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In Case of Emergency

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Some tips on what to do – and what to have – if your pet suddenly becomes sick or is injured

By Barbara Jarvie Castiglia

Accidents happen. Emergencies occur. Life is filled with them and, unfortunately, they sometimes affect our pets. Your beloved companions can take nasty tumbles or choke on household items. In some situations, quick action on an owner’s part can mean the difference between life and death. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), 25 percent more pets would survive if just a single pet first-aid technique was applied prior to getting emergency veterinary care.

Examples of the most common pet accidents are toxic ingestion, dog bites, high-rise syndrome or cats falling from higher than two stories, according to Pet Sitters International (PSI), a King, N.C.-based educational association for professional pet sitters. Other common injuries include ripped toenails, foreign body ingestions with gastrointestinal problems, eye emergencies, broken bones, trouble giving birth and being hit by a car.

Most pet accidents happen in or nearby the home so it’s important for pet owners to learn some pet first-aid techniques. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), never assume that even the gentlest pet will not bite or scratch if injured. Pain and fear can make animals unpredictable or even dangerous. In other words, you should not attempt to hug an injured pet, and always keep your face away from its mouth.  Perform any examination slowly and gently. Stop if the animal becomes more agitated.

Most homeowners have first-aid kits on hand ready to handle simple injuries like cuts and burns, and the same should be true for their feline and canine counterparts. Dr. Emily Pointer, DVM, at Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, says it is critical for owners to be prepared. “An emergency situation can be handled much faster and more appropriately if an owner has resources like a first-aid kit and list of important phone numbers – veterinarian, emergency animal hospital and poison control – easily accessible.” Pointer says that a good way to become prepared for emergencies is to be proactive and think about the most common accidents and then figure out how to prevent them.

First aid, however, is not a replacement for prompt veterinary care. “Even after a pet owner has administered first aid, it is extremely important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible,” says Pointer. “There are many, many emergencies that cannot be managed, even in the initial period, with simple first aid.” She adds that it’s crucial for pet owners to remain calm because panicking will only stress the injured animal.

The AVMA provides additional first-aid techniques at its website, And for more info about PSI, visit

Pet First-Aid Checklist

  • Sterile gauze pads
  • First-aid adhesive tape, Cotton swabs/applicators
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Plastic freezer/sandwich bags
  • Small bottle of 3 percent  hydrogen peroxide
  • Styptic pencil or cornstarch  (stems blood flow from minor cuts)
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Antiseptic cleansing wipes
  • A current pet first-aid book
  • Sterile eye/skin wash
  • Eyedropper
  • Digital or rectal thermometer in a plastic case
  • Leather work gloves
  • Latex gloves
  • Leash
  • Thin rope
  • Burn Gel
  • Instant cold pack
  • Blanket
  • Lubricating jelly
  • Oral syringes
  • Tick remover
  • Bandages (cohesive and plastic)
  • Safety pins
  • Hand-cleansing wipes
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Sting relief wipes
  • Splint materials (tongue depressor, 12-inch wooden ruler or thick magazine)

Source: Pet Sitters International

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