First Aid for Pets

bandaged face cat in a bag






Head injuries to our domestic pets are most likely to be caused by being hit by an automobile, kicked by a horse or accidentally hit by sporting equipment such as golf clubs. They appear to cope better than a human under the same circumstances, perhaps because we cannot discern minor damage such as memory loss. Because it is so difficult to assess minor damage it is important to see your veterinarian if you suspect the brain has been injured.


  • History of injury.

  • Unconsciousness.

  • Altered or abnormal responses to commands or touch.

  • Wounds on the head especially where the head no longer appears symmetrical.

  • Blood or clear fluid coming from the nose or the ears.

  • The pupils becoming unequal size.


  • If unconscious then place the animal on its side with the neck and chest higher than the head (see page 5).

  • A semi-conscious cat or dog can be extremely dangerous. If possible put the animal in a box to transport it.

  • Keep the airway clear. If necessary drop the head down to allow fluid to drain. Placing your hand into your pet's mouth is very dangerous as it is very easy to be bitten.

  • Control bleeding but do not apply direct pressure if the skull is fractured.

  • Keep your pet very quiet and not do offer food or water as this may result in vomiting.


The spinal cord along with the brain makes up the central nervous system. Cells of this system have no ability to regenerate so that once cell death occurs the damage becomes permanent. It is therefore very important to be very careful handling an animal you suspect to have spinal damage. Unfortunately paralysis in our domestic pets usually results in euthanasia, as we are unable to cope with their care.

The spine is made up of the vertebrae, the spinal cord, the intervertebral disc and tendons, muscles and ligaments that hold all this together. When the spine is injured, a vertebrae may fracture or a disc may rupture. Sometimes the vertebrae are torn apart. The spinal cord can be severely damaged at the time of the accident however sometimes the cord is uninjured. Nevertheless the support structure around it has been compromised and it is now very easy to damage the cord. It is therefore extremely important not to twist, bend or compress the injured spinal column.

The most common cause of spinal injury by far is the dog or cat being hit by an automobile. In dogs some breeds (Daschunds, Corgis, Miniature Jack Russell and Fox Terriers and other breeds with short legs) are prone to disc problems that can result in mild to severe signs and may result in paralysis without any history of trauma.


Spinal injuries have a progression of signs going from mild to total paralysis.

  • Pain. Your pet may not be willing to stand or in milder cases jump up onto furniture or use stairs.

  • In mild cases your pet may appear wobbly especially in the hindquarters. It may fall easily when turning corners.

  • Your pet may become weak in its hindquarters and have difficulty getting up. It may scuff its nails and wear them down so they bleed.

  • You may notice that your pet stands on the upper surface of its toes instead the pads.

  • As symptoms worsen your pet may not be able to get up. Your pet may no longer respond to gentle touch in the area behind the damage to the spine. Leg movement becomes weaker.

  • Total paralysis. The legs appear floppy and the animal cannot move them voluntarily. Your pet may be incontinent. Strong pain to the affected area will not cause the animal to turn to see the cause of the pain. Withdrawal of the foot from pain (such as having its toes pinched) is a reflex, and does not involve the brain or indicate if the spinal nerves are complete.


  • Prompt veterinary treatment may prevent paralysis and euthanasia for your pet.

  • Keep your animal as quiet as possible no matter the cause.

  • For trauma cases lift your pet supporting the injured spine so as little movement as possible occurs at the injury site. Put small pets in a basket or a box. Larger dogs should be carried on a board or between several people.

  • Under no circumstances should a pet with suspected spinal injury be allowed to jump or use stairs.

  • If your pet is incontinent keep the fur as clean and dry as possible. Towels can be used to catch urine. Vasoline (or like) can be smeared on nearby skin to prevent urine scold.


Send mail to Administrator with comments or questions about this site                Fiona Anderson 2001