ALL ABOUT DOGS and CATS Resource Center for Canine & Feline Lovers
Pet Health Articles
By Kim Boatman
Knowing what to do if your dog has a medical emergency
can mean the difference between your pal’s life or death. In
fact, one out of every four dogs may be saved if a pet first-
aid technique is used before the injured animal arrives at a
clinic, according to the American Animal Hospital Association.
Less than 1 percent of pet owners, however, have a pet first-
aid kit or have been trained in first aid, estimates Thom
Somes, owner of Pet Tech, a company that trains
instructors and teaches pet first-aid classes across the
How are your own first-aid skills? Aside from calling your local pet emergency hospital or contacting
your veterinarian, would you know what to do if your dog faced a sudden medical emergency? If you
think your first-aid know-how could use some brushing up, you’re not alone.
Increasingly, dog owners are taking classes to educate themselves about medical first aid for their
treasured pals. The American Red Cross, for example, offers dog first-aid classes at a number of its
chapters across the country. At many chapters, you’ll find dog first-aid kits and a pooch first-aid book
Dogs are so cherished in Carmel, Calif., that the local Red Cross there keeps a stash of dog biscuits in
the cookie jar on the front counter. The chapter’s dog first-aid classes are wildly popular, says Sharon
Crino, executive director. “We live in an area where pets are like family,” says Crino. “It has been
quite a success.”
The American Red Cross provides a directory for such classes on its Web site, as does Pet Tech.
Classes include management of emergencies involving bleeding, choking, poisoning and more.
Students even practice mouth-to-snout resuscitation on dog mannequins.
While experts caution that it’s best to receive training in a class, there are basic first-aid practices you
can put to use until you complete the training:
Assemble or purchase a first-aid kit You’ll find inexpensive dog first-aid kits online or in pet
stores, but Somes recommends assembling your own so that you’ll be familiar with its contents. (The
Humane Society of the United States Web site offers a list of items.) Keep a kit at home and in your
car. Make sure your kit includes some way to stably transport your dog, such as a blanket you can use
as a stretcher. Include vital information in the kit. You’ll want to have your veterinarian’s phone
number, poison control numbers and the number and address for an emergency veterinary service in
your area. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals maintains a poison control
hot line at 888-426-4435. (The ASPCA may charge you a $60 consultation fee if you receive
assistance through the hot line.)
Assess the situation Too often, dog owners react without thinking. “Make sure you have ‘scene
safety’,” advises Somes, who calls himself “The Pet Safety Guy.” Don’t rush into the street to check
on a dog that has been hit by a car, even if it is your own. Somes tells the story of a dog owner who
was almost hit by a car herself as she raced to help her furry friend. “If it’s dangerous or appears
dangerous to you, you don’t want to become a victim as well,” says Kevin Cole, who teaches the pet
first-aid classes for the Carmel American Red Cross chapter.
Anticipate your dog’s behavioral changes If your dog is sick or injured, it may snap at you.
Read its body language first and approach cautiously. Look for ears laid flat, hair standing up on the
haunches or even a glare. Don’t place your face close to your dog’s face to give comfort. Dog first-aid
classes teach muzzling techniques using soft fabric, such as a tie or a length of gauze.
Secure your dog Restraint accompanies muzzling, says Somes. “The dog can actually make the
situation worse by moving,” he says. “A dog will run with a broken limb.” It may take two adults to
gently restrain a dog using a towel or blanket.
Stay calm Dogs note when your heart rate and breathing accelerate or if your voice escalates in
pitch, Somes says. If you can’t be calm, have another adult step in.
Don’t call 911 It’s often our first reaction in an emergency, but it won’t help with your dog.
Unless an animal is endangering people, you’ll get no response.
The best way to prepare for an emergency is to know your healthy dog, says Cole. “Recognize what’
s normal in your animal. Then, know how to respond when things aren’t normal.” Finally, understand
that first aid doesn’t substitute for veterinary care. First aid is only meant to stabilize your pal or to
alleviate a life-threatening situation before your dog can receive expert medical attention.
Kim Boatman is a journalist based in Northern California. A lifelong lover of animals, she has written for
such publications as The Miami Herald, Detroit Free Press and San Jose Mercury News.