Every dog owner makes every effort to keep their furry friend safe from illness, injuries, and other medical emergencies. Nonetheless, accidents happen once in a while to dogs, creating the need for first aid care.
Whether at home, traveling, or out for a walk with your dog, your pet’s vet isn’t always at close reach when emergencies happen. For this reason, knowing how to give first aid to your sick or injured dog can be the difference between life and death.
We love dogs and treasure their safety! That’s why we put together this complete dog first aid guide. Here, you’ll find info and practical tips on how to give your furry friend first immediate care when illness or injury occurs.
What is Dog First Aid?
Dog first aid is the immediate first care you give to your dog following a medical emergency such as illness or injury.
Dog medical emergencies that necessitate first aid occur in different forms, including:
- Attacks from wild animals
- Cuts and wounds
- Bites wounds (snakes, coyotes, squirrels, etc.).
- Traffic accidents
- Poisons and toxins
- Electric shock
Whichever of these emergencies affects your dog, the primary purpose of dog first aid is to:
- Minimize pain and discomfort.
- Preserve your dog’s life.
- Prevent the illness or injury from worsening.
- Enhance the chances of recovery and minimize the odds of permanent damage like disfigurement or disability.
Because giving first aid to your dog requires some medical equipment and drugs, a dog first aid kit is a must-have for every dog owner. In the following section, we tell you what you should include in your dog’s first aid kit.
Dog First Aid Kit
When planning to bring home a puppy, a dog first aid kit should feature on your list of resources for your new furry friend. Usually, a main dog first aid kit is kept at home for emergencies. However, it is advisable to have a smaller dog first aid kit in your backpack when you walk or go hiking with your pet and one in your car for when you travel with your dog.
So, what should a basic dog first aid kit contain? Here’s a list of all the items your dog first aid kit should contain. The list is organized in categories based on the type of emergency.
Dog First Aid Items for bites, Cuts, and Wounds
- Wound bandages.
- Blunt-ended scissors (the curved end is better).
- Antiseptic wound wash.
- Antibiotic ointment or spray.
- Milk of Magnesia (Used to absorb and neutralize poisons. Consult a vet for instructions of use).
- Cotton wool.
- Alcohol/antiseptic wipes.
- Absorbent gauze pads.
- Tick remover.
- Self-adhesive tape.
- Dressing gauze.
- Vinyl gloves.
- Dog first aid guide book.
First Aid Items for Falls, Fractures, and Dislocations
- Elastic bandages.
- Dog carrier backpacks to carry your dog in case the pet can’t walk due to illness or injury or is too tired. These are especially handy during hikes.
- Pain relief spray for dogs.
Dog First Aid Items for Extreme Weather
- Digital thermometer.
- Foil blanket (to prevent hypothermia).
- Dog socks.
Dog First Aid Medication
- Supply of any vet-prescribed med (e.g. Insulin for diabetic dogs).
- Dewormers and flea and tick meds for upcoming doses.
- Pain relievers (avoid OTC options unless confirmed safe by your dog’s vet).
- Snake antivenom (if affordable).
- Antihistamine for insect stings and allergic reactions (talk to your vet about the best option for your dog).
- Saline eye solution.
- Chlorhexidine solution for dogs (for cleaning and disinfecting cuts and wounds and clearing skin infections.
- Antibacterial ointment for wounds.
Use a BPA-free container to organize your dog’s drugs in the first aid kit. Also, ensure you regularly replace meds with approaching expiry dates with longer-lasting ones.
Miscellaneous Items for Dog First Aid Kit
- Hydrogen peroxide (good for getting rid of skunk spray).
- Baking soda (used to make skunk spray cleaning solution).
- Collapsible water bowl.
Other Travel or Backpack Dog First Aid Kit Items
For backpack and travel dog first aid kits, these additions should be included:
- Your Dog’s Health Documents: copy of medical records, vaccination records, your name, phone number, your vet clinic name and address, and alternative veterinary emergency clinics.
- Emergency phone numbers and addresses for your dog’s vet clinic or other emergency clinics in the area.
Alternative Premade Dog First Aid Kits
If you want to skip the trouble of preparing a dog first aid kit from scratch, you can purchase a premade dog first aid kit and top up any missing items.
There are several options in the market. We recommend the RAYCO Pet First Aid Kit from Amazon.com, which comes with all the items listed above, plus a flashing LED collar and a tag for your dog’s name and owner info.
