A brown dog is receiving an examination by vets. The dog is held on the table by a female vet wearing a facial mask and a blue volunteer shirt while a black-shirted male vet checks its ear and another vet takes notes in the back.

First Aid for Pets

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An essential part of pet care is knowing some basic first aid, especially recognizing the signs and symptoms of a potentially serious injury or illness. That’s why it’s important to know what to do if your pet injures itself or you suspect that it might be ill. In this post, we’ll cover everything from First Aid kits for pets to resources for First Aid classes and more!

What is First Aid?

First Aid is a general term for the immediate care given to someone who is injured or becomes ill. First Aid does not involve medical treatment; it focuses on stabilizing the patient and preventing further injury.

A dog is receiving an examination by vets.

When to Call a Vet

If your pet has been exposed to an illness or injury, first stabilize them as best as possible.  Contact your vet or an emergency clinic immediately if your pet is experiencing any of the following: 

  • serious vomiting 
  • severe diarrhea 
  • seizures 
  • difficulty breathing 
  • is unconscious or unresponsive
  • a lack of appetite for more than a day
  • is not drinking or is excessively drinking water
  • is not able to urinate
  • extreme lethargy
  • in the case of cats, is exhibiting hiding behaviour.
A cat is being examined by a vet.
A list of symptoms that require vet care.

Resources for Pet First Aid Training and Materials

First Aid Kits

Pet first aid kits typically include these supplies: 

  • Gauze rolls/pads
  • Elastic/adhesive bandages
  • Latex-free exam gloves
  • First Aid tape
  • Antiseptic wipes or Isopropyl alcohol
  • Wooden tongue depressor
  • Cold pack
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Tick-removing tool and a container with a lid
  • Emergency blanket

Where to Get your Pet First Aid Kit and Supplies?

Pet First Aid Kits are often sold at pet supply stores. They can also usually be purchased through a Pet First Aid training provider, such as St. John Ambulance and Walks and Wags (listed above). 

The cost can vary anywhere from $16 for a basic pocket kit to $70 for a more comprehensive kit.

You can also buy your own supplies as listed above. A ‘Dollar Store’ will have most items! Make your own kit.

An orange cat is receiving first aid care.

What to do if you Suspect Poisoning in a Pet

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to a toxin, you can contact these organizations below for evaluation and advice (fees may apply): 

  • Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680 
  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (800) 548-2423 or (888) 426-4435

You can also read the suggestions on the Canada’s Guide to Dogs page about dealing with emergencies and life threatening health concerns for dogs, including poisoning.

Emergency Clinics in Southwestern Ontario, Canada

Middlesex County:

London Regional Veterinary Emergency and Referral Hospital

41 Adelaide St. N, London ON               

(519) 432-3300

Waterloo Region:

Emergency Veterinary Clinic of Waterloo Region

405 Maple Grove Rd. #14, Cambridge ON

 (519) 650-1617

Hamilton Region:

Hamilton Region Emergency Veterinary Clinic

50 Dundurn St. S, Hamilton ON            

(905) 529-1004

Brant County:

Brant Norfolk Veterinary Clinic – Emergency and After Hour Services

143 Lynden Rd., Brantford ON                

 (519) 720-0753

Prevention is Better than Treatment

If you can prevent issues in the first place, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping them healthy!

Tips for Preventing Common Issues

 Hypothermia 

In general, hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below 35 degrees C and frostbite occurs when skin is exposed for long periods of time in extreme cold temperatures (below freezing). The best thing you can do is make sure that your pet stays indoors during winter months so they don’t get too cold! If your pet does get sick from being outside too long without proper protection from elements like snow storms or blizzards then here are some signs to look out for: 

  • shivering/trembling
  • walking unsteadily
  • loss of coordination
  • difficulty breathing due to thick mucus buildup in their throat which can lead to trouble swallowing food properly.

Animal Attacks & Fight Injuries 

Pets can often get loose, wander off their territory or approach a strange animal. When this happens, they could get attacked or get into a fight. This can often cause spread of disease and serious injuries, such as scratches and bite wounds which puncture the skin. If not properly addressed, this can then lead to infection or abscesses, causing pain, swelling, fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, scabbing, foul smell or discharge.

If you are unable to get to the veterinarian right away, it is important to stop the bleeding and keep the wound clean by gently pressing with a clean dry gauze, washing the wound with soap and water and patting dry, dabbing the wound with hydrogen peroxide to help kill germs, and applying a pet-safe antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection. In some cases, these injuries might require veterinary treatment such as lancing, drainage, the use of antibiotics or possibly surgery. 

  • Keeping your pet indoors, in an enclosed outdoor area and/or not leaving them unattended
  • Use proper restraints for your pet if taking them for a walk, such as a leash, harness, stroller, or backpack

Ensure your pet has the proper training and socialization, and learn to understand its temperment and recognize your pet’s body language.

A vet is checking the health condition of a dog.

Falls

Our pets can be curious by nature, and are often attracted to the outdoors by open windows and balconies. Unfortunately, cats and dogs can seriously injure themselves by falling from a great height, and this is often also referred to as ‘high-rise’ syndrome. Depending on how and the height from which the animal falls, these injuries can commonly include bone fractures, torn ligaments, punctured organs, head, and spine trauma.

If your pet falls from any height, even just one or two floors up, it is important that they see a veterinarian right away. Their injuries may not be immediately obvious, and even if your pet happens to lose consciousness, do not assume that they haven’t survived. As you prepare to transport them, be aware of back injuries and keep them as still as possible. Gently place them on a rigid object like a baking sheet, and cover them with a blanket while you seek emergency help.

To avoid injuries from falls, closely monitor your pets by keeping them indoors and away from open windows or balconies. Where this is not possible or to allow your pet some fresh air, consider using sturdy screens or tightly-spaced guard rails on open windows, and fully enclosing balconies by using barriers or safety netting.

Conclusion

The best way to keep your pet safe is to act preventively and be prepared in case of an injury or illness. Be sure to have a Pet First Aid kit in your home and know how to use it. Also keep the phone number for your local veterinarian clinic handy. Your pet loves you and will appreciate your efforts! 

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