What is Pet First Aid?
Pet first aid is the initial treatment following an injury or accident that is used to help minimise any long-lasting damage to your cat or dog. Knowing basic animal first aid can help you to remain calm and in control during an animal emergency, and can help to limit the damage and risk to your pet while you seek professional help from your local vet.
By following our helpful guide, you can learn how to prevent further injury and discomfort for your pet. Pet first aid should not replace expert veterinary care and in the majority of cases, this will be needed to ensure the animal can return to full health.
Treating a Pet’s Bee or Wasp Sting
Insect stings can be common in pets and will mainly affect dogs, although cats can also be caught if they try to catch wasps and bees in the garden. While insect stings in pets aren’t a major concern they can cause allergic reactions in some animals as well as mild swelling and some irritation for a few hours after the sting.
If your dog or cat has been stung by a bee, look out for any swelling, rashes or bumps on your pet. This can be a sign of an allergic reaction and may lead to vomiting and/or diarrhoea. If your pet experiences any of these symptoms, we would recommend contacting your vet as a precaution.
If you can see a sting remaining on your pet (bee stings), try to remove it by scraping the sting off your animal using a credit card or similar. Do not use tweezers or try to pinch the sting off your pet as this may cause more venom to be injected.
Treating an allergic reaction in Dogs and Cats
Allergic reactions in dogs and cats can occur for a variety of reasons. Reactions can come on within a few minutes or several hours later.
Symptoms of allergic reactions in pets include:
- Puffiness around the face and ears
- Watery or swollen eyes
- Skin conditions like itching, hives and rashes
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
Animal allergens can include;
- Medications. Antibiotics, painkillers, vaccinations
- Foods. Treats, preservatives, certain meats or grains
- Chemicals. Household cleaners, air fresheners, weedkillers, moulds, pollens and plants
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction in pets include;
- Sudden onset of diarrhoea, drooling or vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat and pale gums
- Shock and seizures (in very severe cases)
Allergic reactions in pets can vary in severity depending on the animal and how much of the allergen they have been exposed to. Sometimes there is an obvious cause, such as contact with a toxic plant, insect stings or new food. Often the cause of a specific reaction will never be known as the symptoms can be the same.
It is very rare for animals to suffer from anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction). If this does happen, it is usually within the first few minutes of them having been exposed to the allergen and it will warrant a trip to see an emergency vet.
What to do if your pet has a broken nail
If you notice that your pet has a broken nail this may be causing them some discomfort. Pets can break their nails easily by snagging them or getting them caught.
If you can see that one of your pet’s nails is hanging loose, then you can try to snip it off with some clean nail scissors or clippers. Do not attempt this if it is bleeding, the sensitive quick (blood vessels and nerves) is exposed or if the nail is attached well.
If the nail has already come off, revealing the quick, the best thing you can do is keep it clean. It will be very sensitive for around 48 hours, after this, the tissue will harden. We would recommend using salt water, made by adding 1 teaspoon of table salt to 1-pint lukewarm water. You can soak your dog’s paw in this twice daily.
Dressings are not recommended as they may cause more pain and create an environment where infection is more likely to occur. You will need to ensure your dog has restricted exercise and that they walk on soft ground only until the wound site has fully healed. Usually, the nail itself will grow back over a period of a couple of months.
First Aid Treatments for Minor Pet Wounds
If your dog or cat has a minor wound like a small cut on their paw, this is the equivalent of a scraped knee or shallow-cut in a human. Although they may appear small, minor wounds in pets should be dealt with quickly to avoid it from becoming infected.
When cleaning the wound, there are a few simple steps that can be followed:
- Use clean scissors or clippers to trim the hair around the wound
- Wash the area with warm water until all visible dirt/debris is gone, then pat dry
- Use salt water or, if available, chlorhexidine solution (hibiscrub) to further clean the wound
- If available, apply a small amount of antiseptic wound cream such as Savlon to prevent infection. Do this just prior to a walk or feeding to distract your pet from licking it off
- Prevent your pet from grooming the area using a Buster collar, T-shirt or sock, depending on the area affected. Repeat cleaning twice daily until the skin is healed
What to do if your dog or cat is bleeding
Knowing what to do if your dog or cat is bleeding will help to reassure them and keep them comfortable. When a pet is bleeding it can look worrying, especially if there seems to be a lot of blood – the main goal when performing first aid is to control the level of bleeding.
Act with caution as there is a possibility that the animal is in pain and they may be more likely to bite if they become scared. Using a muzzle or asking someone to hold and restrain the animal where possible will help to keep both you and your pet safe. Different parts of the animal’s body may also require different techniques to help control the bleeding.
