How to Stabilize an Injured Pet

Pet emergencies can arise when we least expect them and these can very stressful moments. When our pets are injured or sick is when they need us the most, we should do our best to stay calmed in order to make the best possible decisions. This is easier said than done, but just remember that stressing out and being nervous is not going to help your pet. Stay as calmed as possible and seek help.

Every pet parent should keep the phone number of a local emergency veterinary clinic. Ask you primary veterinarian if he or she provides emergency services, if not, ask him/her for the contact of an emergency veterinarian or veterinary hospital.

Signs That Your Pet May Need Emergency Care

• Apparent paralysis
• Change in body temperature
• Difficulty standing
• Excessive bleeding
• Signs of pain such as crying or growling
• Any kind of trauma (e.g. hit by a car, bitten by another animal)
• Possible intoxication
• Loss of consciousness
• Pale gums
• Rapid breathing
• Seizures
• Weak or rapid pulse

Pets who are severely injured may act aggressively toward their owners, so it is important to protect yourself from possible injuries. It is a good idea to place a muzzle on your pet. You can do one with cloth strips, cloth bandage, a piece of rope, or another long strip of fabric. Tie a knot in the center of the cloth strip or rope. Make another loose knot several inches above the first knot. Slip the loop over the dog’s muzzle and gently pull the knot tight. Cross the ends of the bandage under the dog’s jaw and firmly tie the crossed ends behind the dog’s neck.

If your pet is a cat, you can gently place a blanket or towel over his/her head and carefully place him/her in an opened box. Be very careful when you move your pet. If he/she had a traumatic injury you may need to stabilize the injury first. Take care to support your pet’s neck and back in case he/she has suffered any spinal injuries.

How to stabilize a traumatic injury?

Animals that have suffered a trauma (e.g. hit by a car) often have multiple injuries, some of which may not be immediately obvious. If you need to move your pet, the neck and spine should be kept still because there could spinal fractures or other problems that cannot be readily seen. Broken legs can be stabilized using a piece of cardboard. Avoid compressing the leg because this can lead to further damage. Just place some cardboard or foam around the limb to allow you to transport your pet. You can secure the cardboard in place using duct or packaging tape.

Moving an Injured Animal

Minimize motion of the head, neck, and spine while transporting an injured animal. You should use a flat, firm surface of wood, cardboard, or thick fabric to provide support. If your pet seems to be confused or disoriented after trauma, keep the head slightly elevated during transport. Avoid sudden motions and prevent anything from pushing on the neck. Placing cats in a box with holes can minimize stress during transport.

What should I do if my Pet is Bleeding?

Bleeding requires immediate first aid. You should press down firmly on the bleeding area with your fingers or the palm of your hand to stop or minimize bleeding. In some cases, you can apply a bandage, but avoid strong compression. A tight bandage can cause severe damage. Washcloths and hand towels may be enough to stop bleeding until you reach the veterinary clinic. If the original bandage becomes soaked with blood, do not remove it, place additional material on top and continue to apply pressure. These bandages can be secured in place using duct or packaging tape.

Once you feel confident and safe transporting your pet, bring him/her to an emergency care facility immediately. Ask a friend or family member to call the clinic so the staff knows to expect you and your pet.

American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA). Basic tips for handling an injured pet. Retrieved on February 7, 2016 from:

About the author
Dr. Stephanie Flansburg-Cruz practices mixed animal veterinary medicine and she has a special interest in shelter medicine and animal welfare. Stephanie enjoys volunteering at local animal shelters, reading, writing and traveling.

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