Pet Expressway for Dogs

Dog First Aid Essentials

Dog First Aid Essentials

Being prepared to help your dog during an emergency or illness is an essential part of being a responsible pet owner.

In this article we will cover the following topics:

How to Make a Pet First Aid Kit

You should keep a dog first aid kit both in your car(s) and in your home. Try to use a container that is waterproof and be sure to include a written contents list of all items in the kit. This should include dosage size for any medications in the kit for your dog.

You could easily get carried away with a voluminous list of items that you could need in a pet first aid emergency. Our list will attempt to be a concise yet complete. You may add other items to you individual kits if you would like.

Your Pet First Aid Kit should include the following:

  • Latex gloves, gauze sponges of varying sizes.
  • Rolled gauze (2 inches wide) and gauze wrap that stretches and clings.
  • You should also have material to make a splint, which would include pieces of wood or a ruler, flat wooden sticks, some newspaper.
  • Hypoallergenic adhesive tape.
  • Non-stick sterile pads and small scissors.
  • Other items include grooming clippers, nylon slip lead, a towel, compact thermal blanket, a cold pack and a soft muzzle. Many dogs may experience pain induced aggression during an emergency illness or injury; so it is important to protect yourself while trying to treat your dog. Even the most docile of dogs can bite. It will also allow you to administer more efficient effective pet first aid.

It is also important to have the following items in your pet first aid kit: dog

  • Thermometer or pediatric rectal thermometer,,
  • Water based lubricant, isopropyl rubbing alcohol,
  • Triple antibiotic ointment,
  • Epsom salts and 3% hydrogen peroxide solution (1 to 2 tsp per 10 min to induce vomiting) 3 doses max,
  • sterile eye lubricant and sterile saline solution eyewash.
  • It is important to note here that some of these items will have expiration dates and will need to be periodically switched out to fresh items.
  • It is also important to have glucose paste or corn syrup or even a few packets of honey in your pet first aid kit as well as styptic powder, petroleum jelly, a pen light, clean cloth.
  • Also carry long nose pliers and tweezers.

Medications include:

As far as medications are concerned, your pet first aid kit should have

  • Diphenhydramine or Benadryl 1 mg tablet per pound or 2 ml liquid per 5 pounds every 8 hours. This is primarily for insect bites bee stings and allergic reactions.
  • Imodium A-D (1 mg tablet per 15 pounds or 0.3 ml to 0.6 ml per pound two to three times a day to relieve diarrhea.
  • Pepto Bismol Liquid (0.5 ml per pound every 6 hours to relieve diarrhea & vomiting.

For information on how to use a liquid syringe  refer to the article “How to Routine Medical Care to your Pet” on  how to administer medication.

Contact Information

The pet first aid kit, finally should have:

  • A list of phone numbers your veterinarian
  • 24-hour veterinary clinic
  • Poison hotline, and emergency contact of someone you know.

These phone numbers should also be in your cell phone.

Now that we have our ‘tool kit’ to assist our dog during sudden illness or injury, it is important that we know a baseline of vital signs and a baseline of wellness for them as well.

Baseline of Vital Signs for your Dog

Your dog’s vital signs are

  • Temperature,
  • Breathing rate and
  • Pulse rate.

The Normal Temperature for a dog is between 100.2 and 102.8 degrees. if your dog’s temperature is below 100 or above 104 , it should be considered an emergency.

Taking your dog’s temperature can be a challenge. Nowadays there are traditional rectal thermometers and now digital that are inserted into the dog’s ear canal. Whichever you choose, use the instructions specifically on the product relative to how to use.

Breathing Rate

The normal breathing rate for your dog is 10 to 30 breaths per minute. Abdominal breathing is usually a sign of a problem

To check your dog’s breathing rate simply have them stand or lie down. Observe and place your hand upon their chest and count the number of times, in one minute, that their chest Rises and falls.

You should know your dog’s breathing rate when at rest as well as after exercise.

Pulse Rate

The normal pulse rate for your canine is :

  • Puppy 120 to 160 Beats per minute,
  • Small Dog 100 to 160 Beats per minute and
  • Dogs over 30 pounds ie Medium to Large Dogs are 60 to 100 beats per minute.

For full details on how to check your dog’s pulse go to “How can I Tell if my Pet is Sick“.

For now we will share one method .