If your dog or cat’s paw is bleeding
Remove any objects from your dog or cat’s pad and wash the paw in cool water or under a running tap/hose to remove debris.
Wrap the paw in a bandage or small towel and apply firm, constant pressure for 5-10 minutes. This should stop the bleeding, but, be aware when your pet starts to walk on the paw again further, bleeding may occur.
If their leg is bleeding
If an artery or vein is severed, significant bleeding can happen as a result. Wrap a clean bandage or towel around the wound and apply firm pressure. If the towel becomes soaked through, apply a further towel on top and continue to apply pressure.
Elevate the leg above the heart if possible. Keep pressure on the wound by taping the towel or gauze around the leg while you transport your pet to your local surgery.
For minor leg wounds, remove any foreign material if possible, flush the wound with clean water to remove debris and proceed to cover the wound with a gauze dressing or clean towel while transporting your pet to your closest veterinary surgery.
If your cat or dog is bleeding on their body
These wounds can be harder to manage, and it is important to remain calm to be sure the animal is reassured. Taping some gauze or a clean towel around the wound site may be necessary to help stem the bleeding.
Ensure that this is not too tight and the animal can still breathe comfortably. If there is a ‘sucking’ noise, keep the dressing firmly in place and travel immediately to your nearest emergency vet as this would suggest that the wound has entered the chest cavity.
In contrast to the legs and paws, do not remove any foreign object protruding from the chest or abdomen as it may snap off leaving some inside, or it could be preventing life threatening internal bleeding from occurring. Proceed to your nearest vet immediately.
Wound on dog or cats ears
Ear wounds in dogs or cats will often bleed a lot so try to remain calm while you work to control the flow. There are a lot of blood vessels at the surface of the ear flaps and the animal will tend to shake its head, forcing the bleeding to become worse.
Place a dressing over both sides of the ear flap, fold the ear over the top of the head and hold it firmly in place. Be very careful securing this bandage as you must not have anything tight around the neck or it may restrict the animal’s breathing.
What to do if your dog or cat has been burnt
If an animal has a burn injury this can be extremely painful and easily become infected and leave scarring. If your pet has a burn wound, no matter how small it is, you should always consult with an expert as pain relief will be needed.
While on route to your nearest surgery, there are steps you can follow to keep your pet as comfortable as possible.
What to do if your pet is burnt:
- Remove your pet from the source of burning. Be careful if the source is electrical, turn off the power supply before attending to your pet. If it is a chemical, wash it off with plenty of fresh water (do not use iced cold water)
- Cool the burnt skin for at least 20 minutes. Use either lukewarm running water or immerse the burnt area in cool water (never use iced cold water — this can cause further damage)
- If you are concerned that your pet may get the wound dirty on the way to getting their treatment, you can very gently place cling film over the burn. Do not wrap it around like a bandage as it will become too tight if the burn begins to swell
- If the animal has chewed an electrical cable or has licked a chemical from their skin, check inside their mouth for any burns or injuries. If they are having difficulty breathing, take them to your nearest emergency vet immediately
What not to do if your pet is burnt:
- Do not apply any creams or ointments
- Do not use any bandages or dressings to cover the burn
- Do not use iced cold water on the burn
If your pet has signs of or has experienced any of the following, contact your local vet immediately as the animal may require emergency treatment.
If your dog or cat has been bitten
If your dog or cat has a bite wound, however small, they should be examined by a professional as soon as possible. Bite wounds in animals can easily become infected and depending on what has bitten the animal teeth can cause tissue damage.
If your pet has experienced a bite wound, check that they are well in themselves and not suffering from shock — pale, white gums, rapid heart-rate and the animal’s body feeling cold are all signs.
When your dog or cat has been hit by a car
If an animal has been involved in a road traffic accident (RTA), they can seem fine and well in themselves but they may be suffering from internal injury or bleeding. That’s why it’s so important after such an event of trauma for an animal to be checked by an expert immediately.
When travelling to your nearest emergency veterinary surgery, remain calm to ensure the animal is reassured. When moving the animal do so safely and be aware that they may have an injury that can’t easily be seen. If necessary keep them warm by using a blanket or towel.
Infected pet wounds
A wound that shows signs of swelling, heat, pain or discharge can indicate some form of infection. Similarly, an open wound in a pet is where you can see some form of muscle or bone and this will require emergency care.
A wound that has been bleeding for more than 10-15 minutes or is showing signs of excessive blood loss can be an animal emergency.