Ask the Vet: Pet First-Aid


Dr. Stacia Volbrecht

Q:  I like to think I’m a responsible parent to my dog Annabelle (4 years old, and super healthy!), and I keep a well-stocked pet first-aid kit handy at home. However, I fear that if an emergency ever happened and I actually had to use the kit, I wouldn’t really know what to do. Are there any basic first-aid principles you can share or resources you recommend?

A:  One of the biggest challenges for pet parents is knowing what to do in an emergency. It can be difficult to determine whether your pet’s health problem can be treated at home, whether it requires a next-day appointment with the veterinarian, or worse, calls for an immediate visit to a veterinary emergency center.

Here are some guidelines you should follow:


If your pet is bitten by another animal, an immediate visit to your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency center is in order. Even if stitches are not necessary, antibiotics may be.

Ingestion of food, gum, medications, or plants

If your pet consumes certain human foods, medications, gum, or plants the results can range from an upset stomach to death. Sometimes the situation can be resolved by inducing vomiting at home. Other times, inducing vomiting can cause additional harm. A phone call to your veterinarian, pet poison hotline, or veterinary emergency center will help you determine your best course of action.

Ingestion of foreign objects

Pets often seem to swallow things they should not. It may be reasonable to see if the object passes through their system on its own. Other times, especially when the object is made of metal (pennies, bells, etc.), it can be poisonous and should be removed as soon as possible.


Physical trauma (for example, if your pet takes a fall from a high place or is hit by a car) always requires an immediate visit to the veterinarian. Internal injuries can occur but may not be apparent until the situation is dire, so move as quickly as possible.

Unsure? Call for guidance

No one knows your pet better than you. If you’re concerned about your pet’s health situation, you should not hesitate to call your veterinarian, pet poison hotline, or local veterinary emergency center. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Emergency Kit

Having a pet emergency kit is very helpful should your pet encounter a problem. Pet emergency kits can be purchased or assembled easily at home. Your pet’s emergency kit can be used for minor cuts and scrapes, to flush out an object in the eye, to remove ticks or burrs, and to help stabilize an animal who needs emergency treatment from a veterinarian. [Visit TailsInc.com/PetFirstAidKit to learn how to make your own emergency kit].

ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 888.426.4435. Visit ASPCA for more information.

April VetDr. Stacia Volbrecht is the Emergency Room Director for the Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center (ChicagoPetEmergency.com). She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. 

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