Pet First Aid... Would You Know What To Do (and What NOT To Do)?

Author: Jason Nicholas, BVetMed

Published: April 10, 2015

Updated: July 11, 2021

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Pet First Aid Awareness pawHave you taken a pet first aid course? Did you know that such courses exist?  Would you know what to do if your dog or cat got injured or had a medical emergency?

Knowing pet first aid can provide you with peace of mind and give your pets a better chance of recovery from their illness, injury, or other emergency.

You’ll also be able to better recognize signs that your pet is sick or injured and in need of veterinary care. Sadly, too few people are even aware that pet first aid classes exist, let alone have ever taken one.

In our ongoing pet emergency preparedness survey only 21% of the respondents have taken a pet first aid course. Yet, over 71% of respondents report having needed veterinary emergency care for one of their pets.

As a veterinarian, I can tell you that there are many accident and emergency situations where timely and appropriate first aid can benefit your pets. Similarly, though, it's also important that you know what NOT to do. And this is why I encourage every pet owner to learn the basic first aid knowledge that you can easily obtain from an accredited pet first aid course.

Here are some of the things you’ll learn in a pet first aid course:

  • How to check your pet’s vital signs (including pulse rate, respiratory rate, and others)
  • How to clean and bandage a wound
  • How to make and safely apply a temporary muzzle to protect yourself and others (painful pets can bite — even their owners!)music-notes
  • Signs that indicate when a trip to the Animal ER is necessary
  • And what Stayin’ Alive, the classic Bee Gees song, has to do with pet CPR (Spoiler Alert… it’s the beat that you should perform CPR chest compressions to!)

A few examples of what NOT to do in a pet emergency:

  • In the event that a pet eats a toxin or something else they're not supposed to, it's not always advisable (or safe!) to make them vomit at home. Contact your veterinarian or your pet poison hotline.
  • For a dog that's overheated and suffering from heat stroke, you don't want to cool them too fast (like in a pool of ice water), as that can actually SLOW cooling or cause a dangerous drop of their body temperature.
  • When a pet suffers an injury or is in pain, you don't want to give them your pain medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription. Doing so can actually sometimes cause them more harm, as many human medications are toxic to animals. Never give pain medications to a pet in pain without first checking with your veterinarian.

To find a pet first aid course near you, search our Pet First Aid & CPR resource page. And of course you'll need a pet first aid kit to put into practice much of what you’ll learn, so check out our Pet First Aid Kit Checklist to see what you need to easily put one together yourself.

Hopefully you'll never have need to administer first aid or CPR to your pets. But should the need ever arise — and it sadly often does — you'll be happy you took this opportunity to prepare yourself.

If you've taken a pet first aid and CPR class, or if you teach one, please share your experience in the comment section below. Additionally, if you've ever had to administer first aid or CPR to one of your pets, or someone else’s, please share your story with others here, too.

For more tips, listen to our Paws & Play with Dr. J Podcast "Pet First Aid — What to Do and What Not to Do."

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