MSPCA-Angell Headquarters

350 South Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02130
(617) 522-7400
Email Us

Angell Animal Medical Centers – Boston

350 South Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02130
(617) 522-7282
More Info

Angell West

293 Second Avenue, Waltham, MA 02451
(781) 902-8400
For on-site assistance (check-ins and pick-ups):
(339) 970-0790
More Info

Angell at Essex

565 Maple Street, Danvers, MA 01923
(978) 304-4648
More Info

Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Boston

350 South Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02130
(617) 522-5055
More Info

Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Cape Cod

1577 Falmouth Road, Centerville, MA 02632
(508) 775-0940
More Info

Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Nevins Farm

400 Broadway, Methuen, MA 01844
(978) 687-7453
More Info

Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Northeast Animal Shelter

347 Highland Ave., Salem, MA 01970
(978) 745-9888
More Info

Donate Now


More Ways to Donate

From an online gift to a charitable gift annuity, your contribution will have a significant impact in the lives of thousands of animals.

Every Second Counts: First Aid for Pets

Unfortunately, accidents and medical emergencies can happen to our pets, and as responsible owners, it is our duty to be as prepared as possible and act as first responders. Dr. Jordana Fetto, DVM, who specializes in Emergency and Critical Care at the MSPCA-Angell West in Waltham, advises on some common pet first aid emergencies, offers tips on prevention, and recommends how to create your own pet first aid kit.

Advice for Common First-Aid Emergencies

Your pet is poisoned 

If you think your pet has ingested something poisonous, the first step is to call ASPCA Poison Control at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. Please be aware that a consult fee may apply!

You will be asked to provide information about your pet:

“You will also be asked to provide the name of the product your pet was exposed to and possibly the list of active ingredients, the amount your pet was exposed to, how much time has passed since exposure, and if your pet is currently showing any symptoms of illness (e.g., vomiting, tremors, seizures, loss of consciousness),” said Dr. Fetto.

Depending on your pet’s species and weight, as well as the type and amount of toxin consumed, ASPCA Poison Control will inform you if the substance is indeed toxic, if a toxic dose was ingested, and the next steps of either inducing vomiting at home or bringing your pet to the closest veterinary emergency room.

“Since you may be directed to induce vomiting at home, it is important to have fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide in your medicine cabinet,” said Dr. Fetto. “Do not give hydrogen peroxide unless directed to by a veterinarian or Poison Control. Ensure the product is available to provide the correct name, list of active ingredients, and concentration for poison control.”

If your pet’s skin or eyes were exposed to a caustic substance, check the label for instructions on how to treat a human if exposed. If the recommendation is to wash the skin, Dr. Fetto recommends using Dawn dish soap to wash your pet, making sure to avoid contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth. If instructed, flush the skin or eyes immediately with water or saline eye rinse.

Common household poisons 



Many plants are toxic, and symptoms range from mild stomach upset to life-threatening kidney failure and arrhythmias. Thus, checking the ASPCA list of toxic and non-toxic plants before bringing plants inside your home or landscaping your yard is important.

Examples of common toxic plants include:

Household Products


Over-the-counter medications, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are the most common toxins pets are exposed to. These can result in severe gastrointestinal signs, kidney failure, and neurologic signs. As you do with children, keep all medications—over-the-counter and prescription—out of reach from your pet.

Your pet is injured or bleeding


If you suspect your pet has sustained a fracture, you can try to stabilize the injury by placing a bandage or splint. “A poorly placed splint/bandage can do more harm than good, so if you are uncertain about your ability to place the splint, skip this step,” said Dr. Fetto.

Instead, transport your pet to a veterinarian for pain medication and radiographs to confirm the fracture and splint placement. While transporting your pet, keep them confined in a small area (e.g., a pet carrier, box, or another container) to reduce the risk of further injury. For large dogs, you can use a sled, blanket, or something similar to act as a stretch to facilitate transportation to and from your car.

Internal bleeding

Signs that your pet is suffering from internal bleeding include:

“If you suspect your pet has internal bleeding, keep your pet as warm and quiet as possible and immediately bring him/her to the closest veterinary hospital,” said Dr. Fetto.

