Gilroy Veterinary Hospital

9565 Monterey Hwy
Gilroy, CA 95020


 First Aid - By Roger W. Gfeller, DVM, DipACVECC, Michael W. Thomas, DVM, and Isaac Mayo


First aid is the immediate care given to a pet who has been injured or is suddenly taken ill. The immediate care includes:

  • PRIMARY SURVEY AND RESUSCITATION The primary survey is the first impression the first aid provider has of the situation, and the immediate action that is taken. A well informed owner will be able to make a quick assessment of the scene and a quick examination of the victim. Immediate attention is given to the animal's level of consciousness, airway patency, breathing, and circulatory functions (including pulse). Resuscitation is the prompt treatment of life threatening problems.
  • SECONDARY SURVEY AND DEFINITIVE FIRST AID The secondary survey consists of an examination and assessment of the animals eyes, ears, nose, neck, chest, abdomen, back, extremities, and rectal temperature and the procedures to stabilize and protect the animal from further harm.
  • TRANSPORT Many emergencies will require professional help. Knowledge of the proper way to transport the pet to a veterinary medical facility for professional care can prevent further injury, protect the owner from dangerous situations, and allow for timely care.



Emergency supplies are a necessity. The following list will help you assemble the resources you need. - 1" and 2" adhesive tape - 2" roll gauze (for muzzle) - newspaper - rectal thermometer - chlorhexidine or povidone iodine (antiseptic) - Elizabethan collar - eye wash (saline in a squirt bottle) - isopropyl alcohol 3% hydrogen peroxide (or syrup of ipecac) - 2" and 4" gauze - 3" x 3" or 4" x 4" gauze pads - scissors - cotton balls and pledgets - blanket with heat pack - flat transport surface - plastic food wrap (e.g., Saran- Wrap) petroleum or K-Y jelly - ice pack - activated charcoal - tweezers - bulb syringe
A complete first aid kit for your pet is a must.



In a convenient location, make a list of important phone numbers which includes the phone numbers of the following:

Your veterinarian: - Your veterinarian's emergency (after-hours) number: - Your nearest 24-hour veterinary emergency facility: - Your local poison control center: - National poison control centers: - University of Illinois: 1-(900)-680-0000 (There is a charge for this call.) - Oklahoma City Poison Control Center: 1-(405)-217-5454 (especially good for snakebite and antivenom information.)

Emergency numbers should be kept near your phone for easy access. Update numbers as necessary.



A wide variety of problems arise that require first aid skills. Decisions and actions vary according to the circumstances, including:

Scene of the accident. - Emergency equipment available. - Species, size, age, temperament, and condition of the animal requiring first aid. - Your emotional condition. - Other emotionally stable people available to help you.

First aid begins with a quick but careful survey of the scene. Then quick decisions need to be made, depending on the circumstances.

Make sure the accident scene is safe before proceeding. Take steps to prevent further injury to you or your pet - Enlist the help of others - Call, or have someone call, your veterinarian or the emergency veterinary center. (Keep those phone numbers handy at all times!) Describe the animal, give a short description of what happened and what has been done. Give your name and telephone number. Don't hang up until the professionals have told you what to do.- Administer essential first aid. Carefully transport the animal to the veterinary facility for examination if there is any question as to the seriousness of the injury or sudden illness. It is highly recommended to telephone first in all but the most life-threatening situations.



When attending a dog that has been injured, it is important that the first aid provider takes steps to prevent bite wounds inflicted by the animal being treated. Many dogs, even the family pet, may bite when hurt or frightened. A muzzle is an excellent way to prevent being bitten while rendering first aid. Commercial muzzles are best, as many of them can be used without interfering with breathing; the problem is they are not always available during a crisis.

If a muzzle is not available, the first aid provider must improvise. To make a muzzle, get a rope, cord or other similar strong material (such as a necktie or a belt). Wrap the cord or rope two or three times around the muzzle, being careful not to wrap the material too close to the soft, fleshy part of the nose. The muzzle must be applied to the bony part of the nose to avoid interfering with breathing. Bring the ends up past the ears and tie the securely behind the head.
These muzzles cannot be used on dogs who are having difficulty breathing, are unconscious, or have an injury to the mouth. They're also not indicated for short nose breeds (e.g., Chinese Pug, Pekingese, Bulldog).

Some injured dogs may vomit. If the dog appears to become nauseated or begins to retch, the muzzle should be removed at once.



The primary survey is often referred to as the ABC's of first aid, indicating the following areas of emphasis:

"A"irway - "B"reathing & "B"leeding - "C"ardiovascular (which includes heart function, pulse, and capillary refill time)

In most cases, the pet owner will administer a minimal amount of first aid and then transport the animal to a veterinary facility. Occasionally it is necessary to continue the care with some additional procedures, particularly if veterinary help will not be available for some period of time. Please read the following sections carefully.

"A"irway, "B"reathing, and "C"ardiovascular are covered in the sections on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Shock. The sections on Bleeding and Bandaging will cover information on controlling "B"leeding. First aid for fractures is covered in the section on Splints. First aid treatment for poisoning and choking cases is described in Poisoning and Choking.

Index for "Primary Survey and Resuscitation": - Safe Rescue - Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation - Shock - Bleeding - Bandaging - Splints - Poisoning - Choking



In order to administer first aid to an animal, it may be necessary to remove him (and yourself) from a road or a highway. Remove your pet from the highway only after making sure it is safe to retrieve him. Direct traffic if necessary. If the pet appears likely to bite because of pain or excitement, cover the pet (including the head) with a blanket and/or muzzle the pet before handling. If there is any evidence of head, neck, or spinal injury (such as inability to move the rear legs), you should move the animal onto a flat surface for transport rather than picking him up.

Make sure to secure an accident scene before attempting a rescue.


Copyright 1994, by Roger W. Gfeller and Michael W. Thomas. All rights reserved.