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First-Aid For Dogs : Prepare For The Unexpected

By Brody Danielson November 20, 2020

Your fur baby is an important family member, and you do everything you can to keep them healthy and content. Even with the best of care, your pooch can have an illness or injury that requires emergency care. That’s why it helps to know some basic first-aid for dogs. Then, when your special pal needs immediate attention, you’ll be ready to provide support until you can get Fido to a veterinarian.

As a vet and dog owner, I can tell you how valuable first-aid can be. When an owner takes measures to help keep their pup calm and stable in an emergency, it makes our job easier.

Call Your Vet First

When the unexpected happens and your pup needs immediate care, call your veterinarian ASAP. If you live in a town or city like mine, you’re likely to get a message directing you to the emergency clinic during off hours. In smaller communities, you might be waiting for the doctor to get back to you. When you speak to the on-duty vet, they can advise you whether to bring your dog in to the clinic. 

What if you can’t get to the office right away? That’s when it’s helpful to know basic first aid for dogs. You’ll still want to call the vet and let them know what’s going on. That way they can walk you through some actions you can take to help stabilize your pal alive and make them as comfortable as possible.

What Would You Do If...? 

  • Your dog starts to choke on a piece of food?
  • Your dog gets too close to the campfire or gets some boiling water on their skin?
  • You find your pup unconscious and no breathing?
  • Your pup has a cut or other injury that’s bleeding?
  • Your pooch gets a puncture wound that’s not bleeding?
  • Your pooch is injured, and you think they might have a broken bone?
  • Fido eats something that may be poisonous?
  • Fido gets a bee or other insect sting, and it starts to swell?
  • Your pal has a swollen belly and is lethargic?
  • You think your pal has heat stroke or heat exhaustion?

In An Emergency, What Should You Do First?

What if you can’t get to the office right away? That’s when it’s helpful to know basic first aid for dogs. You’ll still want to call the vet and let them know what’s going on. That way they can walk you through some actions you can take to help stabilize your pal alive and make them as comfortable as possible.

Whether your fur-baby is dealing with a broken bone, heat stroke, poisoning, or another type of emergency, you’ll want to do everything to keep your pooch calm and quiet. Here are some first steps that you can follow to help stabilize your special pal: 

  • Be calm and reassuring. Our dogs can sense when we’re anxious, and you need them to be as relaxed as possible. Speak in soothing tones to help keep them from panicking.
  • If your four-footed pal is showing signs of aggression, use the leash, a sock, or another cord to muzzle him. The last thing either of you needs is for Fido to bite you in a fit of panic. Loop the rope or leash around the muzzle and tie the mouth shut.
  • Unless Fido has heat stroke or heat exhaustion, cover him with a blanket to keep him warm. If he’s overheated, then keep him in a cool, shaded place and wet him with cool (not ice-cold) water.
  • Call your veterinarian as soon as you can and give them a detailed description of the signs and symptoms that you see. That way, they can walk you through the next steps and prepare for your arrival at the clinic.
  • Get your dog to the hospital. 

How Do You Treat A Dog In Shock? 

What Is Shock?

Shock is the way a body responds to trauma or other stresses on the system. Whether your pup is dealing with dehydration, blood loss, an allergic reaction, or another cause, shock can lead to a life-threatening drop in blood pressure. Cells and body systems are at high risk when they can’t get enough blood and oxygen to function properly. If you think your pooch is in shock, you’ll need to take immediate action.

What Are The Signs Of Shock?

In the early stages, a dog in shock may act anxious and be panting or breathing rapidly. Your pooch will have an increased heart rate and could have reddened gums.

As shock progresses, the heart rate will get even faster, but it will be more difficult to find a pulse. Gums will become pale and may be a pale blue shade. If you press the gums with your finger and release, it will take a few seconds or longer for any color to return. Fido’s feet and ears might be cool to the touch, and he may vomit or start to shiver. If you take a rectal temperature, it will be below normal (about 39 C or 102 F) for dogs.

With late-stage shock, your pooch’s gums can become white or mottled. Their breaths will either be shallow and slow or deep and quick. Dogs become lethargic and may appear dazed at this stage. They’ll be quiet and can be unresponsive.

