First Aid for Dogs: How to save your dog’s life in an emergency

First Aid for Dogs: How to save your dog’s life in an emergency

While no one wants to consider the possibility of their canine companion being injured or unwell, it’s important to be prepared for the possibility. This means knowing in advance how to respond in an emergency and having the right equipment ready.

What is first aid?

First aid describes basic treatment given in an emergency in order to save a life, reduce pain and minimise future or ongoing harm. It’s important to be aware that you are only allowed to give basic treatment and only in an emergency. Only members of the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) can medically or surgically treat animals.

Preparing for emergencies

As with most things in life, preparation is key! It’s important to stay calm and in control in an emergency. This is much easier if you know in advance how to act.

Buy, or put together, a dog first aid kit

A first aid kit for dogs should include:

- Bandages: some cohesive bandage (meaning it sticks to itself) and some open weave/conforming bandage

- Sterile wound dressings and/or spray on plaster

- Surgical tape – to secure dressings or bandages in place

- Disinfectant wipes

- Saline pods – for cleaning a wound

- Antibacterial spray or cream

- Sterile eye wash – in case of dust or irritation from soap or other chemicals

- Cotton pads / swabs

- A thermometer – to check for heat stroke, fever or cold exposure/shock

- A foil blanket – to use if your dog is collapsed, in shock or too cold

- An instant cool pack – to use on bumps to prevent swelling and help the pain

- Curved round-ended scissors – to safely cut bandage material

- Latex or rubber gloves

- Tweezers – for removing splinters or bee/wasp stings

- A muzzle – for your safety

- Your vet’s phone number, including the emergency out-of-hours number.

Attend a first aid course

Reading about giving CPR online and actually giving it are two very different things! There is no substitute for seeing CPR performed during a first aid course, either in person or via videos online. You may even get to practice on a dummy!

How to deal with common canine emergencies

All dog owners should be aware of potentially lifesaving measures they can take in an emergency. With any emergency the first steps should be:

  1. Make sure everyone is safe: First ensure people are safe, out of the road or out of harm’s way. Never attempt first aid if you may be bitten. Even the most loving dog can become aggressive when they are in pain. If you can do so safely, you can apply a muzzle or wrap some bandage around the nose, tying it at the back of the neck. Of course, this is not appropriate if your dog is struggling to breathe.


  1. Call your vet: Your vet will be able to offer specific first aid advice over the phone and prepare for your arrival. They may advise you not to attempt first aid, but to head straight to the clinic.


  1. Administer first aid, if your vet instructs you to, following their instructions.


  1. Take the dog to your vet, or the nearest vet or emergency clinic in a true emergency.


Of course, it’s equally important to know what you should not do! You should never give any human drugs to your pet, including pain relief, unless instructed to do so by your vet. Some human drugs are very harmful to pets. You should also never put yourself in danger, for example by attempting to rescue a dog in trouble in the water, or by intervening in a dog fight.

While of course, this doesn’t replace an in-depth first aid course, nor your vet’s specific advice in an emergency, here’s some general advice on how to deal with some of the most common emergencies in dogs:



Keep your dog as still and calm as possible. Apply firm pressure on the wound using a sterile swab/dressing, or some clean cloth. Keep the pressure on until the bleeding stops, or until you arrive at the vet (have someone else drive you if possible, so that you can continue applying pressure during transit).

If it’s an area you can bandage, you can place an evenly distributed layer of cotton wool or swabs, followed by an open weave bandage, and then a cohesive bandage. Your bandage should only be used to stop the bleeding while you transport your dog to a vet, and should never be left on for long.

Broken bones

You should never try to splint or bandage a broken bone, as this is very painful and you are likely to cause more damage. Keep your pet as still and calm as possible while you transport them to a vet. Carry them in an open-top box or on a makeshift stretcher if possible (such as the car’s parcel shelf if it’s sturdy enough).


If it is safe to do so, you may be able to remove the object from your dog’s mouth. Be careful not to push it further in though! If the object is large, like a ball, you may be able to push inwards and forwards from the outside of the neck to dislodge it. Get to your vet as quickly as possible. If your dog cannot breathe at all, is collapsed or has blue lips, then you will try laying your dog on their side and pushing firmly in their tummy area, behind the last rib.


Move your pet to safety and run cool water on the area. Ring your vet as you continue to do so.

Heat stroke

Move your pet somewhere cool and use fans, air conditioning and/or cool water to cool them down.

Ingestion of a poison, or non-food item (eating a foreign object)

Check your animal is not choking. Never try to make them sick at home, as some things can be more harmful on the way back up. Call your vet immediately, with the details of what they have eaten.


Ensure the area around your dog is clear, so they cannot harm themselves. Do not try to hold your dog, or their tongue- this is not necessary. Stay calm and quiet. If you can, take a video and time the seizure, to show your vet. If the seizure is not stopping after 2 minutes, you will need to take them to your vet straight away.



Collapse has many possible causes in a dog. Check they are breathing. If they aren’t then you can start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). If they are, take them to your vet on a blanket or make-shift stretcher, as calmly as possible.

In all cases, you should call your vet for advice as soon as possible, they will be able to give you specific advice tailored to your situation. It’s also important that they know you are coming so that they can prepare, saving valuable time once your dog arrives at the practice.


Sarah-Jane Molier