External wounds

If your pet has suffered an external wound and is bleeding, use a clean cloth or towel to apply firm pressure directly over the wound. Avoid removing the cloth to see if the bleeding has stopped until pressure has been applied for at least three minutes. “If bleeding is soaking through the cloth originally applied, DO NOT remove it,” explained Dr. Fetto. “Instead, layer additional towels on top of the original to prevent disturbing any blood clots that may have formed.” Seek veterinary care immediately, as your pet may require pain medications, antibiotics, and wound cleaning and closing.


If your pet has sustained a burn, flush the area with room temperature (NOT COLD) water to stop the thermal injury from spreading. Cover the burned area with a towel dampened with room-temperature water. Seek veterinary care immediately.

Eye injuries

Eye injuries can threaten your pet’s vision, are painful, and quickly worsen. “If you see a foreign object (e.g., a grain of sand or grass) in your pet’s eye, you can try using saline eye flush to rinse it out,” suggested Dr. Fetto. “But avoid trying to grab it with your fingers or tool, as further injury may result.” Apply an Elizabethan collar to your pet to prevent them from pawing at the eye or rubbing it on the ground or furniture, resulting in further injury, and seek veterinary care immediately.

Animal bites

If an animal bites your pet, seek veterinary care immediately! If the attacking animal is someone’s pet, try to obtain the owner’s name, phone number, address, and the rabies vaccine status of the attacking animal.

If a snake bites your pet, assume it is venomous and seek veterinary attention immediately. Do not try to catch the snake! Instead, try to take a picture of the snake so the veterinarian can determine if it is one of the two venomous species in Massachusetts (the Northern Copperhead and the Timber Rattlesnake).

Your pet has heatstroke

Heat stroke can develop from a long walk on a hot day, leaving a pet in the car, or being out in the sun on a hot day without access to shade or water. Animals with pre-existing breathing problems (e.g., laryngeal paralysis) or brachycephalic breeds (e.g., English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs) are at higher risk for developing heat stroke, but it can happen to any breed.

Signs of heat stroke:

If you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke, immediately bring them to the closest emergency veterinary hospital for evaluation and treatment. If your pet is in a hot environment, move them to a cool, shaded location. If your pet is alert, you can offer them water. If possible, place a fan on your pet and cover your pet’s neck, armpits, and groin with towels soaked in room-temperature water. Frequently resoak and replace the towels. “It is very important not to use cool or cold water, which can worsen their condition,” warned Dr. Fetto.

Your pet goes into shock

Shock is caused by extreme freight or injury. Classic signs of shock include nervousness, shallow breathing, a dazed, glassy eye appearance, pale gum color, and weak pulses. Keep your pet quiet and restrained in a safe area and warm with blankets. Seek veterinary care immediately.

Your pet is having a seizure

Most seizures are self-limiting and resolve within 30 seconds to two minutes. “If your pet has a seizure, keep them safe from sharp objects/furniture or stairs to prevent injury. Do not try to restrain your pet or place your hand in your pet’s mouth. If able, time the length of the seizure,” said Dr. Fetto.

Any seizure lasting more than three minutes, your pet has three or more seizures in 24 hours, or you must seek immediate veterinary attention if your pet doesn’t stop seizing. For up to 24 hours following a seizure, your pet may be disoriented, sleepy, unsteady on their feet, transiently blind, or ravenously hungry. If your pet has a known seizure disorder, once the seizure has resolved and your pet is alert and able to swallow safely, you may administer a dose of the anti-seizure medication. This is an extra dose given, and your pet’s normal medication dose and schedule should not be altered unless directed by a veterinarian.

Your pet is choking

Signs that your pet is choking include difficulty breathing, pawing at their mouth or neck, making choking sounds when breathing or coughing, and blue-tinged lips or tongue.

“If your pet can still breathe, try your best to keep them calm and seek veterinary care immediately,” said Dr. Fetto. If possible, open your pet’s mouth and look inside for a foreign object without risking injury to yourself. Gently try to remove the object if you can visibly see it. Be careful not to push it further down your pet’s throat.

For objects that cannot be removed from cats and small dogs, gently pick them up by the thighs and swing them upside down, side to side, to help dislodge the object. If this is unsuccessful, stand your pet on the ground and apply forward pressure to the pet’s abdomen behind the ribcage, similar to the Heimlich maneuver. For larger dogs where the object cannot be manually removed, perform the above-mentioned Heimlich maneuver. Seek veterinary care immediately!