  • Flip your dog over on his back or side.
  • Place your pointer and middle finger on the dog’s inner thigh, where the leg meets the body wall.
  • Don’t use your thumb, as it has a pulse.
  • Count how may pulses or beats you feel per minute.
  • Or how many pulses you feel in 15 seconds and multiply that by 4.

There can be variation of temperature, breathing rate and pulse rate from one dog to the next.

A puppy will run a bit hotter and faster in his vital signs as compared to a geriatric dog. So know your individual dog’s vital signs. That way, when a pet first aid situation comes along and you test vital signs you will better understand if they are typical for your dog.

Baseline of Wellness

A Baseline of Wellness for your dog is the notion of having a working knowledge of your particular dog’s health via a physical wellness check of his body.. See  How to Tell if my Pet is Sick – on how to give your dog a wellness check for a full explanation.

The wellness check shows you how to give an examination of your dogs eyes, ears, nose, mouth and teeth, skin and hair, legs and feet, overall body and general observations.

General Observation – BAR

Is your dog Bright Alert and Responsive?

One of those general observations is something known as a BAR. Is your dog Bright Alert and Responsive?

This actually is one of the first subconscious things you check not only in a pet first aid emergency but every time you see your dog. Performing a weekly wellness check on your dog will help you notice many medical issues before they become first aid issues.

For example, wellness checking your dog’s ears by looking for discharge, inflammation, scabs, odor, and by noticing their BAR ( scratching head shaking head tilting head) will allow you to avoid the dog getting an ear infection.

Tools to Assess if a Situation is an Emergency

Checking for pulse rate, dehydration and shock are techniques that all pet owners should know in order to assess if a situation is an emergency..

These are discussed in the article: How Can I Tell if my Pet is Sick  However, a brief overview of each follow:

To Check for a Pulse:

there are four methods. We’ve actually just presented one method above in the section that discusses vital signs

To Check for Dehydration:
  • Place your thumb and index finger on the scruff of the dog’s neck.
  • Pull upward on the skin then release your fingers so the skin will drop back into position.
  • If the dog is properly hydrated the skin should spring back immediately into its previous position.
  • This should literally happen within 1 or 2 seconds.
  • If the scruff falls back slowly than the dog is dehydrated.
To Check for Shock
  • Lift the dogs upper lip
  • Then with your thumb lightly press on their gums for a few seconds.
  • As you release your thumb count the number of seconds it takes for the gums to turn back to their original color.
  • If the dog is healthy and not in shock the color should spring back to normal immediately.
  • Anything over 3 seconds should be considered an emergency .

Pet First Aid Treatments Situations & Treatments

We now have our pet first aid kits stocked and available. We also know our dogs baseline of vital signs (breathing rate, pulse rate and temperature) and the baseline of wellness (canine check up) and BAR. In addition we know the tools to assess if a situation is an emergency (pulse, dehydration and shock).

All of this knowledge will now enable us to help our dog in the event of sudden illness or injury. There are so many different situations that can require a first aid treatment that we cannot attempt to cover them all here.

We will choose to discuss the most likely situations that can pop up in a dog’s lifetime. Situations the average dog owner may have to deal with and what treatments they should undertake.

Please note we will not be reviewing extreme lifesaving techniques such as pet CPR, as that is a topic for a future article on the website . We are strictly dealing with pet first aid emergencies not pet life-saving aid emergencies.

For purposes of our presentation, keep in mind that the notion of “First’ Aid means ways you can help your pet immediately before seeking proper medical attention. Therefore the situations and treatments we discuss will have that viewpoint in mind.

Allergic Reactions Situation

Perhaps your dog gets stung by a bee or a spider outside playing. Whereas some dogs may just be itchy, others can have trouble breathing, swelling in the muzzle and can even go into anaphylaxis (serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death).

‘First’ Aid :

For a mild reaction you can apply a cold pack to the area where the dogs was bitten or stung. If it is a larger reaction you can give your dog Benadryl (1 milligram tablet per pound OR .4 ml liquid per pound , easier to think of it as 2 ml per 5 pounds).

Monitor breathing and look for signs of shock as we have already discussed in our ‘tools to assess an emergency section’ . Transport to vet if necessary. [Top]

Bleeding Situation

Perhaps your dog was in a dog fight, or ran out and was hit by a car or took a fall and now is bleeding.