So, what dog emergencies will require you to use these first aid items? We address that in the next section.
Common Dog Emergencies that Require First Aid
There are innumerable emergencies for which your dog can require first aid. Since we can’t exhaust the long list of dog emergencies, we discuss first aid for the most common and serious dog emergencies.
First Aid for Dogs Sprayed by a Skunk
Skunks are common in the wild, and like all wild animals, they have natural ways of keeping away predators. If you are out in the wild with your dog and your pet encounters a skunk, it is highly likely that the dog will get skunked.
Skunk spray is a substance produced by the skunk’s anal glands as self-defense from predators. It contains thiol chemicals that are sulfurous and can be toxic. A skunk spray can be spread up to 15 feet away.
If your dog is sprayed by a skunk, you should perform these first aid steps:
- Check if your dog’s eyes are red and irritated from the skunk spray, and use cold water or a plain saline wash to cleanse your pet’s eyes.
- Remove the skunk spray by bathing your dog with hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dishwashing liquid solution.
- Shampoo your dog to remove any residual skunk spray smell.
- Towel dry your dog.
You may need to clean your own clothes after washing your dog to eliminate any smell. Wash your clothes with baking soda and regular laundry detergent. Read the complete details in our comprehensive article on first aid for dog sprayed by skunk.
First Aid for Dogs Stung by a Bee or Wasp
Dogs love sniffing around and often get stung by a bee or wasp on their nose or other body parts like the paws. Usually, bee and wasp stings cause mild irritation and pain. However, dogs can get allergic reactions from bee or wasp stings and require a vet’s attention.
Giving immediate first aid to a dog stung by a bee or wasp can prevent allergic reactions. It will also minimize other discomforts that make your dog whine, hold up their paw, limp, nibble the sting spot, drool, paw at their mouth or face, swell, or get hives.
Find details in our complete article on dog first aid for bee and wasp stings. Nonetheless, here’s a quick summary of what you should do when your dog gets stung by a bee or wasp.
- Find the bee or wasp sting on the poison sac and pull out the sting with your nails or scrape it out with a credit card. Do not rub or squeeze to avoid spreading the poison.
- If you are home, apply ice on the sting spot to soothe your dog from the burning sensation. If out in the wild, use water to wash the spot.
- Monitor your dog for any signs of allergic reactions and give an antihistamine if you notice any. Consult with a vet first about the type and dosage of the antihistamine appropriate for your dog.
Take your dog to the vet if he shows adverse allergic reactions.
First Aid for Dogs Bitten by a Snake
Rattlesnake or other venomous snake bites on dogs are a medical emergency that should be attended to by a vet immediately. However, because vets can be far to reach, giving first aid to your dog after a snake bite can determine if your dog survives a snake bite or not.
According to the Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies, about 80% of pets survive snake bites if prompt first aid is given and vet treatment administered soon after.
Dogs bitten by a snake will show mild symptoms such as swelling and pain, limping, and tiny bite marks or severe symptoms such as panting, drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. In serious cases, your dog may experience seizures or even collapse.
To preserve your dog’s life, follow these steps to give immediate first aid for dog snake bites:
- Ensure your dog does not get anxious by staying calm. Anxiety will cause the venom to spread faster in your dog’s body.
- Do not touch the bite spot or cover it with a bandage. Instead, apply a pressure immobilization bandage (not a tourniquet) above the bite spot, if possible, without restricting blood flow. Ensure the bite wound is always below your dog’s heart.
- Make sure your dog stays calm and does not move around to prevent the fast spreading of the venom.
- Carry your dog to the car and do not allow it to walk, as this reduces the rate of venom spread.
- Bring your dog to the vet immediately.
Note: Although you can seek a vet’s guidance on how to give snake antivenom to your dog, antivenoms are pricey and have a short shelf life. The typical practice is to bring your dog to the vet soon after first aid to have the snake antivenom administered. Read more on snake bite first aid for dogs in our complete article.
Dog First Aid for Cuts and Wounds
Whether at home or during a hiking spree, your dog can get a cut or wound. While minor wounds may just need simple first aid care, large cuts and wounds will need veterinary attention after first aid.
The primary purpose of dog first aid for cuts and wounds is to stop bleeding and prevent infection. To treat your dog’s cuts and wounds, you’ll need supplies such as sterile gauze and bandages, a disinfecting solution such as Chlorhexidine solution for dogs, an antibacterial ointment, a pair of scissors, and tweezers.