Your pet is not breathing

“Stay calm and open your pet’s mouth,” said Dr. Fetto. “Pull the tongue forward so the tip is outside the mouth, and look inside the mouth for a foreign object blocking the airway. Remove the object gently to avoid lodging it further into the airway if you can see it.” If this elicits a response from your pet, stop. Use caution to avoid being bitten and then start providing rescue breaths:

Even if your pet resumes breathing on its own, they will need to be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Your pet keeps vomiting and can’t keep down food or water

If your pet vomits a couple of times, you can try withholding food and water for 12 hours to allow the stomach upset to pass. If your pet has no additional episodes of vomiting during the fasting period, you can offer a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice. In mild cases of vomiting, you can also try administering Omeprazole (aka Prilosec), an over-the-counter antacid. Do not syringe food or water to your pet, as this could lead to aspiration pneumonia.

“If your pet does not improve in the above scenario, has profuse vomiting with the inability to keep down food or water, or, especially a large breed dog, is non-productively retching, do not attempt management at home,” warned Dr. Fetto. “Instead, a veterinarian should evaluate your pet immediately—they may have a life-threatening condition.”

Your pet is stumbling and walking around “drunk”

A pet that is stumbling around and walking like they’re drunk may be suffering from an inner ear infection, vestibular disease, herniated intervertebral disc, low blood sugar, toxicity (i.e., xylitol, marijuana), or stroke, to name a few possible causes.

It is important to keep your pet from injuring themselves by not allowing them to walk up or down stairs unassisted or on slippery surfaces. “If you do not have a harness at home, you can use a rolled-up towel or small blanket as a sling under your pet’s chest and groin,” suggested Dr. Fetto. It is also important to seek veterinary care to determine and address the underlying cause.

Your pet has no heartbeat

If you believe your pet to be unresponsive, try to stimulate them by petting them or making a noise. If your pet does not respond and you notice they don’t have a heartbeat, begin CPR. The chances of your pet surviving cardiac arrest with resuscitation are very low, but this may be your pet’s only chance, so it is worth attempting. 

Focus your efforts on chest compressions. If you have another person with you, one person will perform chest compressions while the other provides rescue breathing.

Alternate tasks every two minutes to prevent fatigue and ensure quality chest compressions.

Continue chest compressions +/- rescue breathing until you can feel your pet’s heartbeat and breathe regularly on their own or until you have arrived at the closest veterinary hospital.

DIY First Aid Kit for Pets

You should have a first aid kit on hand for the humans in your household, and your pet needs one, too! Dr. Fetto does warn, however, “Before administering first aid, make sure you and your pet are in a safe place and use safety items (e.g., muzzles, e-collar, towels) to prevent your pet from biting you,” she says. “Keep your pet warm and minimize movement as much as possible if there is visible trauma.” And the most important point to remember is that first aid does not substitute veterinary care, and a veterinarian should evaluate your pet!

Important phone numbers and paperwork


If your pet takes prescription medications, ensure that at all times, at least a week’s worth of medication is available. Please give the veterinarian and pharmacy at least three days to approve and fill your refill request.

If your pet is fed a prescription diet, make sure to have an extra bag of dry food or case of wet food on hand at all times, as it is possible to encounter delays when refilling it.

Over-the-Counter Medications

First Aid Supplies


“It’s important to understand basic first aid techniques and assess what is beyond your comfort level and when to seek veterinary care emergently,” said Dr. Fetto. In addition to the information above, she suggests pet owners take the Red Cross First Aid course, “Cat and Dog First Aid Online Training.” And most importantly, do not hesitate to bring your pet to the nearest emergency veterinarian when the injury is beyond your control and needs immediate help. (Tip: call ahead to give staff a heads-up that you’re coming!)

24/7 Emergency & Critical Care at the MSPCA-Angell in Boston
Angell Animal Medical Center
350 S. Huntington Ave.
Boston MA 02130

24/7 Emergency & Critical Care at the MSPCA-Angell West in Waltham
Angell West
293 Second Avenue
Waltham, MA 02451

Like this article?

Subscribe to our emails for even more useful pet tips!