One tip to know is that if the blood is a burgundy color and coming out slowly, then the dog cut a small blood vessel or vein under the skin.

If he blood is bright red and it is spraying out quickly with every beat of the heart, then it is an artery that was cut. In the case of the later, you need to react fast.

First Aid

Stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the wound with a cloth or towel for 10 to 15 minutes, never stopping pressure. Do not stop out of curiosity to see if the bleeding has stopped; as will interrupt the clotting process that is occurring.

Obviously, the size and severity of bleeding area will determine if you will transport dog to the the vet. Other factors in your decision will be your ‘baseline of vital signs’ specifically breathing rate and pulse rate and you assessment tool of checking for shock. [Top]

Limping or Lameness, Non weight bearing injury Situation

Its exasperating! Your dog for some unknown reason comes up lame. Maybe he is limping or holding up his paw refusing to walk. He is telling you something is wrong but it is difficult to determine what it is and how severe it is.

Your dog’s reaction of holding up the injured limb and refusing to walk on it is the same at this point whether it be a broken bone/bone fracture, a sprain or a strain. It is your job to figure out which condition you are dealing with in order to administer the proper aid.

Let’s start by defining the causes in consideration and looking for potential ways to figure out the cause of your dog’s lameness or non weight bearing injury.

Broken Bone/Bone Fracture

A Broken Bone/Bone Fracture is a partial or complete break of a bone. There would be intense pain and swelling at the site of the fracture

An example of this happening to your dog could be if he jumped from a high wall and the impact caused a break in a bone in his foot. There would be intense pain and swelling at the sight of the fracture. He would refuse to walk or put weight on the limb in question.


A Sprain is a torn ligament. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect or bind bones to other bones. That by the way are how joints are formed.

So if a ligament is stretched too far or torn or suffers a blow it can cause the joint to become painful, with swelling and inflammation.

An example of this happening to your dog would be if he were running outside and had an abrupt the or impact to a joint which caused a stretch or tear in his ligament, creating a Sprain. He will refuse to walk or put weight on the limb in question


A Strain is a torn tendon. A tendon is a flexible but inelastic cord of tissue connecting or binding bond to muscle. So if a tendon is stretched too far or torn it can cause the muscle to become painful, with swelling and inflammation with difficulty moving the muscle.

As an example your dog jumps up on you when your get home from work and leaps a bit higher than normal causing an ‘over stretch’ or tear in his tendon, hence creating a Strain “over stretching during athletic activity’.

He will refuse to walk or put weight of the limb in question. Notice all three conditions present the same. Also, remember if your dog has perhaps a pebble in his Pad from walking outside, he initially would present the same as if he had a break a sprain or strain!

In each case, the situation is that your dog is refusing to bear weight or walk on this limb

How can you Tell between a Broken Bone & A Strain . [Top]

A broken bone requires a trip to the vet, where as a strain does not. So how can you tell. There are duplicate symptoms such as swelling and inflammation.

Intense Pain

A broken bone will cause the dog intense pain. There may also be an awkward appearance to how the limb is angled. A break can be more apparent than a sprain or strain. You should first gently run your hands over the limb in question. Next then move to gentle squeezing in order to see if you illicit a painful reaction.

A severe reaction should cause you to see the help of a veterinarian. A minimal or benign reaction to this is evidence that your dog may have a sprain or strain and you can, for now , avoid a trip to the vet and administer first aid then continue to monitor the situation.

If you suspect a break, and vet care is immediately available, the best ‘First” aid would be to avoid making a splint and place him on a firm level surface and take him to the vet.

We recommend avoiding making a splint merely because for the average pet owner this would be very difficult and in this day and age with veterinary care so readily available it makes sense to proceed to the experts.

It is important however to deliver your dog to the vet without further compromising the broken bone in question. So be sure to transport them on a flat surface.

Sprain/Strain – Apply Ice

If you suspect either a sprain of the ligament or a strain of the tendon, your ‘First ‘ Aid the goal is to apply ice to the area immediately, 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off and then 20 minutes on again. This will reduce swelling and minimize the damage.

Your post first aid goal would then be give the injury rest, if possible elevation and apply a cold compress for 10 or 15 minutes every 2 hours. Short leash walks only and no jumping around, especially on and off the furniture are an important part of the healing process.

