If your pet requires emergency first aid, you’ll feel much more confident about handling the problem if you’re prepared, so we have compiled a list of common situations you may encounter that require pet first aid. But, first, you should be familiar with these general protocols:
- Be safe — Even the sweetest of pets can bite or cause injury when sick or hurt, so ensure each household pet has her own muzzle that will prevent her from biting. In a pinch, you can fashion a muzzle out of a ribbon or tie.
- Take a deep breath — Emergencies are scary, but panicking won’t help.
- Call us or an emergency hospital right away — If you need help after normal business hours, call Austin Veterinary Emergency & Specialty at 512-343-2837, or the Emergency Animal Hospital of Austin at 512-899-0955.
Here are some commonly encountered emergency situations:
Bee stings and insect bites
Insect bites and stings usually cause localized swelling and redness, but can become serious. First, scrape out the stinger with the edge of a credit card and apply a cool compress. If your pet shows signs of an allergic reaction, such as generalized hives, facial swelling, or vomiting, or has difficulty breathing, you should contact us right away.
Pets may bleed externally, from a wound or laceration you can see, or internally, often inside the chest or abdomen, which cannot be seen. You should come to our clinic immediately in both cases. If your pet is bleeding externally, first apply pressure to the wound with a clean, dry cloth and try to elevate the affected area. Use a tourniquet only as a last resort if the bleeding is life-threatening. Signs of internal bleeding include pale gums, an increased heart rate, and cool extremities.
Bloat, or gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), is a life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills with air (dilatation) and/or twists around itself (volvulus). Signs include drooling, frequent retching or attempts to vomit, a bloated abdomen, agitation, and pacing. Bloat requires immediate veterinary care—time is of the essence to avoid serious consequences, like shock and death.
If you suspect your pet is experiencing cardiac or pulmonary arrest, check closely for breathing or a heart beat, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary, and seek veterinary care immediately, because pets needing CPR have a poor prognosis.
On the way to the clinic, you should ensure your pet’s airway is clear by pulling her tongue forward and sweeping the back of her mouth with your finger. If necessary, remove any excess saliva, foreign objects, or vomit. If your pet does not begin breathing, you will need to begin CPR. If she has no heartbeat, you should begin chest compressions. You should continue until you get to the veterinary clinic, or until your pet begins breathing on her own, or has a pulse.
Take time to differentiate choking, which is rare, from coughing. If your pet is choking, you may need to perform CPR after first performing a finger sweep to attempt to retrieve the obstruction. If nothing can be found, lie your pet on her back and perform the Heimlich maneuver, then seek veterinary care as quickly as possible.
In a near-drowning case, remove your pet immediately from the water, place her on her side with her head and neck extended and her head lower than her body to facilitate water drainage, cover her with a blanket to prevent heat loss, and begin CPR immediately. A near-drowning can be life-threatening, and pets must receive veterinary attention because they can succumb hours or days later to pulmonary edema (i.e., fluid buildup in the lungs). You should call us if you experience this emergency.
If your pet injures an eye and shows any of the following signs, she needs prompt veterinary care:
- Excessive tearing
- An eyeball that appears swollen
- Trauma to the eye
- Extreme redness of the whites of the eyes
If you think your pet has dislocated her eye from its socket, keep the eyeball moist with lubricating jelly, contact lens solution, or wet compresses. If her eyes seem irritated, rinse with copious amounts of saline or water. Always seek immediate veterinary care for eye injuries.
If you suspect your pet has a broken bone, muzzle her, and use direct pressure to stop the bleeding. Cover an open fracture, in which the bone protrudes from the skin, with sterile dressing or a clean cloth. Then go straight to the veterinary hospital.
If you suspect any heat-related illness, move your pet into the shade or indoors, place a fan nearby, cover her back with cool, wet towels, and wet her ears and paws. Do not wet her entire body, which may overcool her. Take her temperature, and if it is above the normal range of 101 to 102.5 degrees (for dogs), get veterinary care immediately.
If your pet is having a seizure, first protect her from self-injury by ensuring she is in a safe location. Do not put anything in your pet’s mouth, or she may choke. Sit with your pet until the seizure is over, or call us if the seizure lasts more than a few minutes, which can be life-threatening.
If a snake bites your pet, muzzle her, keep her calm and immobile, and seek veterinary care right away. Do not try to suck out the venom or catch the snake.
Straining to urinate
If your cat is straining to urinate in the litter box, seek veterinary care immediately, because urinary blockages lasting several days can be fatal.
Lingering effects from accidents and injuries could become a serious problem, so always follow up with veterinary care after administering first aid to your pet.