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Emergency Care Tips for your Pet

Veterinarians treating a cat with a pet insurance plan provided by the CFA Pet Healthcare Plan | Pet Health Insurance for Cats and Dogs Download an emergency information worksheet
(A handy guide to complete, print and keep in your home and car)

Pet Poison Helpline, 1-800-213-6680, a charge applies per incident

From the Barking Bulletin: Accidents - Are You Prepared?


Heat Stroke, Hyperthermia

Pets cannot tolerate high temperatures as well as people can and they rely on rapid breathing to exchange hot air for cool air. Pets' temperatures are higher than ours -- a cat and dog have an average temperature of 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common situations and features that can predispose a pet to overheating:

  1. Being left in a car in warm weather, even if the windows are left slightly open.
  2. Having a muzzle on while a pet is being groomed, and/or leaving the muzzle on while a pet is put in a drying cage.
  3. Short-nosed breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, boxers and Persian cats.
  4. Any pet with an airway disease.
  5. Being confined outside without shade or an adequate supply of fresh water.

Suggested treatment when this condition occurs:

  1. Mild hyperthermia can sometimes be treated by simply removing a pet from the situation and/or environment where overheating has occurred, and placing it in a cool place in the shade or in an air-conditioned room.
  2. If a pet is unsteady on its feet and you have moved it to a cooler location, you can start cooling it by placing cool water on the feet. Rubbing alcohol on the skin of your pet's stomach (with a fan blowing on the pet) can also aid in cooling.
  3. While these steps are in progress, have someone call your veterinarian so that they can determine if you should bring your pet in for treatment.

Note: it is very dangerous to cool an overheated pet too quickly. Never put a pet in an ice bath, or use ice cold water, unless under the direct supervision of your veterinarian. Cool water is best.

The most common sign of hyperthermia is restlessness and agitation, with vigorous panting. A pet's saliva may be thick, and the gums and tongue may be bright red. Depending on the severity of the hyperthermia, the gums can also be very pale and a pet may be lying down with its head, neck, and limbs extended and thick saliva coming from the mouth and nose.

Always call your veterinarian, even if the pet appears to have recovered from hyperthermia, after you have administered any of the treatments above. Your veterinarian may not want to see your pet if it has recovered, but it is always best for them to determine whether or not your pet needs to be examined.


Choking is caused by a foreign object being lodged in the pet's airway and adding pressure to the trachea or windpipe. To avoid a choking incident, always provide your pet with toys that are the appropriate size. Toys that are too small (relative to your pet's size) can be easily swallowed and become wedged in your pet's airway.

It's important to provide supervision when an edible treat is being chewed. Some treats that dogs enjoy, such as rawhide, cow hooves, and pig ears, can break off in pieces and may not be small enough for your pet to swallow completely.

Always remove strings, foil, and feathers from cat toys -- these items can be enjoyable to your cat but may potentially become caught in its throat or intestinal tract.

Indications of choking:

  1. Noisy and labored breathing sounds – your pet will have difficulty inhaling
  2. Pawing at the nose and mouth
  3. Gums may be white or blue
  4. Excessive drooling
  5. Unconsciousness

Determine if your pet's airway is able to be cleared by performing a finger swipe of the mouth -- this is accomplished by placing your finger on the side of the pet's mouth and sliding it down and toward the center of the throat. If no foreign object or substance is removed and your pet is still having breathing difficulties, contact your veterinarian for immediate instructions and care. Do not try and perform CPR or the Heimlich method unless instructed by your veterinarian.


A physical trauma can cause pets to suffer blood loss. Regardless of what caused the trauma to your pet, immediate attention to blood loss is required.

Apply gentle pressure to the bleeding; do not remove a cloth or bandage even if it becomes saturated, simply apply additional layers. The bandage can be held in place by bandage material if you need to free your hands. Elevation can be used to aid in stopping the bleeding, but try to continue applying direct pressure to the wound. Try to keep your pet calm, and contact your veterinarian immediately, or if the situation warrants it, begin transporting your pet to the veterinarian while controlling the bleeding.

The use of tourniquets can be dangerous and cause damage to the limb if applied incorrectly. A tourniquet should only be used if the pet is experiencing a life threatening situation, due to the amount of blood loss that is occurring from a limb or tail.

Snake Bites

The first thing you must do if you think your pet has been bitten by a snake is to stay calm. Do not add any additional excitement to the situation. Your pet will need to be examined to determine if and where the snake bite occurred, and there may be more than one location, so examine carefully. A constrictive bandage can be placed on the limb involved, above the bite. A bandage will need to fit firmly on the leg, but not too tightly.

If possible, try to identify the snake – you should attempt to determine the size, color, the shape of the head, and if there was a rattle at the end of the snake's tail. Do not risk injury to yourself in attempting to get this information.

Carry the pet to the vehicle or, if too large to carry, walk it slowly to your vehicle and go to the nearest veterinary hospital. (This may not be the hospital that you regularly use, but immediate care is required for a snake bite.) In the meantime, keep your pet as calm as possible.

Contact your veterinarian if you think a snake bite may have occurred, but you are unable to find the fang marks. Your veterinarian may want to examine your pet to ensure a bite mark was not accidentally overlooked.

Spider Bites

Veterinary treatment is required for any spider bite. Unfortunately, you will probably not know when your pet has received a spider bite. Spider bites can be painless when they occur. What you may see is a patch of skin where the hair has thinned; there may be a single hole visible, with skin discoloration around the hole. The skin may be a dark purple or black in color.

There might be lameness in the limb other than where the bite occurred, as well as fever and chills. Spider bites can be life threatening to you and your pets.

Research the area where you live to determine which poisonous spiders are prevalent, and always examine the areas where spiders like to build nests. Contact an exterminator to remove spiders from your home.

How to Move and Transport an Injured Pet

An injured pet is unpredictable, regardless of its personality. When pets are in pain, they react instinctively and unpredictably and cannot be held responsible for their actions.

Always take precautions to protect yourself, and your pet, from further injury when transporting to the veterinarian. An emergency muzzle can be made from a neck tie, silk stocking, a section of linen fabric, or other strong material. Using the middle of the material, make a loop and place it around your pet's muzzle. Bring the ends under the chin and tie snuggly around the back of the head under the ears.

If your pet is unable to walk, or you have determined that walking may cause further injury or damage, a blanket can be used as a transport device. Gently lift the pet onto the blanket, and grip the edges of the blanket to lift and place the pet in the vehicle. Covering your pet is important to prevent heat loss and can create a calming effect.

Smaller pets can be transported in a carrier or a box (with holes large enough for air to allow for adequate breathing) with a lid. Try to minimize the amount of movement, and make your pet as comfortable as possible. Always try to contact your veterinarian, in advance, to share as many details as possible, and the estimated time that you will arrive at the clinic.

Please note: You must not rely on the information from on this page as an alternative to medical advice from your veterinarian.