Practical First Aid For Your Pet

What is “first aid”? First aid refers to techniques or measures rendered by “first responders” to an accident or illness. First aid measures may correct an existing problem or offer protection, support or comfort to the patient while definitive care is sought out.

Dr. Davis’s motto: “Dogs are not little people and cats are not little dogs.” First aid measures, particularly drugs or medications, may be harmful to pets.

Always remember that medications designed for application to the skin of people is not formulated under the assumption that the user will swallow and/or lick the medication off. Many orally administered drugs that are relatively safe for humans may be highly toxic to pets. Good examples of these are ibuprofen in dogs and cats and acetaminophen (Tylenol) and aspirin in cats.

When in doubt … don’t!! Consultation with veterinarians is available 24 hours a day in the Fayetteville area. Always consult with a veterinarian BEFORE using human products on animals. Never use products labeled “dogs only” in cats.

  • Most Common Dog Emergencies

    Vomiting and diarrhea:

    Dogs are relatively indiscriminate about what they eat! This leads to frequent illnesses related to accidental or intentional ingestion (meaning the owner did it!) of foods or foreign objects that cause distress of the digestive system. Adding to this problem is the growing concern for bacterial contamination of food sources, the most common being Salmonella and E. coli. Digestive distress may also result from viral infections such as parvovirus, which is very prevalent in Cumberland County. If your dog is less than one year of age and unvaccinated, and develops vomiting or diarrhea, seek veterinary care immediately! If your pet has completed all of his or her puppy vaccines and recommended booster vaccines, then first aid measures may be appropriate if your pet is otherwise healthy.

    If your pet vomits one or more times in less than an hour, but the dog remains bright and alert and does not have diarrhea, it is most appropriate to withhold food and water for several hours to see if the dog’s nausea persists. After several hours, offer water to the pet. If the dog holds water down for at least an hour, then small amounts of food may be offered. Do not feed a normal sized meal! It is best to feed restricted amounts of food more frequently than to offer a large meal that provokes more vomiting. If the pet is unable to hold down water even after several hours of fasting, seek veterinary care.

    Adult dogs with diarrhea and no vomiting often respond to conservative management at home. First withhold at least one meal, while keeping water available to the pet. When feeding resumes, feed only one- third to one- half of the normal amount of an easily digested food, i.e. bland canned diet or dry dog food that has been moistened with water. If diarrhea becomes bloody, the pet becomes sluggish or if diarrhea persists beyond twenty-four hours, seek veterinary attention.

    If your dog develops both vomiting and diarrhea simultaneously, dehydration may occur very quickly. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Feeding of raw food diets is not recommended.

    If you know your pet has ingested a foreign object, consult with your veterinarian for advice. If you think your pet may have ingested a foreign object, and is vomiting and/or refusing to eat the patient should be examined and radiographs taken.

    Finally, remember that all dogs in our area should be on regularly administered heartworm prevention. Many heartworm preventives simultaneously aid in the control of intestinal parasites. Controlling intestinal parasites will eliminate a common cause of digestive distress.


    Wounds may result from dog fights or other trauma such as contact with sharp objects.

    All dog bites should be treated by wound cleaning and antibiotics. Dog fight wounds commonly become infected. If veterinary care is not feasible on an emergency basis, then hair surrounding the wound should be removed by shaving or careful cutting with scissors, and the wound cleaned with warm water or a dilute povidone iodine solution such as in women’s douche. Remember that puncture wounds are often the “tip of the iceberg”. Deep trauma may be much more extensive than the external trauma. Because of the chance of internal injury, little dogs attacked by larger dogs should receive immediate veterinary attention.

    Superficial abrasions do not require veterinary attention. Most lacerations that penetrate the full thickness of the skin should be examined by a veterinarian for possible wound closure. Feasibility of wound closure will depend on size and location of the wound, the age of the wound, and the presence or absence of gross infection.

    Never apply alcohol to an open wound! Similarly, do not apply styptic powders to open wounds. Many livestock wound care products are also inappropriate for use in dogs. Active wound bleeding should be controlled by pressure, preferably applied through bandaging. Do not apply tight bandages without seeking veterinary care immediately.

