First Aid for Pets

bandaged face cat in a bag




Not all injuries to your pet will require veterinary advice and it will be up to you to determine this. Always , if in doubt seek veterinary advice.

As a guide we recommend veterinary treatment:-

  • if the animal shows signs of shock
  • if the bleeding is excessive or does not stop in 15 - 20 minutes
  • if the animal appears in pain
  • if the wound requires stitches
  • if the wounds are deep punctures especially over the chest or abdomen
  • if there is foreign material in the wounds
  • if the wounds are a result of being hit by a car or an attack by a large animal (as there could by internal injuries)
  • if the wounds become hot, red, swollen, painful or start discharging pus.
  • If in doubt seek veterinary advice.

WOUND MANAGEMENT - Types of Wounds


E.g. gravel rash in humans. In dogs and cats abrasions aren't as common due to the protection of their hair coat and occur most frequently when the animal is hit by a car etc. The animal may be dragged or thrown along the road. A trip to the veterinarian is therefore recommended as there may be internal injuries. Minor abrasions may be treated as follows.

  • Clip the hair around the injured area.

  • Clean the wound thoroughly with warm salty water or an antiseptic (use according to directions on the label. Be aware dogs and cats may lick the wound and some antiseptics can damage the mouth. For that reason we don't recommend dettol®.

  • If this is not possible wash the wound under running water.

  • Remove any loose foreign material.

  • For a small abrasion - leave unbandaged to allow cleaning and observation.

  • For a large abrasion, or if it involves the foot where it will be constantly knocked and dirtied, - apply a non-stick dressing and bandage.

Salty water is made by adding 1 teaspoon of table salt to 1 pint or 2 cups of water. Boiled water is recommended. Saline used for cleaning contact lens or the Intravenous fluid Sodium Chloride are basically the same thing as salty water but are usually sterile and are excellent for wound cleaning.

Open wounds - I.E. cuts

  • Clip the hair around the injured area.


  • Clean the wound thoroughly with warm salty water or an antiseptic. Examine the wound for glass, dirt or other foreign material. Remove small pieces of material by gently flushing the wound with salty water or remove with tweezers, large pieces should be removed by a veterinarian. Clean the wound again if you have flushed out the antiseptic.
  • Cover the wound with a non-stick dressing then bandage.

Penetrating wounds - animal bites

  • Clip the hair around the injured area. Always look for more than one puncture wound, remembering this damage is caused by the canine (eye) teeth, and there are four of these.

  • Clean the wound thoroughly with warm salty water or an antiseptic. It is sometimes necessary to remove hair from within the wound.

  • Do not bandage the wound but leave open to drain and to observe. The exception is if the wound is bleeding excessively then apply a pressure bandage and transport to your veterinarian.

  • Bite wounds often become infected. Nasty or deep bites should be seen promptly by your veterinarian so he can start antibiotics if necessary.

  • If you choose not to see a veterinarian keep the wounds open for 48 hours by picking off the scabs with your finger nails, then allow to heal. See a vet if the wounds become hot, painful, red, swollen or start to discharge pus, or the animal becomes unwell.

Penetrating wounds - due to a foreign object

  • Clip the hair around the injured area.

  • Clean the wound thoroughly with warm salty water or an antiseptic.

  • It may be possible to remove a small foreign body like a needle or a small piece of glass but never remove larger objects, and if in doubt leave it to your veterinarian. If you try to remove a large object such as a knife it may result in further bleeding or damage deep structures.

  • Apply pressure around the wound but not to the object itself.

  • Place padding around the object and apply a bandage. Support the object by bandaging round it.

  • Do not attempt to shorten the object unless its size makes it unmanageable.

  • Transport to your veterinarian.


The Bandage - materials and how to apply it

Obviously there are two types of bandages, the one thrown together with what you have and one you might apply later once you have purchased materials. Since the most common injury is to the paw or the leg, the following describes application of a bandage under these circumstances to a limb.

The Emergency Bandage

  • Cover the wound with a clean folded towel, sanitary napkin, folded sheet or bandage material. Basically use whatever you can that is clean. Don't use cotton wool or tissues as they stick to the wound.

  • Wrap over the dressing, starting below the wound and wrapping up the leg. Use clean torn rags or a torn sheet, rolled bandage or other soft material and tie to prevent the bandage unwrapping. Electrical tape can be used to secure the bandage ends. In a pinch you can use any type of tape to secure the ends but apply plenty of padding first. Safety pins are okay. Don't use elastic bands or those clips found with human bandages.

