Pet First Aid Series

Part 1
This series has run in our monthly newsletter in 2018 and provides precious information about what you can do for your pet in case of an emergency and where vet attention cannot be given right away.

Some emergency situations pets can find themselves in are
  • Trauma (vehicle accidents, falls, lacerations, punctures, head injury)
  • Breathing difficulties (e.g. choking, allergic reactions)
  • Seizures
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Snake bites
  • Heatstroke (hyperthermia)
  • Low temperature (hypothermia)
  • Poisoning
  • Shock
  • Burns
  • Drowning
  • Unconsciousness
Evaluating the emergency scene:
The FIRST thing when it comes to Pet First Aid is your own personal safety.
When a cat or dog is in distress or injured, their protective instincts can do US harm - even if we are trying to help!
It is of utmost importance to:
1. Be aware of the risks
Risk 1 - The environment:
Environmental hazards include busy traffic, downed power lines, deep flood waters, hazardous materials, fire, smoke, venomous wildlife and many more! Do not put yourself at risk!
Risk 2 - The pet in distress:
Dogs can bite or scratch, causing us skin injury, bleeding and/or infection
Cats can do the same and are often more difficult to restrain due to their increased flexibility and tendency to defend themselves when they feel threatened.
2. Approach victim with Caution
Survey the pet and their body language...
Warning signs for dogs:
  • Growling/Barking/Snarling
  • Hackles up
  • Tail wagging or tucked beneath them
  • Ears back
  • Whites of eyes showing (fearful eyes)
Submissive dog behaviours (still proceed with care! A fearful submissive dog may still bite if you force the situation!):
  • Crouching, head shy
  • Exposes belly by rolling on its back
  • Urination and defecation
  • Licking profusely
Warning signs for cats:
  • Flat ears
  • Salivating/spitting
  • Arched back
  • Hair standing on-end
  • Hissing
When approaching the pet...
Be wary of your body language. Approach the victim slowly, use a soft voice, try to get down to their level if possible, don't stare directly into their eyes and allow them to smell the back of your hand.
Part 1 of our First Aid series outlined assessing the emergency situation.
Now we will outline some helpful tips to help you handle and transport your pet if they are in need of first aid.

Handling: The do's and dont's
IMPORTANT! The pet will be in distress and even shock! They may also have broken bones, wounds or other internal injuries that may not be apparent to you upon approach - therefore extreme caution and care should be taken to minimise further damage and stress to the pet.

Prior to handling - examine the pet for any injuries:
Can it move at all?
Any bleeding?
Any swelling?

Any abnormal body positioning?

Helpful items to aid with handling:
  • A slip lead (NOT a choker chain!)
  • Thick blankets and towels (multiple uses: apply pressure to bleeding wounds, act as supportive padding, helps restrain the pet (especially cats) and can be used to help calm the pet)
  • A carry cage or box (for smaller pets, such as cats, rabbits and small dogs)
  • A  muzzle (in case the pet tries to bite)
  • A stretcher -  good for transporting the pet when the they cannot move or walk (we are aware that you probably won't own one of these! If possible, use something sturdy like your dogs bed (see picture) or make a sling out of a bed sheet).
  • Another person (to help lift, drive, support and provide first aid during transport)
If bleeding - apply pressure to wound with clean towel/blanket/bandage prior to moving them (often a good idea to wrap them up and have a second person able to apply pressure and hold them during transport to vet).
If swollen - check if breathing and try not to poke or put pressure on swelling. Transport to vet immediately!
Not able to move or walk? - Be careful when moving the pet, they may have a serious internal injury. Try to keep their neck and back as straight as possible and support their body weight.
Muzzle the patient if they get nippy (unless they are having trouble breathing)
Use a slip lead to help control the pet's head, loop it around the neck
Place patient in carry cage or box if they are reactive to being handled
Cover pet's eyes with a blanket or towel - this can help calm them
Wrap pet up in blankets or towels - this can help them feel secure, aid with restraint and provides padding for injuries during handling
Call your vet for advice!
Transport to your vet or an emergency clinic ASAP!

DON'T place a muzzle on the pet if they aren't breathing properly or if they are vomiting
DON'T scoop up the pet without adequate support for their body if they cannot move
DON'T place your fingers inside a conscious pet's mouth
DON'T lift a large pet by yourself!
Assessing Vital Signs
In this issue we will cover how to check your pets vital signs and in the next issue we will cover what to do when there are problems with vital signs and when to perform CPR.
It is a good idea to practice looking at these things on your pet when they are well, so that you know how to do it in an emergency situation and you also know what is "normal" for your pet. Our vets and nurses would be more than happy to show you how to do this during your pet's appointment.

