8 Things to Know About Dog First Aid

We hope your dog continues to be happy and healthy, but accidents happen. These are the first aid basics every dog owner should know.

Oct 31, 2023By Amanda Takiguchi, Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine
things to know about dog first aid

Your home is likely stocked with a human first aid kit or at the very least, some bandages and ibuprofen. But what about first aid for your dog? If you are concerned about your dog’s health, consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. There is no substitute for veterinary care but these basic first aid tips may give your dog the best chance of survival until they see a veterinarian.

Come Up with an Emergency Plan

border collie stethoscope

Coming up with a plan ahead of time will reduce unnecessary stress and could mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

First, confirm the hours of your primary veterinarian. If your primary veterinarian is not open 24/7, find the closest 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital.

Veterinary care, especially for life-threatening emergencies, can be costly. Therefore, it may be beneficial to look into pet health insurance options before your dog encounters a medical issue. Pet insurance can offer financial support without sacrificing the standard of care.

What NOT to Do

sick dog ice pack

If you are worried about your dog, seek immediate veterinary care. Inappropriate pet first aid at home can cause more harm than good or even be fatal.

Do not administer human medications to your dog as these are often toxic. Only administer medications exactly as prescribed by your veterinarian; do not adjust the dose of a medication without consulting your veterinarian first.

If your dog sustains blunt force trauma, such as being hit by a vehicle or falling from an elevated surface, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Even if your dog seems stable immediately after the accident, it does not mean they are out of the woods. Blunt force trauma can take time to fully reveal itself. For example, pulmonary contusions, or bruising of the lungs, can worsen 24 to 48 hours following blunt force trauma.

Poisoning: Types and Signs of Common Pet Poisons

dog eating chocolate

According to Pet Poison Helpline, the top 10 dog poisons owners call about are chocolate, mouse, and rat poisons (aka rodenticides), anti-inflammatory medications (aka NSAID’s such as Advil), xylitol (e.g. sugar-free gum), grapes and raisins, anti-depressant medications, acetaminophen (aka Tylenol), vitamin D overdose, stimulant medications (i.e. for ADD/ADHD), and fertilizers. All household members should be aware of these common pet poisons and poison-proofing your home is ideal. Note that certain pet poisons are more common during different times of the year based on holidays and seasonal environmental changes.

maltese poisonous food

If you believe your dog has ingested a poison, contact your veterinarian immediately. If possible, call the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) while you are taking your dog to the veterinarian. The Pet Poison Helpline is available 24/7 and allows you to speak with an expert to determine the best recommendations from a toxicologist based on the type, dose, and clinical signs of the poison. There is a $75 fee associated with this service, but many veterinarians will recommend that you call the Pet Poison Helpline regardless. Therefore, you may save valuable time by starting this process before you arrive at the vet.


dog lying bed

Seizures are due to abnormal brain activity. Seizures can manifest in a variety of ways but commonly look like uncontrolled body movements or convulsions. Dogs may also lose control of their bladder and bowels.

If your dog has a seizure, try to protect them from injuring themselves. This may consist of moving furniture and ensuring they cannot fall. Do not restrain your dog as they will not be able to voluntarily control their movements - we do not want you to get bitten. Separate other pets since dogs may be disoriented following a seizure and may act abnormally towards other animals.

Watching your dog have a seizure can be a traumatic experience. However, if possible, videotape the seizure or at least time it, as this will help your veterinarian guide diagnostic and treatment recommendations. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible, especially if the seizure does not stop on its own after three minutes.

Acute Lameness or Limping

puppy broken leg cast

Is your dog limping following a traumatic event or a rough doggy playdate?

Acute lameness warrants a visit to your veterinarian to rule out a fractured bone or dislocated joint, as this often requires timely orthopedic surgical correction. An open fracture, where the bone is exposed to air via an open wound, is especially time-sensitive since the risk for infection is high.

A limping dog is a dog in pain. Thus, use caution when transporting your dog to the veterinarian and take precautions if necessary to keep yourself safe.


labrador leg bandage

Bleeding can be obvious, as with external bleeding from wounds. Internal bleeding is harder to detect but often manifests as pale gums, cool extremities, and lethargy. Significant blood loss can result in shock, which is life-threatening. If you are concerned that your dog is experiencing external or internal bleeding, seek immediate veterinary care.

Techniques to stop external bleeding while you are on the way to your veterinarian include direct pressure, elevation, or a tourniquet. Bandages should only be applied by a veterinarian. Inappropriate at-home bandaging complications can be disastrous and include infection, compromised blood flow, and resultant tissue death.

Difficulty Breathing

poodle oxygen mask

Signs of difficulty breathing in your dog include noisy breathing, increased breathing rate or effort, or blue gums in severe respiratory distress. Difficulty breathing requires immediate veterinary attention.

It is important to reduce stress as this will exacerbate the issue. Do your best to keep you and your dog calm. Excessive heat can also worsen breathing issues, so it is important to keep your dog in a cool environment.


husky fan

Your dog’s temperature can become abnormally elevated for multiple reasons, including seizures and poisoning. But heatstroke, associated with body temperatures greater than 105ºF, is caused by environmental conditions such as leaving a dog in a car. Early signs of heatstroke include increased breathing rate and effort, dry or bright red gums, and increased heart rate.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from heatstroke, put them in a cool and shady area. Direct a fan towards your dog and place cool, wet towels over their belly, paws, and ear flaps. If possible, monitor your dog’s rectal temperature to avoid overcooling your dog, as this comes with its own issues. Stop active cooling (remove the fan and wet towels) once your dog’s rectal temperature is 103ºF. It is important to take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible because heatstroke can be life-threatening and is best managed by a veterinarian.

While we hope you never need to employ dog first aid, we hope these basic first aid tips help you and your fur baby feel more prepared.

Amanda Takiguchi
By Amanda TakiguchiDoctorate of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Amanda Takiguchi is a veterinarian and obtained her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine degree at Colorado State University. She has always loved animals of all shapes and sizes and has a Cairn Terrier mix, Benny, as her canine companion. She is excited to contribute to PetMojo as an advocate for animal health and well-being!