Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your dog.

First Aid for Dogs


Despite your best efforts to keep your dog healthy and safe, the unthinkable can happen. Your pet could suddenly fall ill or get hurt. If this were to occur, would you know what to do?

First aid is the care provided to a sick or injured pet until professional help is at hand. First aid does not take the place of proper veterinary treatment. But, when used appropriately, it could make all the difference for you and your dog.

It's important to be prepared for an emergency before one arises. Know these first aid instructions, have a first aid kit ready, and keep important phone numbers handy. Learn how your veterinarian handles urgent care, particularly after hours. Some veterinarians are available to meet you at the hospital if you call after closing; others refer directly to a local emergency hospital. It's always smart to know the name and location of the local 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital wherever you are (see box). Always call ahead before you rush to the vet hospital with your sick or injured pet. This way, the staff can prepare for your arrival or further instruct you as necessary. With a good plan in place, you and your dog can get the help you need...when you need it.

For a listing of 24-hour emergency veterinary clinics worldwide, visit the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (VECCS) online directory.

Following are some common canine emergencies and instructions for first aid:

Bee Sting

Any bee sting or insect bite has the potential to cause problems ranging from a minor local reaction (pain, swelling, or itching) to a more serious one (hives, facial swelling, vomiting, trouble breathing, and collapse). If you suspect your dog has been stung or bitten by an insect:

What to do:

  • If the stinger can be located, scrape the corner of a credit card or a fingernail along the entry site to flick it out. Note: if you are allergic to bees, have someone else remove the stinger.
  • Apply ice or a cool compress to the wound for 2-3 minutes if possible.
  • A paste made of water and baking soda is non-toxic and may neutralize the sting.
  • Monitor your pet for facial swelling, hives, difficult breathing, or collapse. If these occur, seek veterinary care immediately.

What not to do:

  • Do not use tweezers to grasp and pull the stinger; this can discharge more venom into the wound.
  • Do not administer medications such as pain killers or anti-inflammatories to your pet unless prescribed by your veterinarian.


Bleeding is often associated with injury, so recognizing and controlling blood loss is an important part of first aid. Bleeding can be external (exuding from a cut or wound on the surface of the body) or internal (concealed inside the chest or abdomen). Severe or ongoing blood loss can lead to shock, collapse, and even death if not treated promptly.

What to do for external bleeding:

Don't Get Hurt Yourself!

Even the gentlest dog may lash out when injured and in pain. Approach an injured dog with extreme caution to avoid getting hurt yourself. The use of a muzzle is strongly recommended. Do not use a muzzle if your dog is vomiting or having trouble breathing.

A makeshift muzzle can be devised from a strip of bandage gauze, a length of rope, a thin belt, or even a necktie.

  • Approach the injured dog carefully to avoid getting hurt yourself. Use a muzzle.
  • First, apply direct pressure to the wound using a wad of gauze, tissue, or a clean cloth as a compress. If nothing else is available, your bare hand or finger will have to do.
  • Apply pressure to the wound for a full 10 minutes to allow for clotting.
  • Do not lift the gauze to see if the bleeding has stopped. You may dislodge the clot.
  • If the compress soaks through, layer more fresh padding on top of it.
  • If the wound is on an extremity, it may be possible to bind the compress in place using a gauze or cloth wrap.
  • Keep your dog as calm and still as possible.
  • Lying your dog on her side and elevating a bleeding limb may help slow the flow of blood.
  • For persistent or severe hemorrhage, seek veterinary care immediately.

Internal bleeding is a life-threatening emergency. But it's not always apparent, since you may not see any blood. Internal bleeding can occur with blunt trauma (a serious fall, being hit by a car) or seemingly out of the blue (blood clotting disorders, a ruptured tumor).

Signs of internal bleeding may include:

  • Pale gums
  • Cool extremities
  • Rapid breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Distended belly
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Collapse

What to do for internal bleeding:

  • Keep your dog calm.
  • Keep her as warm and comfortable as possible.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.

Breathing Trouble

Breathing trouble (dyspnea) is characterized by an increased breathing effort, noisy rapid breathing, or trouble inhaling and exhaling. In severe cases, the gums and lips may turn blue. Dyspnea is a medical emergency, and such patients can be extremely fragile.

