Emergency First Aid for Pets

cat-wrapped-in-towelWhen you are faced with a pet emergency, the first thing you should do is… stop panicking! Easier said than done we know, but it’s important to remain calm and act with care and caution. Consider the situation and ask yourself whether there’s anything you can do straight away, or is it crucial to get to a vet immediately?

If you need to see a vet, we’re available 24/7 – call 0208 977 3955.

Examples of veterinary emergencies

Examples of veterinary emergencies include: shock, collapse, choking or breathing difficulties, profuse bleeding, Bloat (GDV), open fractures, penetrating injuries, prolonged seizures or even an allergic reaction of bites or stings.

As vets, some emergencies we normally come across are:

  • Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs), bleeding, open wounds and broken bones
  • Seizures
  • Heatstroke
  • Bloat (GDV)
  • Poisoning, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Fights and bites
  • Stick injuries
  • Eye injuries
  • Allergic reactions

Some of the most common scenarios we are asked about are Road Traffic Accidents and Bloat (GDV):

Road Traffic Accidents

These are every owner’s worst nightmare. You should stay calm and call the vet in the first instance. Approach the animal from the front, avoiding sudden movements. Speak gently, using their name if possible. Check for shock and manage bleeding and broken bones, but always take them to the vet even if they appear uninjured – internal organ damage may not be obvious.

Bleeding and open wounds

  • Apply direct and continuous pressure with clean material
  • Bandage if possible
  • If blood soaks through, apply extra layers
  • Remember that bleeding often looks worse than it actually is

Broken bones

If you can see bone ends or severe swelling or limb deformity, it’s likely a bone is broken. It will be extremely painful so muzzle the animal before touching. Manage bleeding as above, DO NOT apply a splint, move with extreme care and use a firm board if there’s a spinal injury. Keep cats and small dogs confined when in transport.

The best way to avoid RTAs is to always keep your dog on a lead when walking anywhere except in enclosed parks or other areas with no traffic.

Bloat (Gastric Dilation Volvulus)

This is a true emergency and is most common in large, deep chested dogs such as Irish Wolfhounds, Great Danes and St Bernards (although if you regularly read our case studies, you’ll be aware it can happen in any breed – we have even saved a Border Collie.) You will observe a sudden bloated tummy (but not always), dribbling and drooling, gulping, retching, restlessness or pacing and collapse.

If untreated, bloat can be fatal so call the vet immediately if you have any doubt. The best advice to prevent bloat is to feed your dog small amounts frequently (not large meals) and never exercise them immediately after eating.

Here’s a case study of when we treated an Irish Wolfhound who suffered GDV.

Signs of emergency

Here are some simple tests you can do to check whether your pet is unwell or in severe pain.

An animal’s temperature is a quick way to check how they are. For dogs and cats, normal is about 38 C.


A good pulse is strong and regular and felt on the left side of the chest (behind elbow) and just inside their thigh. Depending on the size of the dog, normal resting pulse is between 60-130 beats per minute, and for cats, normal is between 140-200.


Observe their chest movement and the amount of effort involved – are they struggling?

Gum colour and hydration

Normal gums are pink and moist. Hydrated skin “pings” back when pulled rather tan staying up and tenting.

How to move an injured pet

If the dog can walk, gently coax them into the car and help them in. If they can’t walk, lift them into the car. You should lift small dogs by supporting their chest and hindquarters and large dogs should be rolled onto a blanket or firm board and carried on.

Cats should be wrapped securely in a towel and lifted the same way as a small dog, holding them close to your body. It’s a good idea to use a cat carrier or similar.

Be a responsible pet owner

Having a pet is a lot of fun, but it’s also a responsibility. Be sure to…

  • Have a pet collar with your number and your vet’s number
  • Always microchip and vaccinate (microchipping dogs is now a legal requirement)
  • Enroll on pet insurance – emergency intensive care can be very expensive, increasing stress for everyone
  • Carry a Pet First Aid Kit if you can (you can buy these at our clinics)

Remember – prevention is always better than cure.

If you suspect your animal is experiencing a veterinary emergency, please call us on 0208 977 3955.