  • The bandage should be firm but not tight. If the bandage is to remain in place any length of time it is a good idea to bandage down to the foot including the toes. The very bottom of the foot can be left exposed to allow you to check the toes are warm and determine if your pet can feel you poking at them.

  • A sock can be slipped over when finished to give the bandage more support.

The Non-Emergency Bandage


  • Clean the wound then apply a non-stick dressing such as paraffin impregnated gauze (Jelonet).


  • Apply an absorbent layer of material over this. At Lort Smith we use a prepacked material rather like batting in quilts (I.E. soffban) or cotton wool. Cotton wool is actually quite fiddly to apply.
    This layer is to support the wound and to draw blood or pus away from the skin. The bandage needs to conform to the shape of the leg and should not be too tight.
HINT: Unroll a length of the wool and separate it into 2 or 3 layers. Then divide the wool into strips and roll it up again into smaller rolls. It is then much easier to wrap on the leg.


  • A layer of gauze is then applied. Gauze has no stretch and absorbs fluids well. It should be wrapped firmly over the softer bandage. Start at the bottom of the bandage and apply it up the leg. This layer should be responsible for how tight the bandage becomes.


  • The final layer is an adhesive layer, either a sticky bandage such as Elastoplast or a self adhesive bandage like Vetwrap. Apply the bandage over the gauze but do not draw the bandage tight, only firmly enough so it conforms to the leg. Again apply from the bottom of the leg upwards and wrap up over the top of the gauze layer so the bandage adheres to some fur. Vetwrap is more prone to slippage as it will not stick to the fur.
HINT: Both Elastoplast and Vetwrap are elasticized bandages which means it is very easy to make them too tight. They should not be applied directly to the leg without releasing the tension in the bandage. With Elastoplast it is easiest to stick the end to a desktop and unroll the bandage then reroll it. The bandage is then also easier to apply. With Vetwrap it is simpler to unroll a little bandage then apply it, then unroll a little more etc unrolling and wrapping a foot of bandage at a time. You can also use this method with elastoplast.

  • It is easy for bandages to be too loose or too tight. Loose bandages fall off and are a nuisance but not a disaster. Tight bandages can cut skin, damage circulation and even cause skin or the limb to die. If the animal is distressed and chewing at the bandage it is probably too tight and it is safer to change it. It is also a good idea to include the foot so no swelling can occur below the bandage. You can leave the bottom of the foot exposed so that you can check the toes are warm and determine if your pet can feel you poking at them.


This condition is far more common in cats than dogs (though it is still common in dogs) and is due to fighting between cats and the resulting bites, or scratches.


  • Pain in the affected area. If it is on a limb your pet may appear lame.

  • Swelling and tenderness when touched.

  • Your pet may appear off colour, not eating, hiding or moping around.

  • If the wound is open it may discharge pus.


  • Clip the fur from the area so that you can see all the bites or puncture marks.

  • Remove all scabs.

  • If the wound is open clean it up with warm salty water or an antiseptic.
  • As long as your cat is well and eating, and all the pus drains then home management is possible. Continue to pick the wounds open twice a day and to clean up the wounds over the next 3 - 4 days.

  • Seek veterinary aid if your pet is unwell or distressed, if you are unable to drain the abscess or if the area involved is large.


Both cats and dogs tend to end up with fishhooks in them if fishing tackle is left within reach. Mostly the hooks end up in the nose, lips or mouth as your pet investigates the rich smells. Both cats and dogs resent the pain associated with the hook's removal and you may choose to leave removal to your veterinarian.


  • Do not attempt to remove the hook if it is near the eye or inside the mouth.

  • Restrain and muzzle a dog or restrain a cat. A second person is needed for the type of procedure.

  • Use a pair of pliers and push the barbs through the skin.

  • Cut the hook removing all the barbs with wire cutters.

  • Pull the hook back the way it came.

  • Clean the wound. Keep an eye on it and take your pet to your veterinarian if the wound appears to become infected.

Sometimes your pet will swallow a hook. A hook without line is normally passed, though it is a good idea to give a high fibre diet and keep a close eye on your pet until you are sure it has been passed in the faeces. You should see your veterinarian if you are concerned or your pet shows any sign of illness.

However if your pet has swallowed a hook and line this is extremely serious. If the line is in your pet's mouth do not attempt to remove it. Do not allow your pet to swallow what you have of the line (tie it to your pet's collar if necessary) and seek immediate veterinary attention.


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