Here’s how to give first aid to your dog for cuts and wounds:
- Muzzle your dog to protect yourself from bites. Dogs can bite abruptly due to pain.
- Put a clean cloth or gauze over the cut or wound and press lightly to stop the bleeding. Cuts or wounds with profuse bleeding should be taken directly to the vet.
- Clean the wound with water to get rid of any dirt.
- Use tweezers to remove any foreign objects on the cut or wound. These could be pieces of glass or thorns).
- Disinfect the wound with Chlorhexidine solution. Avoid hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can damage skin tissues on a fresh cut.
- Apply antibacterial ointment and bandage the wound with sterile gauze and bandages. Use self-adhesive tape to hold the bandage in place.
If the wound or cut is large and still bleeding after first aid, bring your dog to the vet for further attention.
Dog First Aid for Burns
Burns on dogs can be caused by open fires or spilled hot liquids such as oil or chemicals. Because burns are extremely painful and can easily be infected and cause scars on your dog’s skin, they should be attended to immediately with first aid care and then checked by a vet.
Here’s what to do for first aid if your dog has a burn:
- Isolate your dog from the cause of the burn.
- Pour cold water or dip the burn in cold water (not ice or ice water) for at least 10 minutes. If the burn is from a chemical, wash it off with water to stop its burning action.
- Avoid touching the burn with cloth, and don’t apply any ointments or creams.
- Call or visit the vet for as an emergency, no matter the size of burn your dog has.
While waiting for the vet, monitor your dog for any adverse symptoms such as difficulty in breathing and consult your vet about what action to take.
First Aid for Dogs with Heatstroke
Heatstroke, sometimes called heat exhaustion or hyperthermia, is a serious condition that develops when your dog is too hot and unable to regulate and lower body temperature.
A dog’s normal temperature is around 101.5°F (38.6°C), and temperatures above this range put your dog at risk of heatstroke. The three main risk factors for heatstroke in dogs are:
- Overheating when exercising.
- Prolonged exposure to hot weather while staying still in the same position.
- Being in a hot car for long periods.
Hyperthermia in dogs manifests in symptoms such as persistent panting, foaming and drooling, red gums, shaking, general weakness, and vomiting. If nothing is done, your dog can go into seizures, collapse, or even die. These extreme consequences of heatstroke underline why giving a dog first aid for heatstroke is crucial.
Here’s what you should do as first aid for a dog at risk of heatstroke:
- Avoid getting anxious and using an agitated voice. This could cause more anxiety for your dog.
- Remove your dog from the heat source and bring it to a cool and shady location.
- Give your dog a drink of cold water (not ice or ice water, as this can cause shock).
- Ensure your dog is in a well-ventilated place with plenty of airflow.
- Place your dog on a wet towel and pass a damp towel on the head, feet, and other body parts to hasten the cooling process.
- Bring your dog to the vet for further medical care.
If your dog had heatstroke in a hot car, ensure the car is cool before bringing the pet back to the car to take him to the vet. You can read more about dogs heat exhaustion and heat stroke in our complete article on this topic.
Dog First Aid for Broken Bones
Broken bones in dogs can result from falls or traffic accidents. Because they are extremely painful and can cause adverse damage, broken bones in dogs are among the emergencies that require immediate vet care.
However, giving first aid before the vet arrives or before you can get your dog to a vet clinic is crucial. Follow these steps to offer your dog first aid in case of broken bones.
- Assess the fracture to see if it’s open or closed. You’ll need to act differently for each case.
- Do not touch, move, or adjust the broken area.
- With an open fracture, cover the wound with sterilized gauze or bandage, staying alert not to cause more damage to the fractured bone.
- Should you suspect a closed fracture on the ribs, wrap the dog around with a clean sheet without compromising blood flow or breathing.
- If our dog has a closed fracture on the back, pull him on a flat board, ensuring you do not bend his back, and bring the pet to a vet.
- With a closed fracture on a limb, gently place a clean towel under the fracture to support the broken bone.
- In all cases, bring your dog to a vet ASAP and ensure the broken part stays on a flat surface when you take your dog to the vet, and never try to adjust the fracture. If your dog cannot be moved, ask the vet to come to you instead.
Note: You should never apply antiseptic or ointment on a fracture, especially if open.