How Do I Treat A Dog That’s In Shock?

If your pup is showing signs of shock, the first thing to do is keep him quiet until you can get him to your vet. Other actions include:

  • Covering your pal with a light blanket to protect them from heat loss.
  • Get your pooch to lie down and place him where his head is a little lower than the rest of the body. This will encourages blood flow to the brain.
  • Make sure your fur-baby’s airway is clear of vomit, saliva, or anything else that could interfere with their breathing.
  • Take action to stop or slow down any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound and elevating the affected limb.
  • Get your dog to the hospital.

Make sure that you transport your furry friend to the vet clinic ASAP.

How To Treat A Choking Dog?

Signs A Dog Is Choking

A dog that has an object lodged in his throat will probably panic, and they could be gasping for air, coughing convulsively, pawing at their mouth, or wheezing. If they start to choke when you’re not around, you might find your pooch unconscious.

What Can You Do?

  • Carefully open the mouth by grasping the upper jaw with one hand and the lower jaw with the other hand.
  • Roll the lips to press them between your fingers and the teeth to discourage biting.
  • Look for signs of an obstruction.
  • Perform a finger sweep to feel the back of the throat.

If you see a stick or bone, but it won’t move easily, do not try to pull it out. You could seriously damage the soft tissues in the passageway. Get your pal to a veterinary hospital and let the doctors sedate your pooch to safely clear the object.

What if your pal is in distress but can’t see or feel anything in the back of the throat? That’s when it’s time to try the heimlich maneuver. If your attempt to dislodge the obstruction is unsuccessful, immediately transport your pup to the vet. 

Heimlich Maneuver For Small Dogs

With small dogs, you can gently pick your pup up and turn them over. Position their head slightly below the rest of the body to take advantage of gravity. Support the spine with one hand and place the palm of your other hand in your pup’s abdomen just below the last rib. If you have a teacup-sized pooch, you may just need a few knuckles. Push upward and inward with firm thrusts about five times. Check to see if the object is free. Repeat the procedure if there’s still an obstruction.

Heimlich Maneuver For Large Dogs

When your dog is too big to pick up and is not lying down, you can stand behind them. Wrap your arms around the abdomen and join your hands in a fist behind the rib cage. Use five firm, upward thrusts, then lie your pup on his side to check the mouth. Even if the item is loose, you may need to sweep the mouth and hook the object with your finger to remove it. If there’s still an obstruction, try again.

If your pal is already prone when you discover him choking, place him on his right side. Kneel between his legs and support his back with one hand. Use the fist of your other hand to perform five upward thrusts starting from the abdomen just behind the ribs. Check the mouth as above and repeat the procedure if needed.

You should still contact your veterinarian for follow-up care if you’re able to clear the obstruction. There could be damage to the throat, and your doctor should have the tools to examine the area.

CPR For Dogs

What If You Find Your Dog Unconscious And Unresponsive?

  • Check for breathing by putting your cheek or the back of your hand in front of his nose.
  • See if you can find a pulse. The femoral artery is the easiest place to check for a pulse.
  • Feel inside the hind leg at the point where the limb joins the body.
  • Press gently with your fingers in the same way that you would take your own pulse.

If Your Dog’s Heart Isn’t Beating:

  • Lay him on his right side on a flat surface.
  • Get his head and neck as straight as possible to provide a clear airway.
  • Kneel behind his back and place the palm of one hand over the widest part of the rib cage near but not right over the heart.
  • Put the other hand on top of the first.
  • Keep your arms straight and begin applying firm, rapid compressions. You should compress the chest about ⅓ of its width at a rate of 15 times every 10 seconds.

If you have a very small dog or puppy, squeeze the chest about an inch by placing your thumb on one side and your other fingers on the other side.

You May Also Need To Perform Artificial Respiration In Tandem With CPR. To Do This On A Dog:

  • Hold the muzzle closed and cover both nostrils with your mouth.
  • Blow gently into the nose and watch for the chest to rise.
  • Give one rescue breath for every 15 chest compressions.

Continue to provide CPR and respirations until your pal is breathing on his own. If he remains unresponsive after 20 minutes, it’s time to consider stopping.

