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Pet Owner Version

Introduction to Emergencies


Andrew Linklater

, DVM, DACVECC, BluePearl Specialty + Emergency Pet Hospital

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2021 | Modified Nov 2022
Topic Resources

Emergencies include serious injuries from accidents, burns, poisoning, a new and sudden illness, or worsening of an ongoing illness. These conditions often require immediate veterinary attention. A call to your veterinarian can help you decide what needs to be done next.

Emergency Preparations to Discuss with your Veterinarian

Before you have to deal with an emergency, discuss the possibility with your veterinarian so you can be prepared to take action quickly. Know the answers to the following questions:

  • What number should I call if my pet gets sick/injured after regular business hours?

  • Where is the closest 24-hour emergency facility? (Visit their website, map how to get there.)

  • Are pet first aid classes available in my area?

  • Do I have a complete pet first aid kit and where it is located?

  • What are some techniques to restrain my pet? Do I have a muzzle?

  • What transport techniques are recommended?

  • What should I do if my pet has an obstruction of the airway due to a foreign object?

As a caretaker, you can reduce the likelihood of many of these situations, by providing a safe environment and keeping harmful substances away from your pet. However, it is impossible to ensure that your pet will never have a medical emergency. By their very nature, emergencies are typically sudden and unexpected, but you can be prepared to respond if an emergency occurs.

Keep information about your pet’s medical history and your veterinarian’s phone number easily accessible. Make sure you know where the closest 24-hour veterinary emergency hospital is located. It is also a good idea to keep a first aid kit on hand to treat minor emergencies.

Emergency patients present special challenges, not only because immediate, life-threatening problems require rapid intervention but because the full extent of problems may not be evident for 24 to 48 hours. Many things contribute to the overall success of emergency treatment, including the severity of the illness or injury, amount of blood or fluid lost, age of the animal, previous health problems, and time delay in beginning treatment.

Know Your Pet

Knowing your pet’s habits will help you recognize when something is wrong. Sudden changes in your pet’s normal physical condition, gait, activity level, eating habits, elimination habits, or grooming habits can indicate a medical problem. Being able to recognize an emergency and get your pet to a veterinarian quickly is one of the most important things you can do to ensure successful treatment.

First Aid Kit

You can purchase a ready-made pet first aid kit or make one yourself. A pet first aid kit generally includes basic items similar to those of a human first aid kit. The first aid kit should have a secure lid and be kept where you can get it quickly.

Be sure you know how to properly use the items in your first aid kit. You may be able to take an animal first aid and CPR class through your veterinarian’s office, local community college, or groups such as the Red Cross.

Of course, a first aid kit is not a substitute for veterinary care. Take your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the extent of the injury or illness and for followup care.

Stocking a Pet First Aid Kit

Keep a pet first aid kit available and know how to use it. Check the expiration dates of all medications at least once a year, and replace them when necessary. Include the following items:

  • Muzzle

  • Bandaging materials (including gauze, sterile pads, stretch bandage, adhesive tape)

  • Duct or packaging tape

  • Small scissors with blunt ends

  • Hydrogen peroxide (3%)

  • Cotton balls or swabs

  • Saline solution

  • Antibiotic ointment

  • Splinting materials

  • Tweezers or forceps

  • Bulb syringe

  • Thermometer (for rectal use)

  • Lubricating jelly

  • Disposable gloves

  • Kaolin-pectin (for mild diarrhea)*

  • Activated charcoal or milk of magnesia (to deactivate poisons)*

  • Small amount of any medication the pet takes daily

*Always check with your veterinarian before using any over-the-counter medication.

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