First Aid for Pets: Treating Cuts, Burns, Poisoning and Fractures

When an emergency strikes your pet, knowing how to administer basic first aid can make the difference between a good outcome and heartbreak.

| February/March 1995

  • pet first aid
    A frightened or sick pet can bite. Even a makeshift muzzle will do if there is any question about an animal biting.

  • pet first aid

While I hope you never have to use this information, I feel obligated to give you a few tips on how to handle an animal emergency. Accidents happen despite our best intentions and knowing basic first aid is a definite plus when they occur. The steps you take at home before the veterinarian arrives or before you are able to reach one may not only alleviate pain and calm a distressed animal, they can prevent further injury to your animal and those assisting.

The Basics of Pet First Aid

Needless to say, in any emergency situation, you have to think of your safety as well as your animal's. If the animal you are assisting is not your own, try to first get information about its rabies vaccination status. Be wary of reaching for the animal spontaneously if this is uncertain. It may bite out of anxiety and fear—especially if it is in pain or shock. Try to stay away from the head of the animal. If you cannot avoid being close to the mouth, put a temporary muzzle on before handling and make sure the nose is left uncovered. Horses and cattle will paw or kick when they are frightened. Attempt to remain as close as possible to a horse's body to avoid a full powered swing. Cattle prefer that you stand around their back end rather than near their heads.

In an emergency, remember the algorithm ABC. A means Airway: make sure an animal can breathe freely. Clean any vomit or saliva away from the mouth. If the mouth is injured, make sure the nose is clear and vice versa. Horses and cattle cannot breathe through their mouths for lengthy periods, so clearing foreign material from around their nose is very important. B means Breathing; find out if the animal is taking respirations. You can give mouth-to-nose artificial ventilation by cupping your hands around the animal's snout and exhaling into the cupped area once every two or three seconds. Animals that are not respiring will have very deep red colored mucous membranes that appear blue at times. C means the Cardiac system: to take an animal's pulse, feel around the heart first. The heart in most domestic animals is located on the chest under the elbow. If you do not feel a pulse, start compressing the chest in this area at a rate of once every second.

Animals are usually in a state of shock after an accident. Shock refers to the fact that the vital organs are not receiving enough blood and oxygen. Signs of shock include pale mucous membranes, racing pulse, fast breathing, and loss of consciousness. Make sure the animal is resting comfortably on a stable surface and getting plenty of fresh air. Medical treatment such as intravenous fluids and drugs that treat the circulation are necessary: get to your veterinarian's office quickly.

Treating Cuts
Lacerations are common injuries in accidents. Injuries of the chest or over the ribs should be treated immediately. Any laceration—these in particular—should be covered with a clean cloth or compress. Those lacerations over the chest and abdomen should be further covered with an elastic bandage or wrap as well: if air enters the chest or abdomen via one of these penetrating wounds, the results could be devastating. Lacerations and bone protrusions should also be covered, but there is rarely the need for a tourniquet. In fact, they can worsen injuries to the feet and legs. Horses with limb injuries benefit from a leg wrap typical of that used for shipping purposes.

Suspect a bone fracture or dislocation if you hear cracking noises or bone movement or if there is limping, swelling, or change of shape (buckling) near the injury. You may want to stabilize it with a temporary splint. Heavy towels or rolled up blankets make great splints if applied like a normal Ace bandage, with masking tape applied to the outermost wrap. These injuries usually need to be treated through casting or surgery.


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