First Aid for your Pet

Photo by Roger Brown on

Did you know that April is National Pet First Aid Awareness Month? Well it is! This event was created by the American Red Cross to help bring awareness to your pet’s specialized first aid.

As pet owners, we never imagine our dog will become injured, which will require us to perform first aid, but at times the need arises. First aid is defined as providing help to your dog until full medical treatment is available. The purpose is to minimize injury and future disability and, in serious cases, keep your pet alive. 

Health problems that will need first aid administration include burns, open wounds, insect stings, heatstroke, toxin ingestion, or limping. In these situations, owners need to be prepared to take action and have a first-aid kit to aid their dog.  

Know your pet’s normal before needing first aid

Knowing what is normal for your pet will help you identify problems in the case of an emergency. Important values to know include weight, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and gum color.

Heart Rate

Know where to find your dog’s heart rate or pulse. The easiest place to find a pulse is in the groin area with feeling the femoral artery. Place your fingers around the back leg near the knee, then move upwards until your hand meets the belly.

Move your fingertips back and forth on the inside of the thigh until you feel a pulsing sensation.

To get a beat per minute on your dog, count the number of pulses for 15 seconds. Multiply this number by four, and this number gives you beats per minute (bpm).  

Normal for dogs:

  • Dogs: 60 to 160 bpm. Relaxed or athletic dogs tend to have slower heart rates.
  • Pulse is easily palpated, strong, and regular.

Respiratory Rate

Respiratory rate will be easy to identify by looking at your pet’s chest rising and falling while they breathe. Count the number of breaths in a 15 second time period and then multiple by four. 

This number will give you the respirations per minute (rpm).  

Normal for dogs:

  • The normal resting rate is 15 to 60 breaths per minute. A sleeping or resting dog can be near the low end, while an active dog will be higher.


Knowing your dog’s temperature is an important piece of information to have, especially during an emergency. It is best to use a digital rectal thermometer as other means of temperature taking tend not to be accurate.  

When obtaining a temperature, lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly. Then gently and slowly insert the thermometer into the rectum approximately one to two inches. Do not force the thermometer if you feel resistance. Gentle pullback, readjust the thermometer, then attempt again.

Leave the thermometer in place for two minutes or until it beeps. Read the temperature and record. After using the thermometer, make sure to clean well.  

Normal for dogs: 

  • Temperature is between 100F to 102.5F

Gum Color

Normal gum color should be bubble gum pink. When pressed with your finger, it should lighten then quickly return to normal color. The gums should also be wet and slippery. 

Information to keep on hand

Normal Values for my Pet

My pet ______________________ has the following normal values:

Normal Weight: _______________ pounds

Resting Heart Rate (Pulse): ______________________ beats per minute

Resting Respiratory Rate: ______________________ breaths per minute

Rectal Temperature: ______________________ degrees Fahrenheit

Normal Gum Color: ______________________


1. First Aid Kit

Most homes are prepared for human first aid with kits, but many people forget about their pets that may need first aid. There are pre-made kits available for purchase, or you can create one yourself.  

Photo by Roger Brown on

According to the ASPCA, a pet’s first aid kit should contain:

  • Absorbent gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Cotton balls or swabs
  • Fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • Ice pack
  • Disposable gloves
  • Scissors with a blunt end
  • Tweezers
  • Over the counter antibiotic ointment
  • An oral syringe or turkey baster
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Towels
  • Small flashlight
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Styptic Powder
  • Artificial tear gel
  • Soft muzzle appropriately sized for your pet

Ensure to check your first aid kit every few months to ensure products have not expired, or items that need to be replaced.

2. Emergency Phone Numbers

Before an emergency, make sure to have your regular veterinarian and nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital in an easily accessible area or programmed into your phone. If you are traveling with your pet out of the region, research the closest 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital for their location and phone number.

Also, have available poison control center phone numbers. If your dog is to ingest a toxin, the centers will have the most accurate treatment information, and many emergency hospitals require this information to proceed with treatment.

Pet Poison Helpline: 800.213.6680

National Animal Poison Control Center: 888.426.4435

3. Take a Pet CPR class

CPR classes are beneficial not only for humans but also for your pet. The American Red Cross and other organizations offer training and certification for Pet CPR. If you do not have a local organization that offers a class, you can familiarize yourself with Pet CPR through videos offered on YouTube.

4. Download a Pet First Aid App

The American Red Cross offers a free pet first aid app through the Apple AppStore and GooglePlay. The app has veterinary advice for emergencies, videos, interactive quizzes, and simple step-by-step advice.  

5. Know what constitutes a need for emergency care

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) emergency list:

  • Severe bleeding or bleeding that doesn’t stop within 5 minutes
  • Choking, difficulty breathing, or nonstop coughing and gagging.
  • Bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, or blood in the urine
  • Inability to urinate or pass feces (stool), or obvious pain associated with urinating or passing stool
  • Injuries to your pet’s eye(s)
  • You suspect or know your pet has eaten something poisonous (such as antifreeze, xylitol, chocolate, rodent poison, etc.)
  • Seizures and/or staggering
  • Fractured bones, severe lameness, or inability to move leg(s)
  • Obvious signs of pain or extreme anxiety
  • Heat stress or heatstroke
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea – more than 2 episodes in a 24-hour period, or either of these combined with obvious illness or any of the other problems listed here
  • Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more
  • Unconsciousness


As Benjamin Franklin stated, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The same is true when it comes to your dog and first aid care. Making sure you are prepared for these situations will decrease the delay in treatment and minimize injury. 

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