First Aid for Pets

bandaged face cat in a bag




Loss of blood may lead to shock, collapse then death. Therefore it is important to control this loss. The amount of blood loss required to cause harm varies according to size of the animal. A few drops in a canary is quite a significant amount while a horse can lose litres without problems. Roughly we veterinarians become concerned if an animal has lost more blood than 1 % of its body weight. For example an average cat weighs 5kg. We would be concerned if it lost more than 50 ml (2 tablespoons) of blood. Or a 30kg Labrador lost 300ml (just over a cup). Rapid blood loss is more harmful than slow loss as it is more likely to send an animal into shock.




  • Keep the animal as quiet as possible.

  • Apply direct pressure to the wound.

  • Lift the affected part of the body above the heart if this is possible.

  • Give nothing by mouth. Remember your pet is likely to need a general anaesthetic to repair the wound and this requires fasting.

  • Seek veterinary attention if the wound requires stitches, is likely to become infected or if bleeding persists.


  • Apply direct pressure to the wound using your fingers or hand.

  • Cover the wound with a clean folded towel, sanitary napkin or bandage material, continuing to apply pressure. Cotton wool or tissues aren't suitable as they stick to the wound. In emergency situations though use what you have even if it is the T-shirt off your back.

  • Bandage around any foreign objects such as glass or stitches. Do not attempt to remove them.

  • Wrap over the dressing with clean torn rags, gauze bandage or other soft material and tie. Electrical tape can be used to secure the bandage ends. Don't use elastic bands.

  • The bandage should be firm but not tight enough to stop circulation. It is also best to start below the wound and work towards the body.

  • If blood should come through the bandage apply more dressing firmly over the top of the first one. Do not disturb the dressing directly over the wound.

  • If there is likely to be any delay in reaching your veterinarian, bandage below the wound as well, down to and including the foot to prevent swelling below the bandage.


With bleeding limbs, if the bleeding cannot be controlled by direct pressure then a restrictive bandage above the elbow or between the stifle (knee) and hock may be necessary.

  • Use a strip of cloth (not string or rope) and bind it above the wound drawing it tightly around the limb until the bleeding stops. Tie firmly. The bandage needs to be released every 30 minutes to prevent the limb from dying. If bleeding stops the bandage need not be reapplied. Tourniquets are no longer recommended in first aid medicine.



This will depend on where the bleeding is occurring.

  • Lungs
    coughing up red frothy blood.

  • Stomach
    vomiting fresh blood or a substance that looks like coffee grounds (digested blood).

  • Bowel
    passing fresh blood or faeces that appear black or tarry (digested blood).

  • Urine
    passing urine that is red or has a smoky appearance.

  • Abdomen
    pain, bloated appearance, pale gums and other signs of shock.

  • Chest cavity
    difficulty breathing, increased rate and effort, pale and/or blue-tinged gums.

If the bleeding is severe the animal is likely to show signs of shock.



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