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Shetland Sheepdog getting its leg bandaged by its owner in the bathroom.
Joerg Huettenhoelscher /

March is Red Cross month, the perfect time to refresh your pet first aid skills. As a breeder you probably already have good first aid knowledge, but it’s a good idea to brush up every so often and to review what is in your first aid kit. In the heat of an emergency, even the most experienced owners can lose composure and forget what to do. Below are some tips to follow that will help you stay calm and better able to do the right things.

Stay Calm:

A dog will sense your anxiety, so try to remain calm and focused.

Assess the Situation:

Ensure your own safety first. If the situation is dangerous, move yourself and the dog to safety.

Muzzle Your Dog:

Even a normally friendly dog may bite when in pain. A muzzle should be part of your first aid kit. If you need to use a makeshift muzzle, say a bandage, cloth, or even a leash, be careful not to obstruct the dog’s ability to breathe.

Check Breathing and Airway:

Ensure the dog is breathing. If not, perform artificial respiration.

Check Circulation:

Check for a pulse by feeling the femoral artery inside the hind leg. If there’s no pulse, perform CPR if necessary.

Control Bleeding:

External bleeding requires immediate attention, so press down firmly on the area with your fingers or the palm of your hand and then apply a firm, but not tight, bandage. Don’t worry about cleaning out the wound until the bleeding has stopped. Take the dog to the veterinarian as quickly as possible. Antibiotics may be needed to stave off infection.

Handle Fractures:

Fractures require immediate attention. Dogs will hold a fractured or dislocated limb in an unnatural position; signs of a fracture often include lameness, pain, and swelling. The dog should be transported to the veterinarian with as little movement as possible. Do not use antiseptics or ointments on open fractures.

Treat Shock:

Keep the dog warm with a blanket and try to keep its head lower than its body. Do not give anything to eat or drink. Keep the dog warm and quiet, treat any visible injuries, and get to a veterinarian immediately.

Remove Foreign Objects:

If your dog is choking, try to remove any visible obstructions from the mouth using pliers or tweezers. Be careful not to push a foreign object further down.


With a rectal thermometer (in your first aid kit!), take your dog’s temperature. If the temperature is less than 105 degrees F, you should still consider this an emergency and immediately take your dog to your veterinarian. If the temperature is higher than 105 degrees F, try to cool the dog down, and after a few minutes, retake the temperature. Don’t reduce the temperature below 103 degrees F, because the temperature may descend to critical levels.

  • Walk or carry the dog to a well-ventilated, cool area.
  • Spray or sponge the dog with cool (not cold) or tepid water, especially on the underside. Do not immerse the animal in cold water.
  • Use a fan to blow cool air on the dog.

Read Heatstroke in Dogs to learn more about to help a dog in this situation.


If you suspect poisoning, contact your veterinarian or a poison control hotline immediately. Do not induce vomiting unless instructed by a professional.

For advice on whether and how to induce vomiting, read How to Make a Dog Throw Up

Transport Safely:

If your dog needs veterinary care, transport them to the vet carefully. Use a sturdy carrier or a flat surface if the dog is large.


Some items to include in your first aid kit:

  • Bandaging materials: Thick sterile pads, stretch bandages, and bandaging tape
  • Hydrogen peroxide (it doesn’t stay fresh forever; it should be replaced yearly and sooner if opened)
  • A soft muzzle
  • Collar and leash
  • Cold pack
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Hydrocortisone 1%
  • Magnifying glass
  • Small scissors
  • Tweezers (for bee stingers and splinters)
  • Disposable gloves
  • Cotton balls
  • Iodine swabs
  • Emergency numbers for your veterinarian and poison control
  • Collapsible water bowl
  • Aluminized thermal blanket
  • Tourniquet
  • Benadryl
  • Saline solution for eyes (can be the kind used for humans)


The American Red Cross offers Dog & Cat First Aid Online Training. This excellent course shows you how to handle any emergency, including pet CPR. Upon completion you will get a digital certification.

We all hope that we won’t ever have a medical emergency, but being prepared with some good basic first aid skills and supplies can make all the difference when it matters the most.