Emergency Care If You Suspect Poisoning 

What Should You Do?

Poisoning in dogs is a common emergency. If you think your dog may have eaten or contacted something poisonous Contact your vet immediately. Provide all the information you can about the signs you observe and what you know about the poison – when, what, and how much. If you have to call an emergency clinic, include any medications your pooch takes and their weight in the information that you provide.

Follow the doctor’s directions. Don’t try to induce vomiting or give any home remedies unless the vet tells you to do it. Depending on the timing and nature of the poisoning, it can be helpful or harmful.

Remove your pup from the source of the poison. In the case of inhalation, get your pal to fresh air.

Transport your fur-baby to the hospital as soon as possible for further care and evaluation.

Signs Of Poisoning

The signs you may observe depends on the way your pooch gets the poison in their system.

  • If Fido inhaled a noxious gas, they might start coughing and drooling and have difficulty breathing. You could also find your pup unconscious in an enclosed area and notice a gas odor.
  • In the case of contact poisons, you might see hives, reddened or ulcerated skin, or bleeding. Your pup might act excited or agitated and lick or scratch at the affected area.
  • When a dog swallows something poisonous, you might see:
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • staggering, convulsions, or muscle twitching
  • ulcers in the mouth
  • lethargy
  • dilated pupils
  • a loss of appetite
  • unconsciousness

Dog Poison Safety Kit

When it comes to poisoning, follow the motto, “Always be prepared.” Put together some simple supplies that you might need if your special pal encounters poison:

  • 3% hydrogen peroxide - You can give this by mouth to induce vomiting if your veterinarian advises it.
  • Milk of magnesia or activated charcoal to absorb ingested poison
  • Bulb syringe to give the hydrogen peroxide.
  • Benadryl - 25 mg tablets or 12.5 mg/ml liquid form - The doctor can tell you whether to give this and how much your pup needs based on their weight.
  • Saline eye solution in case you need to flush the eyes.
  • Dawn or similar mild detergent to wash affected skin.
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Materials to bandage any open wounds - gauze pads, adhesive tape, triple antibiotic ointment
  • Rubber gloves to protect your hands

How To Treat Dog Wounds At Home?

If you have an active pooch, they may get minor cuts and abrasions similar to a child’s skinned knee. Here are some ways you can take care of these wounds at home: 

  • If the cut or scrape is in a hairy area, gently trim or shave around the wound. You may want to apply a water-based lubricant to the injury to help prevent contamination.
  • Once the area is clear, gently flush the wound with warm water to clear away any debris.
  • Pat the skin dry.
  • Use an antiseptic solution like chlorhexidine (2-4%) that will not sting when it contacts the injury.
  • Apply an ointment such as triple antibiotic ointment and prevent Fido from licking the area for 10 or more minutes.
  • Leave the wound open; clean it and apply some ointment twice a day until it heals.

In the case of larger wounds that might need stitches or where you can’t stop the bleeding, contact your veterinarian.

First Aid When You’re Travelling With Your Dog

If you’re taking your special pal with you when you go camping or on vacation, be prepared for emergencies.

Pack a simple first aid kit for the road that includes:

  • Some bandage materials - gauze pads, adhesive tape
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Benadryl
  • Dog-safe antidiarrheal medication like Kaopectate
  • Scissors
  • Gloves
  • Contact list handy that includes the number for your veterinarian and the Animal Poison Control Hotline (888-426-4235). Before you travel, you can also look up the number for an emergency clinic in the area where you will be staying by going to

First Aid For Bleeding Dogs

When your pup has a wound that’s actively bleeding, you’ll want to stop the blood flow as soon as possible. Like us, our fur-babies can lose blood quickly, and that can cause their bodies to go into shock. That’s why you want to take immediate action. If you can’t control the bleeding, get to the hospital pronto.

To Try To Stop The Bleeding:

  • Keep Fido calm. Hold a gauze pad or clean cloth over the injury and use firm, continuous pressure.
  • Elevate the limb or affected part of the body.
  • If blood seeps through, add another layer of gauze or cloth.
  • Once the bleeding slows, wrap a snug bandage around the area if you can to maintain pressure.
  • Get your pal to the vet for further treatment.

