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First Aid Tips for Dogs and Cats

If you aren't able to get your sick or injured pet to the vet, you still may be able to help. Check out these first aid tips to handle many common situations.

Though first aid does not substitute for veterinary treatment, you can often make a difference for your pet. Below are some ideas for treating an ailing cat or dog until you can get your pet to a veterinarian.

And remember, pain or illness makes pet behavior unpredictable -- even when it's your own cat or dog.

  • Never muzzle a vomiting animal because that animal could suffocate as a result.
  • Wrap cats in thick towels, making sure they can breathe.
  • Follow the suggestions below for specific situations.

Animal Bites
Wash with mild soap, rinse well, and pat dry with clean towel. Gently dab with hydrogen peroxide. Apply an antibiotic salve.

Automobile Accidents
Find or create a firm surface (stretcher, board, or mat). Slide it under the animal and lift gently. Keep animal warm while you take it to a veterinarian or animal emergency clinic.

Apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth.

A dog's distended abdomen may be a symptom of a life-threatening illness. Get to a vet immediately.

Broken Bones
Do not disturb or move the bone. Splint fractures with a magazine or newspapers loosely rolled around limb. Tape just above the splint, continue down the leg; do not cover toes. Do not attempt to splint a struggling animal.

Apply cool compresses. Don't immerse animals that have burns over large areas; they may go into shock. Dress small burns with sterile nonstick bandages. Do not apply ointments, butter, or petroleum jelly; these substances might retain heat and attract infection.

Choking, Coughing, or Gagging
Choking might signal a tracheal obstruction or defect. Coughing is common after strenuous exercise and should subside when pet rests. Frequent coughing might signal illness.

Gagging in cats often indicates a difficult hair ball ejection. Purchase special pet foods, treats, and gels for reducing hair balls from pet suppliers. Or rub white petroleum jelly onto paws. Cats will swallow this during grooming, easing hair ball ejection.

Wash with mild soap, rinse well, and pat dry with clean towel. Gently dab with hydrogen peroxide. Apply an antibiotic salve.

Eye Injury
Check for obvious foreign bodies; flush with mild saline drops. Scratches or irritations might require medicated eyedrops or salves. Cover eye with damp gauze to prevent pet from rubbing. 

Discoloration indicates freezing injury. Get pet into warm place. Warm injured skin slowly with tepid water.

Soak overheated pet in tepid water; provide fresh drinking water. Never leave pets in cars. Provide well-ventilated outdoor shelter in hot weather.

Insect Stings
A swollen muzzle or face indicates a possible sting. Apply a paste of baking soda and water, or a topical antihistamine. Respiratory difficulty signals allergic shock; get animal to a vet.

Three common poisons are antifreeze, rodenticide, and moldy garbage. In all cases -- even if only a suspicion -- get immediate veterinary care. Symptoms take as long as 24-72 hours to manifest, which might be too late for lifesaving treatment.
See common plants, foods, and products that are poisonous to cats.
See common plants, foods, and products that are poisonous to dogs.

Punctures or Large Wounds
Get immediate veterinary attention.


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