In An Emergency, Your Pet's Health Is In Your Hands

By Frank Wagner

January 18, 2008 5 min read


In an emergency, your pet's health is in your hands

By Frank Wagner

Copley News Service

A Heimlich maneuver for your hound, cardiopulmonary resuscitation for your cat - and why not? In the absence of a 911 system for animals, pets' caretakers are the emergency responders that will keep their animals alive between the time disaster strikes and the veterinarian takes over.

Like a Boy Scout, the pet owner needs to "Be prepared," and people must acquire skills and knowledge before the fact. A number of organizations and firms offer educational resources in print, on the screen or online to help:

- The American Red Cross - that institution whose very logo became the symbol for human first aid - has put together emergency manuals and programs tailored to the special needs pets. "Dog First Aid" and "Cat First Aid" (StayWell, $17) are books that cover how to respond to the emergencies likely to strike our most popular four-legged friends, from abrasions to vomiting. The photo-illustrated volume shows step-by-step how to treat choking, administer CPR, immobilize a leg and numerous other procedures, and includes a DVD. For more information, visit

- A more comprehensive resource comes from another household name in human medicine. The new "Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health" (Merk and Co., $23) has sections covering the distinctive needs of dogs, cats, horses, birds and more than a dozen exotic species of pets. A 60-page index makes it easy to make your way through the 1,300-plus-page volume.

- For the more visually inclined, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has produced emergency-care video shows for both dogs and cats. Both the 34-minute "Pet Emergency: First Aid for Cats" and 41-minute "Pet Emergency: First Aid for Dogs" are available in VHS and DVD formats for $20 and $30, respectively. For more information, visit

- From the land down under comes an over-the-top resource: Dr. Fiona Anderson's First Aid for Pets online manual. Based on the St. John Ambulance Australian First Aid manual, the Web site includes an index with links to each of 137 topics. Every section is illustrated with photos. The manual may be accessed from the Pet Alert home page,

- Another online resource that includes first aid - and much more - is the Veterinary Information Network ( Its 11 illustrated sections include chapters on emergency care, nutrition, dermatology and pet medications. The site has a type-in search function and if nothing there solves your problem, you can submit a query to for answer by an expert.

- Also from the ASPCA is an animal poison control center, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think your pet has ingested something toxic, call 888-426-4435. Be prepared with a credit card; you may have to pay a $55 fee.

Of course, none of these is a substitute for professional veterinary medical care, but familiarizing yourself with the information they provide could make the difference between life and death for your pet.


To effectively treat minor ailments, a pet owner should have the needed supplies and equipment already assembled. Commercially prepared animal first aid kits are available for $15 and up - or you can make your own.

Here is what the Cincinnati Veterinary Medical Association gave to police dog handlers at a workshop.

- Gauze sponges

- 50 four-by-four inch sponges, two per envelope

- Triple antibiotic ointment

- Rubbing alcohol

- Ear syringe, 2-ounce capacity

- Ace self-adhering athletic bandage, 3-inch width

- White petroleum jelly (Vaseline or similar)

- Eyewash

- Sterile, non-adherent pads

- Pepto Bismol tablets

- Generic Benadryl capsules, 25 mg, for allergies

- Hydrocortisone acetate, 1 percent cream

- Sterile stretch gauze bandage, 3 inches by 4 yards

- Buffered aspirin

- Dermicil hypoallergenic cloth tape 1 inch by 10 yards

- Hydrogen peroxide

- Kaopectate tablets, maximum strength

- Bandage scissors

- Custom splints

- Vet Rap bandage

Items the association suggested handlers add to the kit included:

- Blanket

- Tweezers

- Muzzle

- Hemostats

- Rectal thermometer

- Zip-top bags

- Paperwork (dog's health record, medications, poison control numbers, regular and emergency veterinary clinic hours and telephone numbers).

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