What to do:

  • Determine if your dog is choking (see below).
  • Determine if your dog is suffering from heat stroke (see below).
  • Keep your dog as calm as possible while rushing her straight to the vet.
  • If your dog loses consciousness and stops breathing, perform rescue breathing (see box).

How to Perform Rescue Breathing

Rescue breathing is performed on a pet that has stopped breathing and become unconscious. It is the same as "mouth-to-mouth" in people. Do not attempt rescue breathing if your pet is still conscious.

  1. Close your pet's mouth and clamp your lips over her nose.
  2. Exhale with enough force to expand the dog's chest as it would during a normal breath. Be careful not to over-inflate.
  3. Give 3 to 5 breaths.
  4. Pause to see if your dog has started to breathe on her own.
  5. Repeat as necessary until you reach help.


Burns can result from exposure to heat, flames, electricity, or caustic chemicals, and they can occur anywhere on the body, including inside the mouth (electric shock, chemical ingestion). Burns are extremely painful, tend to worsen before they get better, and are highly susceptible to infection. Severe burns can require intensive care and reconstructive surgery.

Here's what to do:

  • Put out any flames that may be present.
  • Turn off or unplug any electrical source if possible.
  • Approach the injured dog with extreme caution.
  • For thermal or electrical burns, apply cool water compresses.
  • For chemical burns, flush the contaminated area copiously with tepid running water for at least 15 minutes.
  • If a caustic chemical is in the eye, flush it with saline eye rinse or running water for at least 15 minutes. Contact lens saline solution can also be used, although anything labeled "multipurpose" or "disinfectant" should be avoided.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.

What not to do:

  • Do not apply ice.
  • Do not use ointments or butter.
  • Do not pop blisters or remove burned fur or skin yourself.



Choking occurs when a foreign object is lodged near the opening of the trachea (windpipe), blocking the flow of air into the lungs. Choking and coughing can be hard to tell apart. Many a concerned dog parent has rushed to the vet's office thinking something was stuck in their dog's throat, only to learn it's a simple case of tracheobronchitis, or "kennel cough." The important distinction is that a coughing dog can inhale relatively normally, but a choking dog cannot. A choking dog may seem frantic, and the lips and tongue will start to turn blue. This may progress to unconsciousness if the blockage is not relieved.

What to do if your dog is conscious:

  • If your dog can partially breathe, it may be best to keep her calm and rush her to the veterinarian right away. Your vet can extract the foreign body safely, using special instruments and sedation.
  • It may be possible to dislodge the foreign object with your finger or with tweezers or forceps. Do not do this if you believe your dog will bite you.

What to do if your dog is unconscious:

  • Sweep your finger along the back of your dog's throat to push aside any foreign material.
  • If this doesn't work, perform the doggy Heimlich maneuver by placing your hands on both sides of her rib cage. Squeeze forcibly 3-4 times. Repeat until the foreign body is dislodged.
  • Once the obstruction is relieved, perform rescue breathing (see Breathing Trouble)


If your dog is acting sick and her muzzle and ears feel hot, it's possible she has a fever. Take your dog's rectal temperature using an digital fever thermometer. A dog's normal resting temperature is between 100.5 and 102.5˚F. A temperature of 103˚F or above constitutes a fever. A fever of 105˚F or above is a potentially life-threatening situation that requires immediate attention.

What to do:

  • For a fever of 105˚F or above, institute cooling measures by moistening the dog's hair coat with cool water and placing her by a fan.
  • Encourage, but don't force, your dog to drink small amounts of cool water.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.

What not to do:

  • Do not use cold water or ice to cool your pet down. Cool tap water is better.
  • Do not over-treat. Once your pet's temperature comes down to 103˚F, discontinue cooling measures.
  • Do not give human fever remedies such as aspirin, Tylenol®, or ibuprofen to your dog. They could make her very sick.


Symptoms of a fracture (broken bone) include pain, inability to use a limb, or a limb that is bent at an odd angle. An open fracture is one that is associated with an open and bleeding flesh wound. With a closed fracture, the surface skin remains intact.

