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:

What not to do:


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.

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:

What to do for internal bleeding:

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:

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:

What not to do:



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:

What to do if your dog is unconscious:


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:

What not to do:


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:

What not to do:

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:

What not to do:


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.

What not to do:


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:

What not to do:


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:

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:

What not to do:


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:

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:

What not to do:


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:

What to do for a superficial wound:

Minor wounds on the extremities can be bandaged:

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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Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site. Just Answer is an external service not affiliated with