Medical First Aid & CPR for Pets

Pets bring love and joy into the lives of their owners. In exchange, most animal lovers want to provide their pets with the best care possible by giving them a home and taking care of their medical needs. Caring for a favorite cat or dog means more than regular visits to the vet, however. It also means knowing what to do when a pet is injured. In an emergency situation, it's important to understand what it takes to stabilize and even resuscitate one's pet until it can receive the professional care it needs. One can learn about providing first aid and CPR from training programs and software or by taking a course in person.

Treating Common Pet Injuries and Emergencies

If a pet is injured, it will most likely require some form of medical attention. The type of treatment will depend on the severity of the injury, as some issues may be minor enough to treat at home, while others require immediate veterinary care. Common pet injuries may include the ingestion of foreign materials, scratches and abrasions, poisoning, minor or deep cuts, fractures, sprains, and burns. Pet owners must learn to identify which types of injuries are emergencies. Typically, a pet that is in need of urgent veterinary care will show symptoms such as excessive vomiting, difficulty breathing, trouble standing, seizures, paralysis, a weak or overly rapid pulse, a loss of consciousness, or severe bleeding.

One may prepare for a potential medical emergency by storing their veterinarian's name and phone number in their phone or an easily accessible location. It is also important to keep a pet first aid kit filled with supplies such as gauze, cotton balls, tape, an emergency blanket, tweezers, gloves, scissors, and an ice pack. When providing first aid for any animal, it is necessary to approach the situation with caution, as even the friendliest animal may bite or scratch when frightened and in pain. A tie or scarf may be used to muzzle a dog that's in pain only if it is not vomiting or struggling to breathe. To restrain cats, carefully wrap them in a blanket or towel, as long as it does not aggravate the injury.

  • Top Ten Dog and Cat Injuries: Pet owners who click this link will learn what the top pet injuries are and how to help animals that are hurt. This article also touches on ways that some of these injuries can be avoided.
  • Being Prepared in an Emergency: Pet owners can learn what to do in the event of a pet emergency by reading this article on the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine site. The page outlines common problems such as poison, bleeding, breathing difficulties, and seizures and what should be kept in a pet first aid kit.
  • Pet First Aid Kit and Emergency Care Information: Learn what to do in the event of a pet emergency by reading this Pet Talk news article on the Texas A&M University Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences website. The article discusses how and when to restrain injured pets.
  • Common Bird Injuries and First Aid: Bird owners in search of information on common injuries and first aid tips should click this link.
  • What You Should Have in Your Pet's First Aid Kit: The Humane Society of the United States explains what items pet owners should keep in their pet first aid kit.
  • Pet First Aid Kit: This article lists items that one should have in their pet first aid kit. The page also has a small section on treating injured pets.


When a pet is unconscious and not breathing or does not have a heartbeat, it will die without proper treatment. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is a form of first aid that's meant to keep oxygenated blood flowing and ideally restart the animal's heart and breathing by using mouth-to-nose artificial respiration and chest compressions. Before starting CPR, it is important to verify that the animal is not breathing and unresponsive to avoid unnecessary injury. One can determine if their pet is breathing by checking for any chest movement, bluish gums, or if breath can be felt coming from its snout.

Put the animal on its right side on a firm, flat surface. Extend its neck slightly so that it is tilted upward and open the mouth. If anything appears to be blocking the airway, remove it with a sweep of a finger. If choking was the issue, this might resolve the problem and the animal may start to breathe again. If this does not improve the pet's condition, one must perform mouth-to-snout rescue breathing. To do this, one starts by holding the animal's mouth closed before putting their mouth over its nose. After covering its nose, the person should breathe into the nostrils so that the pet's chest expands. Repeat this every three seconds. If the animal does not have a heartbeat, chest compressions are necessary. Place a hand over the heart, behind the right elbow. Press quickly and firmly so the chest compresses approximately two inches for medium to large dogs and a half-inch to an inch for smaller dog breeds and cats. If two people are performing CPR, do three compressions, perform a rescue breath, and repeat. This should continue until the animal is revived. When alone, perform 12 compressions followed by two breaths and repeat. Anytime CPR or rescue breathing is performed, the pet should be taken to its veterinarian as soon as possible.

  • Cat and Dog CPR: Click this link to the American Red Cross website, which outlines pet CPR in four steps.
  • CPR for Dogs: Visit this article on the Pet MD site for directions on how to perform CPR on dogs. The page provides pet owners with a definition and instructions for dogs weighing more than or less than 30 pounds.
  • Learn CPR for Cats and Dogs: On this page, readers will find the instructions for how to administer CPR to dogs and cats.
  • CPR for Pets: North Shore Animal League America gives pet rescue advice on how to do CPR.
  • Emergency Care for Your Pet: Click this link to learn how to recognize a pet emergency. The page explains what steps pet owners should take and how to perform CPR if necessary.
  • Artificial Respiration and CPR: Read how to perform artificial respiration and CPR by clicking on this link. The link breaks CPR down into three steps and artificial respiration into ten steps.

Preventative Measures

Although injuries can occur at any time or place, there are ways to prevent them from happening. For example, removing sharp items on the ground in one's home or yard can prevent both minor and serious paw injuries. Taking precautions to ensure that pets do not escape from one's yard or home will prevent them from being struck by vehicles or attacked by other animals or encountering other threats. Medications, human food, poisonous items, and items small enough to be choking hazards, such as batteries or toys, should be kept in a location where pets cannot reach them. Use care when burning candles to prevent burn injuries caused by curiosity, a need for warmth, or accidental contact.

  • Keeping Cats Safe: Domestic cats don't need to go outside, and in fact, the outdoors can be very dangerous for them, so it's safer to keep cats inside.
  • Preventing Everyday Pet Accidents: Escape, grooming, and animal aggression accidents are discussed on this Tuft University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine site page. The page offers tips for preventing each type of accident.
  • Preventing and Preparing for Common Pet Injuries: On this page, pet owners can read about common pet injuries and how they can anticipate and prevent them.
  • Poison Prevention Tips for Puppies and Kittens: Read this article on the ASPCA Professional website for a list of tips on how to prevent kittens and puppies from poisoning.
  • Protecting Pets from Fire: Visit this page on the SPCA of Texas website for tips on how pet owners can protect their pets from fire-related injuries.
  • Winter Paw Care Tips: This article on the Dogster magazine website looks at preventing paw pad injuries during the winter months.
  • High Rise Syndrome: CBS Philly reports on cats falling from windows and terraces in this news article. Pet owners who read this report will learn how to prevent injuries from these types of falls.