What to do:

  • Approach the injured dog carefully (use a muzzle).
  • Control any bleeding that is present, if this can be done without causing worse injury (see Bleeding).
  • Cover an open fracture with a sterile gauze dressing or other clean cloth if possible.
  • Keep your dog as calm and still as possible.
  • Transport your dog directly to the veterinarian, supporting the injured body part as well as possible. A blanket held taut between two people can be used as a stretcher if needed.

What not to do:

  • Never try to splint, bandage, or set a fracture yourself. You are likely to get bitten and make the dog's injury worse.
  • Do not attempt to clean the wound unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian.
  • Never give human pain medications to your dog. This could make her very sick.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a condition in which a dog's body overheats, for example when a dog exercises too heavily on a hot, humid summer day. Overweight dogs and certain breeds (bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, and other short-nosed breeds) are especially prone to overheating. Any dog left in a poorly-ventilated car, even for a short time, can be exposed to dangerously high temperatures.

Signs of heat stroke include heavy panting, drooling, and agitation that progresses to weakness, confusion, and collapse.

What to do:

  • Remove your pet from the sun and heat.
  • If possible, take your dog's rectal temperature (see Fever, above).
  • Institute cooling measures as for fever.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately, even if your dog seems to recover with treatment. The adverse effects of overheating can develop hours later.
  • Get a Too Hot for Spot Window Thermometer for your car to warn of potentially dangerous temperatures.

What not to do:

  • Do not use cold water or ice.
  • Never leave your dog unattended in a vehicle for any length of time.


Paralysis is the loss of ability to move parts of the body, for example the neck, legs, or tail. This may occur due to a traumatic injury (such as a fall or being hit by a car), a ruptured disc, or various other problems.

What to do:

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

 (888) 426-4435

This is a trusted resource in any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is staffed by a dedicated team of veterinary specialists. A consultation fee will be charged to your credit card for using this service.

  • Approach the injured dog carefully (use a muzzle). The fact that she can't move properly doesn't mean she's not in pain or can't bite you.
  • Keep the dog as calm and still as possible.
  • Immobilize your dog as best you can.
  • Use a firm, flat support to transport your dog. A small dog could travel in a sturdy cardboard box. For a large dog, a child's plastic toboggan might work. Strap or tape your dog down to the support if it does not cause her to panic.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately. This is an emergency.

What not to do:

  • Don't allow your pet to move around. This can worsen the injury.


Poisoning can result from ingestion, inhalation, or direct skin contact with a toxic substance. Examples include household chemicals or cleansers, prescription medications, rat poison, antifreeze, or even foods that are toxic to pets such as chocolate.

What to do:

  • Contact either your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (see box).
  • If you are unable to reach one of these for some reason, local human poison control centers may be of some help as well.
  • Retain any product labels and containers.
  • Do your best to quantify how much of the toxin your pet ingested/inhaled/contacted and at what time.
  • Whether or not to induce vomiting is controversial. Seek veterinary advice first if at all possible.
  • If your dog is unable to stand, having trouble breathing, or is unconscious, seek veterinary care immediately.

What not to do:

  • Do not induce vomiting if your pet is unconscious, unable to stand, or having trouble breathing.
  • Do not induce vomiting if your pet has ingested a caustic or petroleum-based substance. These can cause even more damage on the way back up.


A seizure is a burst of uncontrollable body movements caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It can be as dramatic as violent whole-body tremors (a grand mal seizure), or as subtle as a repetitive facial twitch or a brief period of disorientation (a partial seizure). There are many causes of seizures, some benign, some serious.

What to do:

  • Protect your dog from injuring herself while the seizure runs its course. Make sure she can't fall, and keep her away from water.
  • Be careful not to get bitten.
  • If possible, record the start and end times of the seizure.
  • If your pet has just one seizure lasting under 3 minutes, this is usually not an emergency. Contact your veterinarian for further instructions.
  • If a seizure lasts more than 3-5 minutes or if your dog has two or more seizures in a day, seek veterinary care immediately.
  • If your dog is diabetic, administer sugar syrup to the gums (if you can safely do so), and then seek veterinary care immediately.

Snake Bite

If your dog was bitten by a snake, it's always safest to assume the snake was poisonous. This determination depends partly on what snakes are common in your area. Antivenin treatment may be needed.

