it has clotted, hold pressure on it for a minimum of 3 minutes and then check it.

  • If bleeding is severe and on the legs, apply a tourniquet (using an elastic band or gauze) between the wound and the body, and apply a bandage and pressure over the wound. Loosen the tourniquet for 20 seconds every 15-20 minutes. Severe bleeding can quickly be life-threatening—get your animal to a veterinarian immediately if this occurs.

Bleeding (internal)

  • Symptoms: bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, blood in urine, pale gums, collapse, weak and rapid pulse.

  • Keep animal as warm and quiet as possible and transport immediately to a veterinarian.


  • Chemical

    • Muzzle the animal.

    • Flush burn immediately with large quantities of water.

  • Severe

    • Muzzle the animal.

    • Quickly apply ice water compress to burned area.


  • Symptoms: difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at the mouth, choking sounds when breathing or coughing, blue-tinged lips/tongue.

  • Use caution – a choking pet is more likely to bite in its panic.

  • If the pet can still breathe, keep it calm and get it to a veterinarian.

  • Look into the pet's mouth to see if a foreign object is visible. If you see an object, gently try to remove it with pliers or tweezers, but be careful not to push the object further down the throat. Don't spend a lot of time trying to remove it if it's not easy to reach—don't delay, and get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.

  • If you can't remove the object or your pet collapses, place both hands on the side of your pet's rib cage and apply firm quick pressure, or lay your pet on its side and strike the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand 3-4 times. The idea behind this is to sharply push air out of their lungs and push the object out from behind. Keep repeating this until the object is dislodged or until you arrive at the veterinarian's office.


  • Never leave your pet in the car on warm days. The temperature inside a car can rise very quickly to dangerous levels, even on milder days. Pets can succumb to heatstroke very easily and must be treated very quickly to give them the best chance of survival.

  • If you cannot immediately get your pet to a veterinarian, move it to a shaded area and out of direct sunlight.

  • Place a cool or cold, wet towel around its neck and head (do not cover your pet's eyes, nose or mouth).

  • Remove the towel, wring it out, and rewet it and rewrap it every few minutes as you cool the animal.

  • Pour or use a hose to keep water running over the animal's body (especially the abdomen and between the hind legs), and use your hands to massage its legs and sweep the water away as it absorbs the body heat.

  • Transport the pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.


  • Symptoms: weak pulse, shallow breathing, nervousness, dazed eyes.

  • Usually follows severe injury or extreme fright.

  • Keep animal restrained, warm and quiet.

  • If animal is unconscious, keep head level with rest of body.

  • Transport the pet immediately to a veterinarian.

What to do if your pet is not breathing

  • Stay calm

  • If possible, have another person call the veterinarian while you help your pet.

  • Check to see if your pet is unconscious.

  • Open your pet's airway by gently grasping its tongue and pulling it forward (out of the mouth) until it is flat. Check the animal's throat to see if there are any foreign objects blocking the airway (see the section above on Choking)

  • Perform rescue breathing by closing your pet's mouth (hold it closed with your hand) and breathing with your mouth directly into its nose until you see the animal's chest expand. Once the chest expands, continue the rescue breathing once every 4 or 5 seconds.

What to do if your pet has no heartbeat

Do not begin chest compressions until you've secured an airway and started rescue breathing.

  • 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 clinic and they can take over the resuscitation attempts.

Please remember that your pet's likelihood of surviving with resuscitation is very low. However, in an emergency it may give your pet its only chance.

Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. First aid care is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet's life until it receives veterinary treatment.

6. Take a Dog and Cat CPR Class

Did you know you can get trained and certified in administering life-saving CPR to dogs and cats? Sign up for a class online or find one offered locally in your community to learn this important skill.

All information sourced from AVMA ( Please call with any additional information or visit the AVMA website. This information should not be used as a replacement for professional veterinary care and is meant for preventative measure.

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