Feel the left side of the pets chest, behind the bend of the left elbow

You should feel the heart beating
You can also feel for a pulse on the hind legs - place 2 fingers as high as possible on the inside of the leg (in their groin area) and apply light pressure

If you cannot feel a pulse or heart beat through the chest this is an emergency - Transport to a vet ASAP and first aid action is required immediately!
If the heart rate is slow, less than 100 beats per minute (bpm) for cats and less than 60bpm for dogs (or less than 40bpm for giant breed dogs), this is also cause for concern! Transport to vet immediately.

Watch to see if the chest is rising and falling.
How does the breathing sound? If there are gurgling or coughing sounds, transport to a vet immediately!
Is the pet breathing rapidly or panting excessively? (This can be a sign of distress or even shock).
**NOTE** Dog's will pant after exercise sometimes or if they are hot, don't mistake this for distress. However, if a cat is panting it is very unusual and a vet should be consulted.
No breathing = emergency! Transport to a vet ASAP and first aid action is required immediately!

Circulation & Oxygenation:
As you may already know - pets need a set amount of oxygen to live so we need to know how to tell when they're not getting enough.

A great way to gauge this at home is by looking at their gum colour and "refill time".
Gum colour:
Lift your pets lip and notice the colour of their gums. They should be pink (see picture below for normal pink gum colour). If they are pale, blue, grey, yellow, brick red or brown then this is an emergency! Your pet requires urgent care

NOTE: Some pets will have pigmented gums (Like Nurse Bree's dog, Bozley, pictured above), meaning that they appear black in colour – this would be considered normal for them.
Gum refill time:
Assess your pets circulation by lifting their lip and pressing your finger into their gums. The pressing will turn the gums white and this white patch should disappear and become pink again in 1-2seconds, after you've lifted your finger away. If the colour is taking more then 2 seconds to reappear their circulation is poor and this is an emergency!

To check your pets temperature you will need a digital rectal thermometer, some sterile lubricant (such as KY jelly) and another person to help hold your pet still.
Get the other person to hold your pet still, ensuring they hold the pets head well so they cannot interfere or bite the person taking the temperature (use a muzzle if required!).
Hold the base of your pet's tail firmly with one hand and with the other, insert the tip of the thermometer into your pet's rectum and ensure it is gently pressed against the wall of the rectum to get an accurate reading.

Too hot = >39.5 C Hyperthermia
If your cat or dog has hyperthermia then they could be suffering from heatstroke, an infection, poisoning or pain.
Other heatstroke signs include: panting, feel hot to touch (hot skin/coat), they become inactive, brick-red coloured gums or collapse.
It DOES NOT have to be hot weather for your pet to be affected by heatstroke - some breeds are more prone to overheating than others (such as Boxers, Pugs and Persian cats).

Too cold = <37.5 C Hypothermia
Signs include: shivering, curling up into a ball, inactive, cold extremities (e.g. ears, paws, nose feel cold to touch)

If you ever need help please call us or your nearest emergency clinic. First aid is not a substitute for professional veterinary care.
What to do and when to perform CPR
In this issue we will cover what to do when your pet is experiencing urgent medical problems and when you should perform CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation).

Assessing Consciousness:
Speak to the pet loudly and touch them to try and elicit a response (keep in mind that older pets may be deaf). If no response, the pet may be unconscious.

Surveying the victim - Follow the ABC's
A - Airway (is it open?)
B - Is the pet Breathing?
C - Circulation (check for heartbeat and pulse)


CPR involves rescue breaths (mouth to nose resuscitation) and chest compressions.
Please note that, unfortunately, CPR success rates are low in animals, even when performed by experienced veterinarians with access to emergency drugs and equipment. If your attempt fails, know that you did everything you could to save a pet's life.


The pet IS breathing?
Allow them to continue breathing on their own and constantly monitor them!
You should still ensure the airway is not obstructed.
To establish if your pets airway is open, follow these steps:
  • Look into their mouth to ensure it is clear of foreign objects/vomit/liquid
  • To clear airway: gently tilt the head downwards and extend the neck, then pull the tongue forward (between the front teeth)
  • Use your finger to remove material/liquid from airway (DO NOT put your finger in the mouth of a conscious pet! They may bite you even if they normally never would, a pet in distress can act unpredictably).


The pet IS NOT breathing - Immediately check for a pulse or heartbeat!

Not breathing AND no pulse - Begin CPR immediately! (See Below)

Not breathing but has a heartbeat - Begin Rescue breaths!