    Accidental ingestion of Known Toxic Substances or Drugs

    Seek veterinary consultation for all known toxic ingestions. If your own veterinarian or emergency veterinary consultation is not available, contact National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. Be prepared to have credit card information available for the contact with NAPCC. Vomiting may be induced with ½ ml per pound of body weight of hydrogen peroxide. However, it is important to understand that this does not always work and that with some toxins induction of vomiting is NOT recommended. Vomiting induction is only useful if the product was ingested within the preceding two hours. If hydrogen peroxide is ineffective, veterinarians often have more reliable medications to induce vomiting. If it has been more than 2 hours since the ingestion, contact your veterinarian. Never induce vomiting in a comatose or heavily drugged patient. Remember that some toxins have a delayed onset of action. Your pet may be asymptomatic and in danger of dying!

    The most common toxins in our practice include rodenticides (rat poisons), medications (human and canine), artificially sweetened gum or candy, illegal drugs, grapes, plants and pennies (yes, they are toxic!). The best cure for toxic ingestions is to keep purses, plants and medications out of the reach of pets. Crates and gates may be your dog’s best friend!

    Snake Bites

    Snake bites are common in the Fayetteville area and the most commonly encountered poisonous snake is the copperhead. The good news is that most animals suffering copperhead bites will live! Rare exceptions include disabled pets and very small pets that encounter large snakes. Another factor that may increase the likelihood of serious complications is the location of the bite as facial bites are common and more likely to result in injury or death. Remember that snake bites are painful, so veterinary attention is encouraged even with copperhead bites. Bites inflicted with water moccasins, coral snakes and especially rattlesnakes are much more likely to result in death or disability. Seek immediate veterinary care with known snake bites from these three snakes. Do not place a tourniquet on the leg or cut the skin following a bite.

    Broken bones

    All broken bones will require veterinary attention. Splinting should only be performed if the location of the fracture is obvious on physical inspection. Please remember that in order for a splint to be effective, it must immobilize the joint above and below the fracture. If your home applied splint fails to do this, please do not apply splints or bandages as you may only worsen the condition. Keep small puppies away from children! The most common cause of fractures in our practice is puppies that are dropped by small children. Home applied splints should only be used for short term purposes such as transport to the nearest veterinary hospital.

    Vehicular trauma

    Vehicular trauma is an important cause of death and/or permanent disability in our veterinary practice. Except in rare instances, all animals hit by motor vehicles should be examined and treated by trained veterinary personnel. Please let fences and common sense be your dog’s best friend!

    Heat Stroke

    Our veterinary practice treats several cases of heat stroke each year. Most of these are preventable. Never lock your pet in a car when outdoor temperatures exceed 60 degrees. Always provide shade and water to pets that are housed outdoors. Never use hot weather exercise to reduce the weight of an overweight dog, as overweight dogs are particularly predisposed to heat stroke. If you suspect heat stroke, bathe the animal in tepid water immediately, and then proceed to the nearest hospital veterinary hospital. Fatal complications may result from heat stroke hours to days after the inciting incident.

    Cardiac and Respiratory Emergencies

    Coughing may be a sign of respiratory disease or heart disease. Only diagnostic testing can differentiate between the two. Therefore, all coughing patients should undergo veterinary examination and diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the cough. Familiarize yourself with your pet’s normal breathing pattern. Alteration of the breathing pattern, i.e. heaving respirations, extreme and persistent panting, and shallow and rapid respirations should all be investigated. If your pet has previously been diagnosed with heart disease and worsening of the cough or alteration of the breathing pattern is noted seek immediate veterinary attention. If your pet has “fainting spells” seek veterinary care immediately. Since dogs cool off by breathing rather than by sweating, dogs with chronic or acute respiratory disease are highly predisposed to heat stroke. Never exercise a dog with chronic respiratory or cardiac disease particularly in hot weather.


    Common causes of seizures in dogs include inherited epilepsy, post traumatic epilepsy, brain tumors, metabolic disease and viral infections. All patients who seizure should undergo examination and diagnostic bloodwork. If your pet seizures, prevent harm by preventing falls particularly if the pet is on the furniture when the seizure occurs. If an observed seizure is less than five minutes and the animal returns to normal behavior within thirty minutes, emergency veterinary care may not be needed but the pet should see the veterinarian as soon as possible. If the seizure passes five minutes, or if one seizure is followed quickly by additional seizures, emergency veterinary care is recommended. Never place your hands in a seizing animal’s mouth!