Strains and sprains re-injure very easily. Re-evaluate as necessary to determine if your dog should take a visit to the veterinarian.

With all of this said however if your dog does come up limp or lame, the first thing we recommend you to just take some sterile saline solution and rinse out your dog’s pads in the event the dog is refusing to put weight on his foot because he has something caught inside his Pad.

In normal circumstances It would be advisable after a walk with your dog on gravel or rough surface with stones etc to clean your dogs paws.


Burns Situation

Burn situations can occur if your dog steps in chemicals that burn his pads or comes in contact with scalding hot water. Or perhaps you take your dog out for a summer walk  and inadvertently he burns his pads from the heat of the tar on the pavement.

  • Your first aid would be to run your dog’s pads under cold water for at least 10 minutes.
  • Then, gently wash the pads with soap and water or with Betadin. Betadine is an antiseptic for skin disinfection and is very good in treating minor wounds.
  • Next you should pack up the pads dry with a towel.
  • Do not rub .
  • Finally apply some triple antibiotic treatment such as Neosporin.

Depending on nature of the burn, very mild or severe you may or may not want to take your dog to the vet.

Best way to turn to determine how severe the situation is would be to check your dog’s vital signs and emergency assessment tools. If they are abnormal the burn is probably much worse than you are seeing. Definitely take your dog to the vet immediately.

Here’s a tip.

Place the back of your hand on the pavement. If you are unable to hold it there for 5 seconds then the pavement is much too hot for your dog to walk on. [Top]

Ear Emergencies Situation

Your dog is shaking and tilting his head. His BAR is a little abnormal as he is preoccupied and has un-relaxed facial expressions indicating some distress. You look in his ears only to find black discharge and a foul odor . He has an ear infection .

Ear Infections are a situation you can prevent with your weekly wellness checks. However, if one happens to pop up, remember it can be either a yeast or bacterial infection thus be looked at by a veterinarian in order to determine the proper course of action.. ‘First’ aid would be to clean your dog’s ears to keep him comfortable. See how to clean your dog’s ears on our website.

Also, make a non-emergency appointment with your vet in order to obtain the appropriate medications .

Swollen Ear Flap is a Situation that also needs vet attention via a non-emergency appointment. It can be occur due to trauma or excessive shaking of the head due to an ear infection. It is a frightening sight to see but is treatable by surgical draining the ear.

Being prepared to help your pet dog during an emergency or illness is part of the job of a responsible pet owner. Outlined below are situations involving your pet dog where your intervention or the intervention of a professional medic could be required. [Top]

Eye Emergency Situations

Typically a dog will alert you to an eye emergency by pawing at his face or blinking his eyes. If this occurs ‘First’ Aid would be to take the bottle of Sterile Saline Solution from your pet first aid kit and flush out the eye by squeezing the liquid in the eye, being careful not to let the tip of the bottle touch the eyeball.

Any foreign object in the eye will loosen and be removed. If this does not settle the dog’s discomfort, it is possible that he has an Ulcer or a scratch on the outer layer of the eye. This can be very painful and you should make a non-emergency visit to the veterinarian to check for an ulcer and to obtain medication.

Remember to perform a weekly wellness check on your dog’s eyes to be on the look out for eye injuries as well as eye illnesses such as conjunctivitis and cherry eye. [Top]

Cherry Eye

Cherry Eye is a swelling of the third eyelid that is due to infection or genetics.


Conjunctivitis also know as pink eye  is a swelling of the pink tissue inside the eyelid. Typically this causes green or yellow discharge.

In the case of cherry eye and conjunctivitis , a non emergency trip to the vet is in order.

Hot Spots

This is a superficial skin infection that is itchy and warming to the dogs skin.

Hot spots can very rapidly grow to be very large and painful legions due to the dog ‘self mutilating’ the area by licking, scratching and chewing at it. Hot spots can quickly snowball into a major issue for your dog.

Here your weekly wellness check comes in handy to catch hot spots before they develop into a problem that needs pet first aid.

Hot spots can come from food allergies, insults to the skin such as bug bites, or even psychological issues such as boredom or anxiety. Therefore it is best to try to identify and resolve the origin of the problem to prevent repeated hot spots.


You see your dog biting at his fur, only upon inspection to uncover a small red irritated patch of skin.