First Aid for Dogs Bitten by a Coyote
Coyote attacks and bites on dogs are common in areas where these wild canines are found. What’s more, coyote bites can be awfully harmful, causing severe injury and damage to body organs. Coyotes can also pass the rabies virus to unvaccinated dogs and dog owners attending to coyote dog bites without proper protection.
Most experts will advise that coyote bites and injuries on dogs be immediately attended to by a veterinarian. As such, the first aid steps for a dog bitten by a coyote are directed towards getting your dog to the vet:
- Do not nurse coyote bites on dogs at home.
- Wear gloves when handling a dog with coyote bites.
- Bring your dog to a vet immediately.
First Aid for Dogs Bitten by a Squirrel
Squirrel bites on dogs are not common because dogs pursue squirrels and not vice versa. But the struggle between a dog and a squirrel can lead to a squirrel biting on a dog, especially on the face.
The harm caused by squirrel bites is usually mild. But squirrels can carry plenty of bacteria in their mouths and cause serious infections on your dog. It is advisable that squirrel bites on dogs be checked by a vet as soon as possible. Before then, though, these first aid steps should be taken:
- Clean the squirrel bite wound with water or a mild antiseptic solution. Avoid hydrogen peroxide or alcohol-based solutions as these kill the cells that aid healing, together with the bacteria.
- If there’s bleeding, apply light pressure with clean, sterile gauze to stop it.
- Take your dog to the vet.
Dog First aid for Choking
Choking is a common topic when it comes to dog first aid. Dogs can choke from trying to chew on stuff they shouldn’t such as sticks and plastic bags. Choking can also happen when a dog tries to catch toys and balls, and they end up in the dog’s airway.
A choking dog will retch, pace back and forth, and paw at its mouth. Alternatively, the dog may simply look at you with wide-open eyes to ask for help if the airway is completely blocked and they can’t make any sound.
Chocking is more than an emergency as it can kill your dog in minutes. As such, giving effective first aid is important. Here’s how to give first aid to a choking dog to save their life:
- Restrain your dog to protect yourself from possible bites when you help your pet. Do not muzzle the dog, as this will aggravate the struggle for breathing.
- Open your dog’s mouth and check for the blocking object. If possible, reach into your dog’s mouth and remove the object with your fingers, otherwise, try a pair of tweezers. Working with another person can help get the object out more easily.
- Avoid pushing the object or forcing your fingers into the dog’s throat, as this can cause more damage.
If this does not work, perform the Heimlich maneuver as follows:
- Place your arms around the dog’s belly. With one hand holding the dog firmly, form the other hand into a fist and push firmly up and forwards behind the dog’s rib cage to make the object pop out.
- Alternatively, if the dog is lying down, hold the back with one hand and use the other to squeeze the belly upwards.
- Remove objects in the mouth once dislodged from the dog’s throat.
Once the object is removed, visit a vet for a checkup to ensure no damage was done to your dog’s throat.
First Aid for Dog Seizures
A seizure, also described as a fit or convulsion, is a condition where a sudden wave of electrical activity happens in your dog’s brain and causes temporary dysfunction in brain messaging.
Seizures in dogs can be caused by health conditions such as epilepsy, liver or kidney disease, brain tumors, low blood sugar, oxygen and calcium deficiencies, or hyperthermia. Also, head injuries, extreme stress, or poisoning can cause dog seizures.
Seizures make the dog become rigid, collapse, or lose control of its movements. Depending on the cause and the severity of the seizure, extreme damage can be caused to body functions.
To prevent damage, you should perform the following first aid care to a dog experiencing a seizure:
- Clear the area around your dog by removing any items around your pet that could hurt him, such as furniture.
- Keep your dog as calm as possible by minimizing noise, lighting, touching, or other forms of distractions. These could prolong the seizure.
- Let your dog get out of the seizure without putting anything in its mouth or giving any type of liquids or medication.
- Record details on the seizure, such as duration and pet movements, to report to the vet.
- Visit or call the vet to attend to your dog.
Once the seizure is over, your dog is likely to be a bit disoriented. Hydrate your dog and let him rest as you wait for or drive to the vet.
Dog First Aid for Poisons and Toxins
Poisons and toxins are substances that cause harm to your dog when they enter the body in sufficient amounts.
The mode of exposure to poisons can vary from ingesting poisonous food, inhaling toxic gases or plants, or getting poison to the body through the skin. Whichever of these is the case, you may notice poisoning symptoms such as allergic reactions, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, or even seizures. Some types of poisons may be slow in showing any symptoms.
