First Aid for Cats & Dogs

The following is not intended as an exhaustive guide and certainly doesn’t constitute professional medical advice BUT it should provide some handy tips to head off and deal with any problems your beloved furry friend might have.

The following is a summary of a talk given at The Bath Cats and Dogs Home in March, 2016.

The Normal and Happy Animal

  • The brain is critical in providing life.  The lungs take in oxygen, the heart pumps blood through the lungs to the brain to provide it that oxygen and glucose.
  • A healthy airway is nice and open and the gums will be pink; indicating well oxygenated blood.
  • The rate of breathing will be 10 – 30 breaths per minute (for a Cat or Dog) and the Heart Rate will be 70-120 for a Dog (higher for a Puppy or Small Dog) or 120 – 180 for a Cat.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

  • To check the animal is alive you should feel for a heartbeat.  On a dog you can find a pulse low on their chest near the elbow joint or on the thigh near where it joins the body.  On a cat you can find it on the thigh near the body.  On both animals this is known as the Femoral area.  You should use only your fingers to find your pets pulse NOT your thumb.  This will ensure that you do not mistake your pulse for your pets.
  • The animals state will give you clear signs as to what is going on.  If they are rigid or stiff, it is a strong indication they are undergoing a seizure.  If they are floppy they will likely be unconscious.

You should follow the normal ABC process:

  • Airway – Open the mouth and check the throat for obstructions.
  • Breathing – Check for breathing using a mirror or placing your cheek above the mouth and feel for warmth.
  • Circulation – You should administer compressions above the heart at a rate of approximately 100 per minute.

NOTE – Chest compressions should only be performed on an animal that is not breathing as they can injure the animal.

Road Traffic Accidents (RTA)

  • Accidents involving cats are more common as they tend to “look and dash” across roads.
  • You should first ensure that you are not exposing yourself to any danger by getting involved. Then stop, assess and approach the animal.  It will be stressed and frightened so may behave erratically or aggressively.  Again, do not expose yourself to danger.
  • The animal should be restrained and then a primary survey undertaken looking for injuries. The common sites of fractures and breaks are the skull, jaw, spine, pelvis and leg.   The animal should be transported to a vet.  Use a blanket to aid the lifting and transport of a non-ambulatory animal but do allow it to walk if it can.

Dressing Wounds and Burns

  • Wounds – Flush the wound with tap water or saline (1 teaspoon of salt per 1 pint of water). Monitor the wound for signs of infection.  Infection may present itself with discharge, redness or heat.  Also pat attention to the animal’s behaviour with regard to the wound.  Obvious signs of stress and discomfort may point to the wounds being infected.
  • Burns – Assess the situation first to ensure your safety. Use gloves for chemical burns and for burns involving electricity turn off the supply before administered aid.  If the situation is not safe do not engage.  Treat the burn site with copious amounts of cold water. And apply a Cold and Wet dressing for 20 minutes.  If it is an acid burn use a solution of 1 teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda to 1 pint of water.
  • Haemorrhage/Serious Bleed – Apply direct pressure to the wound site using a clean pad for 5 – 10 minutes to initially set the bleed. Apply a pressure bandage while transporting to the vet.  A tourniquet should only be used if there is an immediate threat to life.
  • Bandages (General) – Bandages are used to protect the wound site and to stem bleeding. You should monitor it for signs of swelling, pain and discharge (infection).  Keep them dry and clean.


The immediate action is to get the animal to a vet.  Your aim is to give the vet as much information as possible.  You should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is/was the poison?
  • How much did the animal ingest?
  • How recently did it happen?

Try and bring an example/sample and any packaging/ingredients list available to you to give to the vet.

Common poisons are:

  • Human Food – Chocolate, Onions, Garlic, Grapes, Xylitol (Sugar Substitute).
  • Chemicals – Anti Freeze, Rat Poison, Slug Pellets, Batteries.
  • Human Medications – Heart Medication, Inhalers, Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, Skin Creams.
  • Plants – Lilly (poisonous only to cats)

Breathing Problems and Choking

  • If your animal is in respiratory distress the first signs will be breathing with an open mouth, breathing with a perceptible increase in effort and speed and the gums taking on a blue hinge (an indication of lack of oxygenation of the blood).
  • The cause of the breathing problem might be trauma to a relevant site, and obstruction in the windpipe, asthma or heart/lung disease. If you the obstruction is obvious and action is possible then remove it.  If not keep the animal relaxed, put it in the recovery position and transport to the vets.
  • The signs of choking will be the animal panicking, pawing at the mouth, coughing/vomiting and eventually losing consciousness. You should first check the mouth for obstructions and deal with them if possible.  If the obstruction cannot be cleared put the head down and administer firm back blows to clear it.  The Heimlich Manoeuvre can be used but only if there is an immediate threat to life.  It can cause the animal injury and trauma.

Hyperthermia and Hypothermia

Hyperthermia/Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature of the animal exceeds 106F/41C.  The factors in Hyperthermia occurring might be:

  • The animal being in an enclosed space
  • The breed of the animal
  • The age of the animal
  • The weight of the animal (is it obese?)
  • The length and density of the coat
  • If the animal is currently/has recently exercised
  • The weather conditions

The symptoms might be excessive panting, thick saliva, bright red gums, being unsteady on their feet, vomiting, and tarry diarrhoea.

To treat you should move the animal to a cool environment and pour room temperature water over the body.  When the body temperate decreases to 103F/39.5C you should stop and take the animal to a vet for monitoring/further treatment.

Hypothermia (excessive exposure to cold conditions)

  • Hypothermia will usually occur when the animals body temperature goes to 37C and below. Contributing factors can be cold and wet conditions, the age of the animal, the size of the animal or low blood sugar.
  • Symptoms might be shivering, evident weakness, and the animal being dazed. Later the animal may experience muscle stiffness and stupor.  In severe episodes the animal’s pupils may be dilated, breathing may become shallow and the heartbeat may be inaudible.

The treatment will depend on the severity of the episode:

  • Mild Hypothermia (32C – 37C) – Provide insulation for the animal such as a blanket or coat. Reassure and comfort it.
  • Moderate Hypothermia (28C – 32C) – Active warming such as heat pads/heated blankets.
  • Severe Hypothermia (below 28C) – Warm the core immediately by applying a covered hot water bottle to the core. Wrap it in warm blankets and check temperature every 10 minutes.  Do not apply heat direct to the skin.


  • A seizure might be caused by Epilepsy or a disruption to the brain chemistry. Early signs are distress and clingy behaviour.  Later the animal may collapse onto its side and describe a paddling motion with its limbs.  It will have a glazed expression and not engage with you.
  • To treat you should reduce external stimulation by placing it in a quite and darkened environment. Reassure the animal and do not touch its mouth.  When the animal does not require direct attention/supervision call the vet to ask for advice.

Bites, Stings and Anaphylaxis

  • Bees, Wasps and Ants – Remove the stinger and administer Bicarbonate of Soda for Bee and Ant stings. Use an Ice Pack for Wasp stings.  Stings to the face can be very serious; seek medical advice and monitor for an allergic reaction/swelling that might indicate anaphylaxis.
  • Adder Bites – 95% of animals make a full recovery. There will be pain and swelling at the site of the bite.  Phone ahead to the vets and get them there swiftly.

The key is to act quickly, decisively and with confidence.  Plan for the worst; it may never happen but it pays to be prepared!

All our walkers and carers understand Elementary First Aid for Cats and Dogs.

If they’re important to you; they’re important to us.  At Muddy Paws Bath we’ll care for them like they’re our own.