First aid

First aid for dogs

Knowing how to handle emergency situations is essential as a pet owner. Hundreds of dogs are involved in accidents and injuries every year, so it is important to make sure you're prepared so that you can respond quickly, before you're able to see a vet.

For advice on how to handle specific emergencies, take a look at our first aid encyclopaedia, or see below for a guide to recognising and responding to emergency situations involving your pet.

Spotting an emergency

It can be difficult to decide whether your pet needs urgent attention. You should phone the vet if you spot any of these symptoms:

  • Your dog seems weak, lethargic or depressed
  • Breathing is laboured, noisy or rapid, or there is continual coughing
  • Repeated vomiting, or severe diarrhoea with weakness or distress
  • Your dog is agitated and appears to be in severe pain or discomfort
  • Your dog is motioning as if to urinate or defecate, and is unable to
  • You notice sudden difficulties with balance or movement
  • A new mother with suckling puppies is agitated or trembling

In an emergency:

  • Call your vet practice as soon as you can. Keep their contact details alongside your other emergency numbers, and have a pen handy in case you are referred directly to a pet surgery.
  • Keep calm, assess the situation clearly, and bear in mind your own safety as well as that of your pet. Animals that are in pain may try to bite anybody who tries to touch them. If you feel you are at risk of being bitten, apply a muzzle. Alternatively, small dogs may be restrained by placing a thick towel over the head. Drive carefully to your local vet after contacting them.
  • Never give human medicines to a dog - many of them will do far more harm than good. You should also avoid giving pets food or drink, as this may impede treatment if the vet needs to perform an anaesthetic.

Road accidents

If the worst should happen and your dog in involved in a road accident, you should proceed with caution as you try to bring your pet to safety.

Be aware of other cars, and approach your dog slowly while talking gently to them. Move slowly and without sudden movements. If your dog can still walk, take them to see a vet even if there appears to be no pain.

If your dog cannot get up, you should still be careful as you approach them, as they may be disoriented and lash out. Small dogs should be picked up by placing one hand on the front of the chest and another under the hindquarters. For larger dogs you should use a coat or blanket to improvise a stretcher. Find something solid to place them on away from the road, such as a wooden board, and cover with a blanket to prevent heat loss until help arrives.

The Blue Cross

With thanks to the Blue Cross for supplying the above information from their "All About Pets" service offering information and expert advice.


All About Pets is a service of The Blue Cross, Britain's pet charity, which provides practical support, information and advice for pet and horse owners. Through our network of animal adoption centres we rehome thousands of animals each year. Our hospitals provide veterinary care for the pets of people who cannot afford private vets' fees.

How you can help

The Blue Cross is a registered charity and receives no government funding. We rely entirely on the generosity of pet lovers to help support All About Pets and other vital animal welfare projects. Any contribution would be most welcome. For more information on how you can help call us on 01993 822651 or visit our website at

Address: All About Pets, The Blue Cross, FREEPOST NAT4336, Burford, OX18 4BR

Registered charity no: 224392