First Aid for Pets

bandaged face cat in a bag




Chest injuries can be mild, with only a little discomfort on the part of your pet, to life threatening injuries to the lungs and/or heart and lead to collapse of breathing or circulation.

Injuries include:

  • fractured ribs

  • flail chest

  • penetrating chest wounds

  • lung injury where air leaks into the chest cavity (pneumothorax)

  • damage to vessels where blood leaks into the chest cavity (haemothorax)

  • torn diaphragm (diaphragmatic hernia).


Minor wounds can be treated as for Wounds

Deep wounds to the chest (I.E. large dog attacks small dog/cat) can penetrate through the chest wall and cause the lungs to collapse. Ribs can be fractured and flail chest injuries are common. The lungs can be torn leaking air into the chest cavity.


  • Your pet may appear in pain.

  • Increased breathing effort and depth or small rapid breaths.

  • Pain and swelling at the site of the injury.

  • Pale or blue tinged gums.

  • Free air under the skin.

  • Sucking noise if a skin wound penetrates into the chest cavity

  • An animal in severe respiratory distress will tend to lie on its sternum with its head extended and mouth open gasping for air.


  • Encourage your pet to be as quiet as possible. Do not allow your pet to jump into or out of the car.
  • Apply lots of padding over the wounds and bandage in place.

  • Towels can be used for bandaging on larger dogs.
  • If the bandage needs to stay on for any length of time include a chest strap in the bandage, or stick some of the animal's fur into the bandage (or both). Chest bandages are notorious for slipping over the abdomen.

  • Tie off the bandage on the uninjured side of the chest.

  • If a sucking noise is heard it is important to try to stop this.

    • Apply lots of thick padding or wide material.

    • Food cling wrap (Gladwrap), a plastic bag or aluminium foil may work and is recommended in human first aid.

    • Once there is no longer any abnormal air movement then wrap the chest so that the bandage won't slip.

    • Remove the bandage if breathing becomes more difficult.

  • Allow your pet to make itself comfortable but if it is unconscious then lay it on its injured side.

  • Transport to your veterinarian immediately.


A flail chest is where several ribs are broken in more than one place. Part of the chest wall is now loose and can more independently to the rest of the chest. When the animal breathes the broken segment will move in the opposite direction to that of the chest wall. This prevents the lungs from expanding and emptying fully, and the animal cannot breath in enough fresh air to obtain oxygen and remove waste carbon dioxide. It is very common in dog bite wounds to the chest.

Use the above techniques to stabilize the chest wall and see your veterinarian immediately.


These are most likely caused by traffic accidents. Bleeding can also occur due to rat bait poisoning. In dogs and cats both sides of the chest communicate with each other (this is not so in humans) so all of the lungs will be affected. Lung collapse can lead to marked respiratory effort and respiratory collapse. In very severe cases (tension pneumothorax) the pressure in the chest prevents blood return to the heart. There is little the first aider can do for these conditions and veterinary help needs to be sought immediately.


Tears to the diaphragm occur more commonly in cats than dogs and are usually the result of a car wheel going over the abdomen. Kicking a dog or cat up under the ribs may also cause the diaphragm to rupture. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle between the chest and the abdomen. If torn the animal has reduced ability to move air in and out of the chest. Abdominal organs, especially the liver, stomach and intestinal tract can end up in the chest causing the lungs to collapse.


  • Breathing difficulty.

  • Pale or blue tinged gums.

  • Shock.

  • The abdomen may appear suddenly very thin.

  • Respiration may cause the abdomen to move in the opposite direction.


  • Treat for shock.

  • Keeping the chest above the abdomen may help to keep the abdominal contents out of the chest.

  • Seek immediate veterinary assistance.


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