Be Prepared: Tips on How to Handle a Pet Emergency

Hurt dog getting arm bandaged and cleaned

As a pet owner, it's up to you to keep your furry friend safe, healthy, and warm. Along with snuggles, purrs, and excitable barks, pets are vulnerable to unexpected accidents, and you need to be prepared. Knowing how to react in an emergency can be the difference between life and death for a pet. 

We encourage you to call your veterinarian or visit the emergency room when your pet is hurt; however, swift actions and life-saving techniques can spare your pet or offer quicker recovery. 

Take an active role in assisting your cat or dog while you await professional care by learning these essential first aid techniques.

Basic First Aid Techniques For Your Pet

Hurt Dog Getting Bandaged Outdoors

Let's look at the essential techniques that could help in an emergency. 

Check Vital Signs

Checking your pet's vital signs can speed up diagnosis, and your emergency contact can assess if further treatment is needed and advise accordingly. Vital signs include heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature. 

  • The standard heart rate for dogs is 60-140 beats per minute (BPM) and 160-240 BPM for cats.
  • Respiratory rate is the amount of breaths taken in a minute. A healthy dog takes 12 to 24 breaths per minute, while a cat takes 20 to 30 breaths per minute.
  • Normal body temperature for cats and dogs ranges between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37 and 38 degrees Celsius). Pet rectal thermometers often give the best results.


Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving procedure that uses chest compressions and artificial respiration to revive your pet if they aren't breathing or lack a heartbeat. You can attend online or in-person first-aid classes to learn this technique.

Choking Response

Dog Choking Diagram

This is an EMERGENCY! If your pet is not breathing, act fast.

  • Carefully remove visible obstructions in their throat. Do not do this if they're awake—you might get a nasty nip. 
  • Billow (squeeze and thrust their ribcage forward) to blow out dislodged objects in their airways.
  • Perform the Heimlich maneuver if you can comfortably lift your dog. 
  • A small pet can be held upside down by its back legs. Shake them gently or deliver a blow to your pet's abdomen with your hand.

Bleeding and Open Wounds

Bleeding can be caused by many factors. If possible, control it by applying pressure to the wound with your clean hands or a bandage. Here are other steps to reduce harm to your pet.

  • Keep your pet warm and secure in a comfortable blanket to reduce shock.
  • Disinfect animal bites. See your vet for antibiotics to prevent infection. 
  • Clean wounds and abrasions with a saline solution, and apply a clean dressing. Visit your vet if the injury is deep and needs further cleaning.
  • Do not attempt to remove penetrating objects, but shorten them if possible and get your pet to the vet.
  • A vet should tend to apparent fractures, but you can set a temporary splint to keep the limb immobile.
    Cat sitting with pet first aid kit

Internal Injury

If you suspect your pet has spinal or other internal injuries, transport them safely to the vet. Find out how to move your pet on an improvised stretcher or securely in your arms with little movement. 

Following a car accident or traumatic fall or blow, take your pet to the vet immediately. Apply a muzzle to your dog while you attend to traumatic injury. When they're in pain, they're more likely to snap at you as you assist them.

Toxicity or Poisoning

It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with common poisons. Typical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, unusual stools, and seizures. If you suspect your pet has eaten something toxic, do the following:

Keep Calm and Help Your Pet!

Kurgo Pet First Aid Kit

Here are some final tips to prepare for a pet emergency:

  • Build and maintain first aid kits—one for on the go and one at home. 
  • Keep emergency numbers in a visible place for your family and pet-sitters to find as quickly as possible.
  • Secure your home and store toxins and poisonous foods in cupboards that your pet cannot access.

Above all, be prepared and stay calm—it could save Fido's or Fluffy's life. And, to help keep your pet safe, visit Pets on Broadway for first-aid supplies and advice. You'll gain pet-parent points, and your furry friend will love you even more.

Pet First-Aid Checklist:

  • Leash or carrier
  • Muzzle (a gauze roll, soft cloth, or tie will also work)
  • Clean towels or pieces of cloth
  • Gauze rolls
  • Medical Tape
  • Digital ‘fever’ thermometer (rectal)
  • Eye dropper (for oral medication and cleaning wounds)
  • Saline Solution (for cleaning wounds)
  • Hydrogen Peroxide 3% (induces vomiting)
  • Milk of Magnesia or Activated Charcoal (absorbs poison)
  • Blanket, rug, or plank of wood (to move an injured animal) 

Curious to learn more? Check out our detailed Pet First Aid Checklist here.