First Aid for Pets

bandaged face cat in a bag




This is a life-threatening condition, which occurs as a result of a serious injury or illness. It can progress to collapse and death.


Shock occurs when there is collapse of the circulatory system (made up of the heart, blood vessels and blood) due to:

  • blood loss.
    Bleeding can be external or internal. Blood can be lost into the chest between the ribs and the lungs, into the abdomen around the organs or into the organs themselves, such as the bladder. There may be no obvious signs the bleeding has occurred. The volume of blood in the vessels then becomes insufficient for the body's needs.

  • fluid loss.
    Fluids lost to the body through, for example, vomiting and diarrhoea are drawn from the entire body including the blood, causing dehydration and loss of blood volume. e.g. Most Parvo gastroenteritis cases present in shock.

  • decreased blood pressure.
    due to pain, spinal cord injury, infection or poisoning.

  • damage to the heart.



  • Pale or white gums.
    Examine the gums by gently lifting the upper lid to expose the gums. Sometimes the gums are pigmented so look right around the mouth. Dogs such as the Chow Chow are impossible to assess as they have naturally pigmented gums. If the gums are pale or white your pet needs urgent veterinary attention.
  • Rapid heart rate and a weak rapid pulse
    (see assessing cardiac function). The heart rate often exceeds 150 beats/minute.

  • Rapid breathing.

  • Cold paws and ears.

  • The pet is usually very quiet and still, and may seem drowsy. As the severity of shock progressed the pet may lose consciousness


  • Stop any visible signs of bleeding (see Bleeding).

  • If the pet is unconscious, place it on its side with the head extended.

    Elevate the pet's chest and hindquarters above the head by placing folded towels or a pillow under the pet's chest and body. This is to prevent fluids from entering the chest and will increase blood flow to the brain.

  • Hot water bottles filled with warm water can be placed around the pet especially against the stomach. Do not use boiling water. Wrap the bottles up in towels to prevent burns. Wrap the pet loosely in a blanket or a jacket.

  • If the pet is conscious allow it to make itself comfortable. For cats and smaller dogs encourage them to sit in a box or basket as it will make it easier to transport them.

  • Do not give any food or water.

  • Transport to your veterinarian urgently.

  • Sometimes it is not possible to transport your pet straight away. If this is the case then it is important to make your pet as comfortable and as pain free as possible. For instance if your pet has broken its leg, especially if it is a large dog and will need to be able to walk to get itself into a car, splinting the leg will help control pain and help to manage to degree of shock (See management of fractures). Do not give any pain killers without advice from a veterinarian.


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