If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to poison or toxic substances, consult your dog’s vet immediately and perform these first aid care depending on the type and mode of poisoning:
- Ingested poison, remove the poisoning object from the mouth if still there and rinse the pet’s mouth with plenty of water. Do not let your dog drink or eat anything before being examined by a vet. Even food or drink to induce vomiting is not advised.
- Poisoned through the skin, thoroughly rinse the exposure spot with water and mild soap, and be sure to rinse off all the soap.
- Inhaled toxins, move it from the exposure location to an area where he can breathe in fresh air.
You’ll find more details on these modes of poisoning in our article on dog poisoning symptoms and treatment. In all three cases, however, call to consult your dog’s vet about the best move to take. Bring your dog to the vet clinic after the first aid, taking with you any available samples of the poison.
Dog First Aid for Road Traffic Accidents
Road traffic accidents can cause extreme injury and damage to your dog or turn fatal. Even when there are no obvious signs of injury, accidents can cause internal bleeding and injuries, head or spinal injuries, broken bones, or a ruptured diaphragm.
As such, a dog that has been hit by a vehicle should be checked by a vet right away. However, first aid care should be given to your dog to preserve life, ease pain, or prevent adverse damage.
Our guide to dogs in traffic accidents explores every minute detail on the nature, effects, treatment, and prevention of dog traffic accidents. But here’s what to do as first aid for a dog hit by a vehicle:
- Remove or protect your dog from additional traffic danger.
- Assess the extent of the damage caused to your dog: wounds, broken bones, head or spinal injuries, etc.
- If your dog has broken bones, avoid lifting the pet. Instead, slide the injured dog onto a blanket or hardboard to minimize movement on any broken part.
- Check your dog for any life-threatening symptoms such as heavy bleeding or difficulty breathing. Use sterilized gauze or cloth to stop bleeding by pressing the wound lightly.
- Cover your dog with a blanket to keep him warm. The shock from the accident or extreme blood loss can cause lowered body temperatures.
- Bring your dog to the nearest vet clinic for further medical attention.
Dog First Aid for Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a situation where your dog’s body temperature drops below recommended levels to dangerously low levels (normal levels range between 37.7°C [99.9°F] and 39.0°C [102°F). Hypothermia can be caused by cold weather, sickness, or blood loss.
Extremely low temperatures can cause your dog’s body to shut down, and if unattended, hypothermia can be fatal. Clinical signs of hypothermia in dogs include shivering, an irregular heartbeat, drowsiness, loss of consciousness, and pale gums.
If your dog has hypothermia, perform these first aid steps:
- Dry your dog if he has a wet coat.
- Cover your dog with blankets.
- Try giving warm water (not hot) if your dog is conscious.
- Gradually heat the environment so your dog can slowly warm up to normal body temperatures.
- Take your dog to the vet for a professional checkup and assistance.
Dog First Aid for Electric Shocks
Electric shocks are not a very common emergency among dogs, but they are serious. When they happen, it is usually because a dog has chewed an electric cable.
Electric shocks can cause burns, adverse damage to organs, and even death. If your dog suffers and survives an electric shock, you should see a vet immediately. However, giving first aid to a dog who has an electric shock can save the pet’s life and prevent extreme damage from internal or delayed shock consequences.
Here’s are the steps for giving first aid to a dog with electric shock:
- Stop the electric shock by turning off the power switch or the main switch at the circuit breaker. If you are not sure to be safe turning off the power with your bare hands, use a wooden broomstick. Do not touch your dog or go near the area if there’s water, as water is a good electricity conductor.
- Once the electrical current is off, check your dog for vital signs like breathing and heartbeat. If alive, check the dog for other injuries like burns on the lips and in the mouth. If there are no vital signs, contact your vet and inquire about giving your dog CPR.
- Wrap your dog with a blanket to keep it warm.
- Visit a vet for further medical attention.
Dog first aid is a crucial practice that every dog owner should know about and learn to practice. Knowing how to perform first aid on your dog when an emergency happens at home or out in the wild can be the difference between a live and dying pet.
Since no dog parent wants to see their dog succumb to the effects of an injury or illness, all dog owners should own a dog first aid kit and learn the basics of performing first aid on their dogs.
We hope our complete dog first aid guide has served to give you the knowledge you need to provide life-saving first emergency care to your dog.
Learn more on dog first aid in our articles on specific dog emergencies.