How to Help a Pet in an Emergency

Imagine the scenario. You are walking down the street and you see an animal flat on the ground, seemingly unconscious from a distance…would you know what to do?

An emergency situation involving an animal can be very distressing, particularly if you’re not prepared. Fortunately, the principles of first aid for humans also apply here and can help you when you try to respond. Let’s take a look at them:

Don’t panic.

It is very easy to do, but always think, there will be something beneficial you can do in pretty much any situation.

Do no harm.

Do not rush in without thinking.Do not immediately move an animal with trauma, and if you see something imbedded do not try and remove it as this may cause increased bleeding.

Think ABC.

Airways, Breathing, Circulation.


Are the airways clear? Is there anything obstructing them? If safe to do so, open the mouth and pull the tongue forward and check for any obvious obstructions.


Are they doing it? If unsure, you can take a small clip of fur and put it in front of their nostrils to spot any movement. After checking airways, you can gently close the muzzle and breathe into their nose to see if this stimulates it.


Can you feel a pulse? The best place to feel a pulse is the femoral artery which you can find at the top part of the inner back leg. If there’s no pulse or you suspect breathing issues, attempt CPR by pushing on the chest (just behind the front legs) approximately twice every second. Only do this if you are trained in how to perform CPR correctly as otherwise it could be dangerous. Place one hand under the chest to give it support and to feel the pressure being applied, and give two breaths into the nose every 15 compressions. If done properly, you should be receiving a proper workout! (But do use less force with smaller dogs).

There is also some basic first aid you can perform to help a pet in the following cases before you take them to the vet:

● If they have been hit by a car.

Place a warm blanket over them, and if it is safe to do so, move them gently onto a hard surface (plank or equivalent) whilst keeping the head still. Be careful if you suspect a broken bone and if possible place the animal in a cage to limit their movement. If you do not see any obvious wounds, do not assume ‘all is fine’ as in many cases, the damage done internally is far worse than any external damage.

● If they have bleeding wounds.

Any dirt can be flushed out with warm saline, otherwise put on a clean bandage and apply firm downward pressure to help stem any bleeding for a minium of three minutes. If no bandage is available, improvise as best you can with a towel or clothing. If blood continues to seep through, add another layer. Be aware not to obstruct their breathing if the wound is around the head or neck. Take the animal the vet straight away.

● If they are having a seizure or fitting.

Any seizing dog should ideally be kept in a cool, dark place as they can easily overheat. If not possible, apply clothing or cloth around their eyes (to make it dark and calm but take care not to obstruct the airways) and under the head to minimise any damage whilst the fitting occurs. Reduce all noise where possible and do not try and hold the pet as it is fitting as this can actually prolong it. Time the seizures (they usually last 2-3 minutes) and ake the animal to the vet as soon as it is safe to do so.

Never give an animal human medicine, especially painkillers as they can easily kill a pet.


Please note that this article is NOT a substitute for medical advice from a vet. Always do seek prompt professional treatment if you experience any emergency situation. It’s also crucial to be aware that the injured animal may be frightened or in pain and therefore could lash out or bite, so keep your own safety in mind when you respond.

Andrew Bucher
Veterinarian and Co-founder of MedicAnimal

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  1. Basic anatomy lesson
    Pulses are felt in arteries NOT veins.
    I think the comment about being bitten should be at the top of the article not as a footnote.

    1. Agreed and apologies as an oversight when I typed it. Yes pulses are indeed felt in arteries, not veins. Thank you for pointing it out 🙂
      Yes re being bitten, next time will place in both spots to make it more obvious. Thank you for your comments and have a great weekend.

    1. Hi Kerry,
      Delighted you enjoyed my article and having looked at your site and the work you do, it would be great to see how we can maybe inform our clients about your services at a local level?
      Have a great weekend 🙂

  2. that’s all very well but what of our feline friends as I have three cats what the heck do I do in an emergency involving a cat

    1. Hi Freddie, you can pretty much follow the same principles in this article. Be very careful with chest compressions of course and when opening their mouth to check their tongue is not obstructing. Regardless have made a note to make cats are separate article, thank you for bringing this up.

    1. Hi John
      The best is to try and slide them laterally and carefully onto a flat hard surface to act as a stretcher whilst supporting its head. Check ABC and ensure any trauma-related bleeding is has been stemmed or at least pressure applied.

  3. If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a snake what do you do? We holiday in France with our dogs.

  4. If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a snake what do you double. We holiday in France with our two dogs. My name was previously misspelt by my phone sorry.

    1. HI Margaret, if you suspect a snake bite, then what you need is anti-venom and a veterinarian asap of course.
      In the meantime, there are some steps you can do to help which are:
      1) DO NOT APPLY A TOURNIQUET (not like the movies please) and instead apply a pressure bandage to the site
      2) Do not bandage the wound too tightly either as blood flow must not be stopped or slowed down
      3) Do not wash the bite area or cut open the wound (as they also do in the movies) and of course do not attempt to suck the venom out either 🙂
      4) Bite marks will normally be found around the face/muzzle/front part of the body as the dog is normally being curious when it happens
      5) Be calm as well as this will help both you and your dog and finally
      6) Do not let your dog walk, do carry them until you get to the veterinarian as any movemement/exertion/heart increase will only serve to increase the spread of the venom

      Finally, if you can identify the snake then even better as this help pinpoint the type of anti-venom to be used.
      So with all this in mind, be vigilant, keep them on the lead if you are unsure of the area and have a lovely holiday.

    1. Yes ideally you should lay them on their right side as the heart is positioned slightly to the left. Obviously if seriously injured or suspect spinal fracture best to try what you can from the left side. So on the right side ideally, pull the left foreleg back until the elbow meets the chest, this is where the heart is 🙂

  5. What things should we have in the first aid kit especially for the animals please?

    When you say CPR trained do you mean specifically trained in CPR for animals?

  6. What a great little blog.

    I had workplace first aid training years ago, since expired but I know what I am doing and have had to on several occasions but it is good to know that I can apply the same principles to my furries – or others if they need help.

    Thank you so much!

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