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  • Writer's pictureDr. Keaton Massie

Emergency First Aid for Dogs

by Dr. Keaton Massie, DVM Massie Veterinary Services

Dr. Massie examining a dog in the field for heatstroke.

Dogs are faithful companions and an integral part of many families. Just like humans, they sometimes experience unexpected injuries or illnesses that require immediate medical attention.

Dog first aid is a crucial part of managing these emergencies until a veterinarian can be seen. It involves recognizing symptoms, providing appropriate care, and stabilizing the animal to prevent further harm. However, It's important to remember that while emergency first aid can be life-saving, it's not a substitute for veterinary care. So, always seek professional help as soon as possible.

When Veterinary Care is Essential

Some dog wounds can be treated at home, but others need prompt veterinary attention. Situations that need immediate veterinary care include:

  • Animal bites - These very commonly develop nasty infections.

  • Dogs exhibiting rapid/shallow breathing.

  • Severe bleeding

  • Wounds with foreign material

  • Injuries around eyes or head

These injuries may indicate life-threatening conditions and dogs should be taken to an emergency room immediately.

You should also watch for signs like increased aggression, behavior changes, a lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, obsessive licking of a specific area, limping or difficulty moving, etc. Most times, these signs are transient and do not indicate an emergency. If these symptoms persist however, you should contact your veterinarian.

First Aid Kit

Having a pet first aid kit and some basic knowledge is essential for handling minor injuries to your dog. Your dog’s first aid kit should include items like gauze, adhesive tape, scissors, tweezers, bandages, and a pet antiseptic solution. It’s also a good idea to have a muzzle in place for whenever it’s needed. Keep these items readily available to ensure you are prepared for any unexpected accidents.

What to do in a Dog Emergency

The first aid option for your dog depends on the type of injury. Here are common injuries and what you should do until reaching your veterinarian.

Falls and accidents

One of the biggest risks from blunt trauma like falls and accidents is the potential for internal injuries or fractures that may not be visible. Look out for symptoms like fatigue, heavy panting, coughing, nose bleeding, weak and rapid breathing, or pale gums; call the veterinarian immediately.

If you suspect your dog has a broken bone, do not attempt to splint the injury as it may cause pain and worsen the injury. Instead, transport your dog to the vet in a well-padded carrier and keep them from moving as much as possible.


Cuts and wounds are common injuries for dogs. Both minor and major cuts can bleed significantly, causing great concern when initially seen, especially minor ones in the mouth, on the paw pads or on the face. To treat cuts, first, rinse the wound with clean water to remove any debris, then apply pressure using a bandage, gauze, or clean towel to stop the bleeding.

If there is severe bleeding on the legs, use a tourniquet (made of an elastic band or gauze) above the wound, apply pressure with a bandage, and loosen the tourniquet every 15-20 minutes for 20 seconds. Seek veterinary care immediately as severe bleeding can be life-threatening.

For head injuries, be careful not to apply pressure around the head, as this may restrict breathing. In cases of continuous bleeding or deep cuts, seek immediate veterinary attention, as these wounds require stitches to heal properly.


In most cases, burns on dogs are caused by hot surfaces in the kitchen; however these can occur from walks on hot pavement as well. Immediately rinse the surface with cold water for at least 5 minutes, then apply sugar to the area. Contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Avoid using any creams or ointments unless instructed to do so by the vet, as these can make cleaning and assessing the burn difficult.


This is another serious concern for dogs. Generally, whatever is poisonous for humans is also poisonous for dogs. However, substances like garlic, onions, chocolate, and xylitol-containing foods(such as chewing gum and some peanut butters) are also toxic for dogs. If you suspect your dog has ingested something toxic, contact ASPCA Poison Control at (888) 426-4435, and seek veterinary care immediately. Do not induce vomiting in your dog unless instructed by a veterinarian.

If your pet has vomited or chewed any material, gather it along with the toxic substance and its packaging to bring to the veterinarian to review.

Eye injuries

Flush the eye repeatedly with water and ensure your dog doesn’t rub the eye with its paws. Place an E-collar on your pet if you have one available. Seek veterinary care immediately. Do not put any medication in the eye nor try to remove any material penetrating any area of the eye.


Heatstroke is a serious condition. Most commonly occurs going for walks/hikes or playing outside on a hot day. Symptoms include heavy panting, lethargy, and a high body temperature. If you suspect that your dog has heatstroke, immediately move them to a cooler place and out of direct sunlight, provide water to drink. If available, place a fan over the pads of their feet. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Do not cover the animal with anything nor dunk them in water. Avoid using ice or ice water because this may drop the temperature too quickly and cause additional complications.


If your dog is choking and unable to breathe, check its mouth for any visible objects lodged there. If you cannot remove the object easily, call a veterinarian immediately. Do not try to stick your hand down their throat, as you may end up pushing the object further down, or getting bitten.


If your dog is having a seizure, do not try to restrain them. As they can bite you accidentally. Document the duration of the seizure, the frequency, the date and anything that occurred during it. Any seizure activity is an indication to contact your veterinarian.

Check out my comprehensive list of when to go straight to the ER to be better informed on this. Remember, if unsure, it's always best to err on the side of caution and take your dog to the vet.

Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. If you are ever in doubt about what to do in an emergency, always consult with a veterinarian.

Reach out to me below if you need further information on emergency first aid for dogs. I’d love to hear from you.

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