If your dog is bleeding from the mouth, nose, or another body opening, get them to the clinic immediately.

First Aid For Dogs With Broken Bones

You may think it’s wise to put a splint on a broken bone, but that might do more harm than good.

If you think or know that your fur-baby has a broken bone, get them to the vet as soon as you can. Keep your pal calm and do what you can to immobilize the affected area. Put Fido in a confined space to prevent moving around. If the fracture is compound (the bone is poking through the skin), follow the instructions for bleeding dogs to deal with any bleeding. Use extra care and avoid touching the exposed bone. It will be very tender! 

First Aid For Burns And Scalds

Whether your pup’s burn is from a fire, hot liquids, a caustic chemical, or an electrical source, you’ll want to take immediate action to prevent more damage. In the case of an electrical burn, turn off the power source before touching any cords or equipment. 

If The Skin Is Intact (First-Degree Burn):

  • Flush the area with cold water for at least five minutes then put a cold compress on it.
  • DO NOT apply any ointments or creams.
  • Contact your veterinarian.

If The Burn Is Second Or Third Degree (The Skin Is Not Intact):

  • First, check for signs of shock and treat accordingly.
  • Cover the area with a clean, dry dressing and wrap it.
  • Go to the vet ASAP. 

First Aid For Dogs With A Swollen Tummy 

Why Is A Swollen Tummy An Emergency?

A swollen tummy in your pooch is no laughing matter. While it could be a sign of overeating, it can also point to a life-threatening condition that’s commonly called bloat. In bloat, a dog’s stomach twists or rotates and the gasses formed during digestion have no way out. The stomach fills up like a balloon, and the pressure cuts off the blood supply. Without immediate treatment, a pup can die in a matter of hours. That’s why you need to get your pal to the veterinarian without delay if you suspect bloat.

What Are The Signs Of Bloat?

If your pooch suddenly has a distended stomach and appears uncomfortable, you should suspect bloat. Fido may also wretch or have dry heaves, drool, and pace about. Early on, his gums will be dark and reddened, but over time, they will become pale and cold to the touch. 

How Can Bloat Be Prevented?

Even if your furbaby has a predisposition to bloat such as being deep-chested, there are some things you can do to help prevent it from happening.

  • Feed multiple, smaller meals rather than once a day
  • Encourage your pooch to eat slowly by using a slow feed dog bowl
  • Provide quiet time or calm activities immediately after a heavy meal
  • Reduce stress or anxiety by separating dogs at feeding time
  • Your pup can have a preventative surgery known as a gastroplexy. It may not prevent bloat but can stop the stomach from twisting and creating a life-threatening situation.

First Aid For Dogs In A Fight

What if Fido gets in a fight with another animal? The first thing you’ll need to do is separate the animals. Remember to stay safe yourself. Don’t try to grab Fido’s collar or to use part of your body to break it up. Get a hose, a bucket of water, a broomstick, or something else to distract and separate the animals. As a last resort, you might be able to grab the hind limbs and pull your pup away from the altercation, but be very careful!

Once You Have Your Fur-Baby Safely Away:

  • Check him over for signs of shock and any wounds
  • Treat shock first then take measures to stop any bleeding
  • Clean the areas around the wounds
  • Use a cold pack until to ease the pain
  • Call your veterinarian and get him in for treatment as soon as possible. Puncture wounds from animal bites can lead to infections, and there could be internal damage from the fight. 

First Aid For Dogs With Eye Injuries

Eye injuries can be irritating and pose a serious risk to your pup’s vision. If your dog gets a scratch or other damage to his eye, get him to your vet for care. Keep your pal from scratching at his head. If the oculus is bulging out of its socket, apply a sterile dressing that’s soaked with saline solution and wrap the head.

Remoisten the pad to keep the eye moist until you get to the hospital.

First Aid For A Drowning Dog

Even though dogs tend to be good swimmers, they can still get into trouble in the water. For example, if you’re out in a boat and Fido falls overboard, or if he falls in a pool and can’t find a way out, he could drown. 

