Top tips for Pet First Aid

Dr Julia Mewes provides some top tips for Pet First Aid 

Guest blog by Dr Julia Mewes, Director for The Mewes Vets.

Would you know how to care for a pet that whose heart stopped beating?
If not, read on. Dr Julia Mewes MRCVS explains what your first actions should be in an emergency.


A good first principle for any first aid situation, whether the situation involves people or animals is not to panic, and remember the pneumonic DRS ABC (doctor’s A.B.C.). If you follow this, you will be doing the right things in the right order.

D The D is for Danger.

Before you rush in to help, take a moment to consider any potential danger to yourself and other bystanders. For example:
– A pet has been run over on the road.
Check the traffic before stepping into the road to assist, and ensure anyone around you does the same, especially children.
– A puppy has chewed some electric cable. There has been a loud bang and all the electrics have gone out, and the puppy is lying in a heap with the cable still in its mouth. Turn off the electricity supply before you touch the puppy, or if this is not possible, manoeuvre the cable out of the pup’s mouth using a non metallic broom handle, before checking for a heartbeat.
– Your dog has fallen through some ice over the reservoir.

You want to rush over to pull her out, but who is going to pull you out?

R The R is for Response.

Even as you are approaching the situation, and assessing for danger, your eyes will also be giving you clues about your pet’s status. You can also use your voice, speaking to them.

You are looking for a response from the cat or dog, that lets you know they are conscious, or Responsive. An unconscious pet might need cardiac and / or pulmonary resuscitation, but a conscious one must have a heartbeat and be breathing to be awake, so you can skip your ABC and go straight on to checking for other injuries.

A conscious pet may be lifting its head, or limping towards you. It might only be able to twitch an ear, move the tip of its tail, or turn its eyes towards you, but all these indicate it is responsive, and so does not need CPR.

A useful trick is to puff a little air out of your mouth onto their eye. If they blink, they are awake. If not, check for a heartbeat.

S The S is to Send for help.

If there is a second pair of hands with you, get them phoning or shouting for help. The most effective way to get public support is to shout ‘FIRE!’, then explain what you need once help arrives. All vets offer a 24 hour emergency service, you just need to search ‘vet near me’, if you have internet connection to get the number.

A The A is for airway.

If your assessment makes you think that a pet is unconscious, then you need to know whether they are breathing and have a heartbeat.
Without moving them at all, but still speaking to them, get down beside them and look along their chest, with your ear next to their mouth. If they are breathing you will see the chest move up and down; feel the breath puff gently onto the skin of your ear and hear the exhalation.

Do not rest your hand on their chest. This might reduce the amount of air they can inhale.

Then move your ear to the ribcage, low down near the breast bone. Don’t rest the weight of your head onto their chest, just gently touch your ear to their fur. The heart beat should be clearly audible. If not, start CPR – see below.

At this point, the risk of death is higher than the risk of a spinal injury, so you can move them, to try to keep them alive.

Gently stretch the neck and chin out away from the chest, and, if possible, arrange the head below the throat, which you move to be below the chest. This will encourage the tongue to fall out of the mouth, and hopefully anything blocking the airway too.

You may need to place the pet’s body onto a sofa or some other elevated place to achieve this.

Never put your fingers inside even an unconscious pet’s mouth. If the pet is small enough, and you think there is something in its throat, it would be acceptable to hang it head down over your shoulder or in your arms to relieve it.

B The B is for Breathing.

To send some air into your unconscious pet’s lungs, start by creating an airtight seal around its lips and mouth with your hands. Then blow out of your mouth into its two nostrils.

Use an amount of air that you can see causes its ribs to rise, but certainly not your whole exhalation unless you are resuscitating a Great Dane! Work in proportion to the size of the chest. Provide two exhalations then move to giving thirty chest compressions.

If there is a lot of blood, or you cannot bring yourself to put your mouth to the injured pet’s face, you can skip this step. There is evidence to show that cardiac massage on its own does move oxygen into the chest.

C The C is for circulation.

If you cannot hear a heartbeat, and the pet is unresponsive, it is probably reasonable to attempt cardiac massage.
Move the pet onto one side or the other. You cannot do this with it on its front or on its back.

Wedge its spine up against something that will not move. Then place one hand on either side of its ribs, low down near the breast bone, and in the front half of the rib area, almost nearing the ‘armpit’. The heart does not lie right in the middle if the chest, but in the lower and front end of the ribcage.

Brace your lower hand to prevent the ribcage simply dipping down, and use your upper hand to compress the ribs towards your lower hand. Attempt to compress by about one third of the depth of the chest.

You are aiming to provide two compression per second, ie 120 beats per minute. Count to 30 at this rate, then give two breaths and resume chest compressions.

At intervals stop and listen for a spontaneous heart beat, and keep your eyes open for a return of consciousness.

