5 Must-Know Pet First-Aid Skills: National Pet First-Aid Awareness Month - PetFirst
Pet Care & Health

5 Must-Know Pet First-Aid Skills: National Pet First-Aid Awareness Month

by MetLife Pet Insurance
3 years ago

Most of us are not lucky enough to have our pet’s vet by our side 24/7.  When the cat stops breathing or the dog cuts his paw, odds are you will be home alone after veterinary hours.  Therefore, YOU must be able to rescue and help your pet BEFORE medical help is available.

In addition to getting to know your pet from snout-to-tail and getting down on all fours to keep their surrounding environment safe, there are five must-know skills to help a pet in need. Keep reading to learn the skills you need to know so that you can help keep your pet safe.    

Identify SHOCK 

Shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a pet doesn’t receive sufficient blood and oxygen to the tissues and organs.  His body tries to compensate by increasing heart and respiratory rates, restricting urinary output (to maintain fluids), and constricting blood vessels near the skin’s surface, but this requires energy he doesn’t have and will result in death without quick medical care. 

Look for:

  • Pale gums, bright red gums or CRT slower than 2 seconds (when pressing on gums, look for the time it takes for color to return once the pressure is released)
  • Woozy or weakness
  • Panting
  • Rapid heart rate


  • Elevate pet’s hindquarters slightly to increase circulation, but only if you do not suspect a broken back or bleeding injury to the head or chest
  • Retain body heat by covering pet with a sheet or blanket, including one underneath if the surface is cold
  • Gently rub gums with honey or Karo Syrup® to get glucose to the brain
  • Transport to Animal ER immediately

Minimize BLOOD LOSS 

Arteries are the largest vessels carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart throughout the body. Veins are thinner vessels returning blood to the heart while capillaries are the smallest blood vessels that usually only ooze when damaged, requiring superficial cleaning, antibiotic ointment, and maybe a bandage to keep infection at bay. 

Look for:

  • Visible pooling or spurting blood
  • Blood under the skin like a pocket, most commonly occurring in floppy ears.  This is a hematoma and requires veterinary aspiration.  


  • Apply direct pressure with gauze directly over the wound. If that doesn’t stop blood loss…
  • Elevate injured limb by placing a pillow or folded towel underneath, keeping it higher than the animal’s heart
  • Should bleeding persist… Apply pressure to one of 5 pressure points – inside legs and under the base of the tail.  Squeezing these arteries, located close to the surface of the skin, lessens blood flow to the corresponding limb 


Hyperthermia is a life-threatening emergency requiring veterinary treatment.  Your goal is to remove the animal from the source of the heat, lower body temperature, and obtain medical assistance.   

Look for:

  • Heavy panting
  • Gasping
  • Vomiting (if not yet dehydrated)
  • Foam around mouth
  • Weak or high pulse
  • Inability to drink
  • Bright red or suddenly bluish gums
  • Loss of consciousness


  • Move the pet to a shady sidewalk or grassy area. Indoors is best with a cool fan blowing
  • Wet animal “from the paws up” getting pads, pits, groin, and belly skin soaked with cool (not icy) water.  If you place a dog or cat into a tub or pool, do not let the water rise higher than the belly or he will cool too quickly resulting in hypothermia! 
  • Wiping rubbing alcohol onto inner ear flaps and paw pads have a paw-mazing cooling effect as does a cool pack (or bag of frozen peas) positioned on the neck and/or groin.  Remove pack every few minutes to prevent frostbite 
  • Dribble or spray small amounts of water into the pet’s mouth to keep well-hydrated
  • Check the pet’s temperature.  If 104°F or higher, get to the Veterinarian immediately! Wrap animal in wet sheet or towel, turn on car air conditioning and drive quickly but safely to the vet
  • Should your pet go unconscious, rub honey or Karo Syrup® on gums to increase blood sugar level, and be prepared to administer CPCR.  If body temperature drops to 100°F or below, cover pet with a blanket placing a 2-liter bottle filled with warm (not hot) water next to him as you transport to an Animal ER


When an object gets lodged in front of the trachea (windpipe) instead of passing down the esophagus, it can prevent air from getting to the pet’s lungs resulting in a life-threatening condition.  

Look for:

  • Loud noise or cough as pet exhales
  • Rasping noise during inhalation
  • Gagging or retching as if trying to vomit
  • Pawing at mouth
  • Drooling
  • Outward stretching of the neck
  • Staggering and eventually rapid/shallow breathing
  • Pale/blue gums
  • Collapse


Give a pet a moment to cough up the item.  If he can’t….

  • Place fist (for medium to large dogs) or the flat part of two fingertips (small dogs and cats) into the soft part of the belly behind the last rib, pulling upwards in 5 quick motions
  • For larger pets, this will be like giving a “bear hug” and you must make contact between your belly/chest and the pet’s back to perform effectively
  • For smaller animals, place the opposite hand on their back and push up towards your hand


Compressing the chest quickly for two minutes facilitates the movement of oxygen (already in the pet’s body) through the lungs, lessening the number of times needed to give breaths via the nasal passage.

Look for:

  • Loss of consciousness – both heartbeat and breathing have stopped


With the animal on his side, deliver 2 breaths into the nostrils and 30 compressions, rechecking pulse every 4 rounds or 100-120 compressions. Continue until you reach medical care.

Keep Your Pet Safe

Here at PetFirst, we know accidents and illnesses happen to all pets. PetFirst is here for every canine and cat as pet insurance can help cover unexpected vet visits. Make sure your pet is covered with PetFirst Pet Insurance

As a pet parent, it is also important to be sure to know the location of your nearest Animal ER.  Before you need to go in due to an emergency situation, be sure to visit the ER so that you know where to enter and what services are offered at that location. While there be sure to make arrangements with the facility regarding payment, necessary signatures, and credit card information as this can save you time and worry during a scary time you want to be spending close by your pet!    


Denise Fleck is the Pet Safety Crusader™ having personally taught more than 20,000 humans to rescue Rover or help Fluffy feel better.  Her mission is to help YOU make a difference in the life of an animal through Pet First-Aid, Senior Pet Care and Disaster Preparedness classes, her “The Pet Safety Bible,” and the dozen other books she has penned.  Learn more at www.PetSafetyCrusader.com

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