  • First aid would be to clip or shave the fur away from the area
  • Keep it as clean as possible with water and a cleansing solution such as Betadine.
  • Soothe and treat the area with a topical hot spot treatment or triple antibiotic ointment.
  • Monitor and maintain the area daily with this regime.
  • It may also be necessary to keep an e-collar or a t-shirt on your dog to keep him from further scratching or chewing the area.
  • If you failed to catch the beginnings of this hot spot in a wellness check and it has instead become a large red irritated skin lesion legion, it is best to seek a non-emergency appointment at the vet
  • After following the above regimen clean the area with sterile saline solution as part of your initial treatment. [Top]

Seizure Situation

Imagine if your dog suddenly and inexplicably goes into convulsions with uncontrollable movement it could be due to a number of factors from poisoning, injury or to an underlying medical problem such as epilepsy.

  • First aid would be to let the dog ride out the actual seizure and only restrain him if he is in danger of hurting himself.
  • If any other dogs are around, remove them from the area, as viewing a seizure could cause them to attack the ill dog.
  • If the seizure is longer that 5 minutes or occurs again within 2 hours, immediately take the dog to the vet. Otherwise make an appointment with a neurologist [Top]

Wound Treatment Situation

Whether from rough play or a scrap with another dog, your pet can get cuts, scrapes or even bites. A dog can receive a shallow wound or a deep wound.

A shallow wound involves just the dog’s skin. Whereas a deep wound would involve a break in the skin.

First  aid when when Treating a Shallow Wound
  • Put on your latex gloves from your pet first aid kit
  • Rinse the wound with sterile saline solution.
  • Using sterile pads and some anti-bacterial liquid soap gentle clean the shallow would
  • Then apply some triple antibiotic ointment.
  • Lightly cover the wound with gauze.
  • Be on the look out for swelling or coolness near the bandages area in the event your have wrapped the bandage too tightly.
First aid when when Treating a Deep Wound
  • Apply pressure to stop bleeding
  • Then seek veterinary treatment, as deep wounds often require stitches.
  • Treatment should be immediate, as deep wounds can not be sutured beyond a few hours due to bacteria contamination growing with in the wound. [Top]

Vomiting and Diarrhea

These sometimes go hand-in-hand. That is a very dangerous situation.

This could be due to a number of factors:

  • An obstruction
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • An infection
  • Ingesting something toxic or something that didn’t agree with him
  • Some other type of illness.
First Aid
  • ‘First’ aid would be to check for dehydration. Dogs can dehydrate rapidly and it can lead to organ failure shock and death.
  • Next would be to make an emergency trip to the veterinarian. They will give the dog IV fluids, which is something you’re not equipped to do.
  • They can then access the reason for the problem and treated appropriately.

Now if your  singularly has vomiting or diarrhea, but his BAR otherwise shows that he is fine, first aid would be to do the following.

  • Fast the dog for 24 hours then provide him a diet of something bland such as boiled chicken and rice or cottage cheese or a commercial product such as ID by Science Diet.
  • Slowly put him back on his regular diet.
  • Blend his regular dog food into the bland diet a quarter portion per day until he is back on his regular diet. an example meal would be three quarters (3/4) chicken & rice and then one quarter (1/4) dog food Etc . If it any point diarrhea is returning go back to the bland diet for a few days.

You can also provide one up for a variety of medications to help in this process.

Different things work with different dogs. Some examples include:

  • Imodium AD, 0.3 ml to 0.6 ml per pound every 2 to 3 hours. Or 1 mg tablet / 15 lb.
  • Another medication you can try is Pepto-Bismol. 0.5 ml per pound every 6 hours.

You can put a label on this household medications with your dogs dosage requirements based on their weight. When in doubt about a medication dosage, it is recommended you use the child’s dosage of the product. [Top]


The above pet first aid situations and treatments in the above examples are the more common that may happen to your dog in his lifetime. More severe situations, known as pet emergency aid situations will also be discussed on our website. Some of the items covered include hypothermia heat stroke choking drowning electric shock poisoning snake bites spinal injury and CPR.

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Keith Byrne

Keith Byrne

From an early age Keith has been around dogs. He has been involved in dog grooming, dog walking, dog sitting and dog showing as well as voluntary work in animal shelters. His aim is to help all dog owners especially newbies learn about dogs and care for them in a loving, caring and fun way.


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