Get Them Out Of The Water

When you find your pooch struggling in the water, get them safely to shore. Remember that your pooch is probably panicking and take precautions to protect yourself. Grab your fur-baby by the neck or tail and assist them onto a floatation device and bring them to land.

What To Do Back On Land? After You Pull Your Pup Out Of The Water:

  • Grab his hocks and lift the hind end off the ground. Give a few shakes to help clear fluid out of the lungs.
  • Lay your pal on the ground and check to see if he’s breathing and has a pulse. Administer CPR and artificial respiration if needed.
  • Once your pooch is breathing on his own, wrap him in a blanket to help warm the body.
  • Contact your vet and get him in right away.

First Aid For Dogs After They Receive An Electric Shock

When dogs chew on electrical cords or come in contact with faulty wiring they may receive an electric shock. If the current is powerful enough, it can damage the lungs, heart, brain and other organs.

Signs Of Shock

If you don’t find your pooch with a chewed electrical cord in his mouth or nearby, other signs will point to shock:

  • Burns around the mouth
  • Mouth pain and a foul odor
  • Muscle twitching
  • Seizure-like convulsions
  • Difficulty breathing due to fluid build-up in the lungs
  • Collapsing
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Unconsciousness

What Should You Do?

Always proceed with caution and protect yourself from electrocution. It’s possible that electric current is still in your pal’s body. If the cord is on or by your pup, cut the power before you approach him. You might need to use a wooden pole to pry the cable out of Fido’s mouth if his jaw is clamped shut. Wrap your pal in a blanket and get him to the vet immediately.

First Aid For Temperature Changes


If your dog suffers from cold exposure, take immediate actions to warm up the body. For a wet dog, your first step is to dry the fur to minimize heat loss. Use blankets and hot packs to slowly increase the body temperature. Monitor your pooch with a rectal thermometer to make sure he doesn’t get too warm. 


When your pooch gets overheated, they can suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It’s important to act quickly to cool them down. Take it slow so that you don’t stress Fido’s systems. Some ways to reduce your pup’s body temperature include:

  • Get Fido out of the sun or heat.
  • Sprinkling cool water on the body. Focus on the foot pads, inner thigh, belly, head, and neck.
  • Use a cool, wet towel to wrap your pal.
  • Give your fur-baby a bath with cool water.

Check the rectal temperature regularly. When your pup’s temperature reaches normal range (39 C/102 F), stop what you’ve been doing and cover them with a dry blanket or towel. 

D.I.Y. First Aid Kit For Dogs

  • Contact sheet that includes veterinarian, emergency clinic, poison hotline
  • Gauze bandages
  • Non-stick bandages or strips of clean cloth
  • Adhesive tape
  • Blunt tip scissors
  • Blood clotting powder
  • Saline wash
  • Disinfectant like Chlorhexidine
  • Hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting
  • Activated charcoal to help absorb poison
  • Cotton swabs and cotton balls
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Eye flush solution
  • Artificial tears
  • Benadryl
  • Battery powered clippers
  • Digital thermometer and lube
  • Emergency blanket
  • Instant cold and heat packs
  • A syringe or eye dropper
  • Gloves
  • Flashlight
  • Towels
  • Spare leash
  • Muzzle
  • Tweezers

First Aid Manual

First Aid Training And Basic Treatment

You can take a course to learn more about first aid for your dog. There are several options including online training with the American Red Cross or with Pro Pet Hero. If you’re seeking a classroom setting where you can practice your new skills, check with your veterinarian for recommendations. Large pet stores like PetSmart also offer classes in some communities.

A course in first aid for dogs usually covers:

  • Your responsibilities as a pet owner
  • How to check vital signs
  • When and how to administer CPR or artificial respiration
  • Treating wounds
  • Treating for shock
  • Giving medications
  • Preparing for a disaster

The Bottom Line - Keeping Your Pup Safe 

We love our dogs, and they’re an important part of the family. That’s why we strive to do everything possible to keep them safe and healthy.

Knowing basic first aid care helps us can help us be prepared for the unplanned events in life. The steps that you take at home when Fido gets in a life-compromising accident could be the difference between life and death.


About the Author: 

Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.


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