Would you know how to care for a pet that got electrocuted, or had an epileptic fit?

If not, read on. Dr Julia Mewes MRCVS offers her top tips for pet first aid.

Epileptic fit
Seeing a pet experiencing its first ever fit can be very frightening. Should it happen, here is what I advise pet owners to do:

1. Note the time.

2. Quietly move anything breakable away from your pet, and place cushions to breaks its fall, if it is not already on the floor.

3. Turn off the TV, radio and computers, dim the room and reduce the noise. If necessary, send anyone who is panicking out.

4. Do not touch the pet, but if you can, speak quietly and calmly to it. Avoid calling out for a response.

5. Check the time again. Most fits are visibly finishing within two minutes. If not, start phoning the emergency vet for further advice.

6. If the jerky movements are slowing down, and your pet is starting to try to right itself, keep the room calm, dark and quiet. Allow them to recover at their own speed. Record the fit, what the pet was doing before it started, and how long it lasted, and report to your own vet the next working day by phone.

7. It may take 30 to 40 minutes for them to be fully back to themselves. This is completely normal. Make sure to keep them in a quiet room for the next few hours, and skip their exercise for that day.

Bite wounds
Most pets get wounds at various times in their lives. If you notice some bleeding or a cut I suggest that you

1. Try to trim the fur away from it as gently as you can. Your goal is to find all the damage in every direction. If you know it was a bite wound, there may be four holes, one for each canine tooth of the aggressor. Try to locate all four, and trim away the fur.

2. If your pet is still co-operating, next you should gently disinfect the wound. You could ask your vet for some pet safe skin disinfectant for your pet medicine cabinet, but in an emergency some liquid disinfectant suitable for your skin added to luke warm water is fine, or even just the water from your water bottle if you are out and about.

Lavage is best done as soon as possible after the wound is noticed. Use plenty of water like watering a plant.

3. If the wound is over the chest and you hear a sucking noise, combined with the pet struggling to breathe, place your hand over the wound and get to the vets at once. This could be a penetration of the chest causing a collapsed lung.

4. If the wound is large it may need stitches.

5. If it is very dirty or deep it may need antibiotics.

6. If it is more of an ulcer than a cut on your dog, get it checked at once in case of Alabama Rot, which kills in days.

7. If there is a foreign body such as a stick penetrating into your pet’s body, do not draw it out! Leave it in place, as it may be the only thing preventing internal bleeding or a lung from collapsing.

8. If the wound won’t stop bleeding, apply direct pressure for 2 minutes for slow bleeding, 5 minutes for pumping haemorrhage. If this does not help, place a bandage firmly but not over-tight over it, and get to the nearest vets briskly.

It is generally young animals that chew through electrical cables and electrocute themselves.
Some just get a small shock, and recover without assistance.

If a large amount of current goes through the cable, then there may be a bang, the lights go off and your pet collapses. There is usually a tell-tale stink of burnt fur.

The priority here is DO NOT TOUCH!

If you rush to help your pet, as soon as you touch it you are at risk of also receiving a similar shock. Instead, turn off the electricity at the fuse. Then stand on something like a wooden crate, whilst pushing the wire well away from the pet’s mouth with a non-metallic pole.

Only then can you safely touch the pet to check for a heartbeat and begin CPR, if required.

Heat stroke
Everyone knows to protect pets from overheating, and to cool them if it should happen.

But a common mistake is to go on cooling well past a safe point and to bring on hypothermia, which is almost worse.

If you don’t know how to take a pet’s temperature, then start the cooling process, and offer a cool drink, but then transfer to the vets. If you do, then stop cooling when the temperature is one degree above normal, ie 39.5 degrees C. This will continue to go down naturally.

Good ways to cool a pet are to bathe its paws, belly and ears in cool water or surgical spirit. Avoid total immersion as this will result in cooling too fast.

Should your pet eat something it shouldn’t you need to act fast. You can research online whether it is serious or not.

There are excellent chocolate toxicity calculators. You fill in the weight of your dog, what kind of chocolate it has eaten and how much, and the calculator will tell you whether it has taken a fatal amount. If you react fast (within one hour, ideally) your vet can make the pet vomit the chocolate back, and all will be well.

For other substances there is an excellent service provided by the Animal Poison Line. You will be charged for its services, but it may save you the cost and trouble of an emergency visit to the vet. Alternatively vets also have access to this service, and can call for advice over the phone on your behalf. My clinic charges a fee for this service. It means that we can have the correct equipment ready to help when you arrive with the pet, or reassure you if no action is required.

About the author:
Dr Mewes is Director of The Mewes Vets Ltd, an independent veterinary clinic in Haywards Heath. A veterinary surgeon with 30 years experience, she was the brains behind the concept of teaching pet first aid to pet owners and those that work with animals.

To find out more about The Mewes Learning Academy’s pet first aid courses, email: or go to