  • Most Common Cat Emergencies

    Cat Fight Wounds and Abscesses

    Cats that are housed outdoors and cats living in multi-cat households frequently fight, resulting in wounds caused by claws or teeth. Virtually all cat fight wounds will become infected. Therefore, all cats with known fight wounds should be seen by a veterinarian. If the cat is eating and no swelling is noted, routine veterinary care is indicated. However, if the cat is not eating and if swelling is present, emergency care should be pursued. Remember that cat bite and scratch wounds are a common source of infection with the feline leukemia (FLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Therefore, all cats that are not valued breeding animals should be spayed or neutered to decrease fighting and roaming. Outdoor cats should be tested annually for both FLV and FIV. Indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats in part due to infectious disease exposure and because they are less likely to undergo trauma.

    Digestive Emergencies

    Cats are much more discriminating than dogs about what they eat. In spite of that, we still see some digestive emergencies in cats. Cats are very attracted to string and twine and therefore are predisposed to linear foreign bodies. String, twine, yarn and Christmas tinsel should be kept out of reach of cats. If the cat is known to have ingested linear material, veterinary care should be sought out. Persistent or frequent vomiting and diarrhea in cats, particularly if accompanied by weight loss, should always be investigated.


    The most common cause of poisoning in cats is intentional or accidental application of dog flea and tick products to cats. If a dog exclusive product is accidentally applied to the cat, first bathe the cat in dishwashing detergent as quickly as possible. If the cat is showing signs of toxicity, proceed to the nearest treating veterinary facility after bathing the cat.

    Another common cause of toxicity is the ingestion of toxic or irritating plants. Investigate the toxicity of all indoor plants when you have cats living in the home. Common indoor plant poisons include philodendrons and Easter lilies.

    Cats are also more frequently the victims of intentional poisoning by people who do not welcome cats wandering onto their property. Please remember that not all neighbors welcome visitations by wandering cats.

    Traumatic Wounds

    Similar to dogs but cats are much harder to treat than dogs in the home setting. Often, wound care must be done with chemical sedation or anesthesia at the veterinary hospital.

    Vehicular Trauma and Dog Attack Trauma

    These are frequent causes of severe life-threatening trauma particularly in outdoor cats. All cats that are hit by cars or attacked by dogs should receive emergency veterinary care. Prevent such trauma by housing cats indoors and always transporting cats in pet carriers.

    Urinary Emergencies

    Cats are uniquely predisposed to urinary emergencies to include cystitis and lower urinary tract obstructions. Recent studies reveal that feeding dry cat foods and social stressors, i.e. interactions with other household cats, children, or dogs, increase the frequency of urinary disease in the cat. Cats that are straining to urinate and not producing urine should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Often, these cats will refuse food and may be vomiting. Cats that are straining to urinate, but are producing urine and still eating may be treated more routinely, even if blood is noted in the urine. Creating a cat friendly household by providing more and larger litter boxes and providing ample perches and raised hiding places will ease the social stresses placed on indoor cats.

    Feline Viral Respiratory Disease

    Many kittens and young cats are exposed to viral respiratory disease by their mothers or by crowded conditions in catteries or animal shelters. Seventy-five percent of cats exposed to viral respiratory disease as kittens, become lifetime carriers of the infection. Young kittens should be examined immediately if they are showing signs of respiratory disease to include nasal and ocular discharge and sneezing. Older vaccinated cats may require treatment only if the discharges turn yellow or if the cat exhibits fever or loss of appetite. Unvaccinated older cats should be tested for FLV and FIV and treated according to the seriousness of the infection.

    Cardiovascular Disease

    Cats manifest cardiovascular disease similarly to dogs, often by coughing or changes in breathing pattern. More unique to the cat with heart disease is the development of blood clots to the hind legs caused by blood clots in the terminal aorta. Cats with aortic thromboembolism exhibit paralysis of the rear legs, often with blue discoloration of the footpads to the rear feet. Most cats with aortic thromboembolism will be extremely painful and often will exhibit distressed breathing. Cats with suspected blood clots should be seen and treated immediately.

    Feline Asthma

    Signs of feline asthma include rapid shallow respirations and cough. Diagnostic testing is often needed to differentiate the feline asthma cat from the cat with heart disease. Any cat showing distressed respirations or an altered breathing pattern should be examined immediately by a veterinarian.


    Unlike dogs, cats rarely exhibit epilepsy in the true sense of the word. All cats that seizure or show abnormal mental behavior should undergo diagnostic screening for viral, metabolic, cancerous or parasitic disease. Cats are a common source of rabies exposure to humans. CATS DISPLAYING SEIZURES OR OTHER ABNORMAL MENTAL BEHAVIOR WITH UNKNOWN VACCINE HISTORY SHOULD BE HANDLED WITH EXTREME CAUTION TO PREVENT ACCIDENTAL HUMAN RABIES EXPOSURE!