Rescue Breaths:
For Medium-large dogs start by: Sealing dog's mouth & lips by placing your hands around its lips and gently holding the jaws closed.
For Cats and Small dogs (no need to seal mouth with hands as your mouth will seal their mouth and lips)
For the breaths:
  • Place your mouth over the animals nose and forcefully exhale
  • Give 4-5 breaths rapidly and then check to see if the pet is breathing


NO circulation (NO heartbeat or pulse)! Begin chest compressions!
Positioning for small pets (cats and small breed dogs):
  • Lay pet down on their right side and kneel next to them with their chest facing you
  • Cup the palm of one of your hands around the pet's ribs at the point where the elbow touches the chest, with your fingers slightly underneath the chest (this hand will be performing compressions)
  • Place other hand around back of and underneath pet for stability

Positioning for med-large dogs: modify where you kneel and your hand position
  • Kneel with the pet's back towards you
  • Extend arms over pet with your hands cupped over one another and place bottom palm on the pet's ribs (as above), then begin your chest compressions...
  • Compress chest to roughly one third of it's width (your elbows should be locked)
  • Alternate with rescue breaths (5 compressions for each breath and continue to check for a pulse!)
  • Compress the chest at a rate of approximately 100 compressions per mintue (at a rate of the beat to the song "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees)
Reassess ABC's every 2 minutes. You can continue CPR for a total of 20 minutes.
  • If your ABC assessment is all OK (i.e. the pet has a heartbeat, is breathing and the airway is clear) - transport immediately to a vet for help and to determine the reason for their unconscious state.
  • Even if you have successfully resuscitated your pet - STILL transport to a vet ASAP as they have a high chance of crashing again and they still require urgent medical attention to treat the cause.
Continue to MONITOR during transportation if you can and begin the following...
Gum colour assessment: Ideally should be pink but watch for pale, blue or bright red gums (see last months issue here for more detail)
Bleeding assessment: Big seeping wound or large swelling under skin? Wrap up any open wounds in a clean thick towel/blanket or bandage and transport to vet ASAP!
Level of consciousness: Is the pet awake, delirious or unconscious?

And as always - if you have ANY concerns, no matter how big or small, never hesitate to contact us. It's better to be safe than sorry!
First Aid Techniques
This is our final issue in our First Aid series. This month we focus on First Aid for pets that do not require CPR but are needing first aid for other injuries or illnesses.

Wounds and bleeding:
1. Check the ABC's of CPR (in Part 4)
2. Apply direct pressure to bleeding wound(s) (use gauze swabs, cloth, bandage, clean towel or blanket)
3. Add more padding if the bleeding soaks through
4. Do not wipe the wound
5. Secure the pressure bandage / towel / swabs etc. with tape
6. Transport to your Vet ASAP
**NOTE** DO NOT pull a foreign object out of a wound, especially if it is deeply lodged! Avoid touching or moving it and attempt to stop the bleeding carefully!

Broken bones:
Signs of broken bones in pets are as follows:
Lameness (they often won't put any weight on the affected limb), swelling, abnormal limb position, bruising, protruding bones.
In cases of broken bones - home splinting is not recommended. If it is done incorrectly or if the animal is still quite boisterous you can actually make matters worse. It is best to try and confine the pet to a small area (such as a crate, box, pet carrier) so that they cannot move around as much and transport them to your vet ASAP.
During transportation try to keep the pet as still as possible.

These can result from bush fires, chemical or electrical accidents.
1. Check the ABC's of CPR
2. Flush chemical burns with water/saline
Chemical burns are commonly sustained by contact with:
  • Bleach or ammonia containing products which can be found in cleaning products, hair products and dental products
  • Pool chlorination solutions
  • Motor oil
  • Garden fertilizers
  • Insect repellents
  • Weed killers
3. Apply cool water to burn
4. Apply sterile non-stick dressing (can be purchased from pharmacies)
**NOTE** DO NOT immerse in water/ice and DO NOT apply ointments to burn and transport your pet to your vet as soon as you can after applying these first aid measures.
Normal temperatures for cats and dogs range from 37.5 - 39.5 degrees Celsius.
Hyperthermia - High temperature:
When your cat or dog has a temperature higher than 39.5 degrees Celsius
Hypothermia - Low temperature:
When your cat or dogs temperature falls below 37.5 degrees Celsius.
For more information on HOW to take your pets temperature and for a list of symptoms 'click' HERE

If you pet ever experiences an abnormal temperature, please phone us to make an appointment for your pet. It is important to uncover why they are experiencing a hot or cold temperature and for us to try and correct it as soon as possible. If left, organs can become damaged, which can result in long-term problems.