What to do:

  • Muzzle your pet to avoid being bitten yourself. Snake bites are extremely painful.
  • Try to identify the snake if possible (and only if it is safe to do so).
  • Elevate or immobilize the injured body part if possible.
  • Avoid touching or manipulating the bitten area.
  • Keep your dog calm, and carry her if necessary.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.

What not to do:

  • Do not attempt to incise and drain the wound.
  • Do not apply ice or a tourniquet to the area.


Sick diets for dogs

Tummy troubles heal faster with bland, low-fat foods on-board. Prescription diets such as Hill's i/d® and Hill's w/d® are popular choices. Ask your veterinarian if it's a good idea to keep a few cans of these on hand for emergencies.

Home-cooked diets can work well, too. Boiling low-fat meats then draining the liquid helps reduce their fat content. Consult your veterinarian for specific recommendations. Typical options include:

  • Boiled chicken and white rice
  • Boiled hamburger and white rice
  • Low-fat cottage cheese and white rice
  • Scrambled egg
  • Boiled sweet potato
  • Cooked pasta

Vomiting is a common affliction in dogs. Repeated vomiting, especially when combined with diarrhea, can rapidly lead to dehydration, especially in very young, old, or frail dogs.

What to do:

  • Withhold all food and water for 4-6 hours.
  • If no vomiting occurs, start with small sips of water or pediatric electrolyte solution. Ice cubes can work as well.
  • In another 2 hours, if all is quiet, offer a larger drink of water.
  • If this stays down over 2 hours, it's time to try solids. Start with very small amounts (1-2 tablespoons) of bland food (see box), repeated every 2-3 hours.
  • If vomiting and/or diarrhea persists, your dog refuses food, or she becomes lethargic, take her to the veterinarian.
  • Vomitus or diarrhea containing large amounts of frank blood is an emergency. Seek veterinary care right away.

What not to do:

  • Do not give your pet anything to eat or drink until vomiting has ceased for at least 4 hours.
  • Do not give over the counter or prescription medications to your vomiting dog unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian. These could cause severe injury or death.


Wounds come in all shapes and sizes. A deep wound fully penetrates the skin and may expose underlying muscle, fat, and bone. It requires emergency treatment by a veterinarian. A superficial wound does not penetrate all the way through the skin, and home care may suffice. Bite wounds should always be treated by a veterinarian, no matter how superficial they seem. There is often more damage beneath the skin than meets the eye. Bite wounds readily become infected without proper treatment. Rabies exposure is also a serious concern if the bite came from an unvaccinated (or wild) animal.

What to do for a deep wound:

  • Protect yourself from getting bitten (use a muzzle).
  • Stop any bleeding using direct pressure (see Bleeding).
  • Do not probe, clean, or flush a deep wound or apply anything to it.
  • If you see something protruding from a deep wound, do not try to remove it.
  • Cover the wound with gauze or a clean cloth.
  • Keep your dog calm and still if possible.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.
  • Transport your dog with the wounded side facing up.

What to do for a superficial wound:

  • Wear gloves if the wound was caused by the bite of an unvaccinated animal (risk of rabies exposure).
  • Gently clean the wound of blood, dirt, and debris with mild soap and lots of water.
  • Pat the wound dry.
  • Apply a triple antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin®.
  • An Elizabethan collar or bandage may be necessary to keep your dog from licking the wound.

Minor wounds on the extremities can be bandaged:

  • Apply a sterile non-stick pad such as a Telfa® pad to the wound (available online or at pharmacies).
  • Apply several layers of rolled gauze over the wound. Extend the wrap several inches above and below the wound (if space permits) to minimize slippage.
  • Apply an outer self-adhesive wrap such as Vetrap® (available online or at pet supply stores).
  • A safe bandage is snug but not tight enough to cut off circulation. If you can't slip 2 fingers under the bandage, it's too tight.
  • Keep the bandage clean and dry.
  • Change the bandage every 1 to 2 days.
  • If redness, swelling, odor, or discharge develops, seek veterinary care immediately.

With luck, you'll never need to perform first aid on your pet. But if an emergency strikes, you'll be prepared.

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