First Aid

This section of our website is meant to give you guidance on how to deal with the most common emergencies that may affect your pet.

Some emergencies may be less serious and others more so. If you are in any doubt please contact us or our emergency vets immediately 01284 753961

Cuts and Wounds

Clean the wound as thoroughly as possible with clean water and assess the severity of the wound and the degree of bleeding. If a wound is large or there is severe bleeding pressure should be applied with either an appropriate dressing or manually and veterinary advice sought immediately. If the wound is small, not very deep and not bleeding profusely then it should be cleaned with warm salt water, appropriately dressed and veterinary advice sought within 12-24 hours. For grazes and minor cuts, the wound should be cleaned then bathed daily with salt water. If swelling, discharge or increased discomfort develop veterinary advice should be sought. The need for antibiotics depends on the likelihood of infection being introduced at or after the time of injury.


Bone fractures are usually associated with severe trauma such as a fall or traffic accident. Usually fractures of limbs are accompanied by sudden onset of quite severe lameness and pain at the injury site. There may be swelling, abnormal limb angulation, crepitus (‘crunching’ feel on movement of the affected limb) or even protruding ends of broken bone through the skin. Any suspicion of fractured bones requires immediate veterinary advice. The animal should be gently restrained to avoid displacement of the bone and the limb supported if possible.

Snake bites

Often snake bites are more suspected rather than proven. Usually owners hear dogs yelp in distress and ‘fang mark’ penetrations are found with associated swellings. Wounds on lower limbs are often less serious although do require veterinary attention. Wounds on the body or face can be much more serious and often require anti-venom treatment, which is very difficult to source. Seek urgent veterinary advice.

Bee or wasp stings and insect bites

Bee or wasp stings and certain insect bites can elicit moderate to severe reactions. Often such injuries occur on the face or in the mouth. Usually there is swelling at the wound site, or the face can be swollen. These types of swelling usually resolve within 12-24 hours. On veterinary advice, certain antihistamines maybe used. If the animal becomes very distressed or subdued, if the swelling is rapidly worsening, if the breathing becomes laboured or the tongue appears to be swelling, urgent veterinary advice should be sought.


There are numerous agents which are toxic to pets and which may have severe, even fatal, consequences if swallowed or come in contact with your pet. The most common agents treated in veterinary practice are listed below.

Name Effect Signs seen
Rat Poison (Warfarin like substances) Problems with blood clotting Bleeding, blood in vomit, faeces or urine. Nose bleed or coughing up blood. Bruising
Organophosphates Nervous system Salivation/watering eyes, vomiting, diarrhoea, constricted pupils, distressed breathing
Metaldehvde (slug and snail bait) Nervous system Restless, salivation, dilated pupils, tremors, stagger/collapse, breathing distress, rapid heart rate, fits, and overheating.
Chocolate Gut, cardiac & nervous Can be very toxic. Vomiting & diarrhoea. Heart problems. Twitching and leading to convulsions in the end
Non-Steroidal, Anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. Aspirin, ibruprofen, Diclofenac) Gastric ulceration, kidney damage Abdominal pain, vomiting, blood in vomit or faeces, Increase drinking, increased urination. Anorexia, depression.
Anti-freeze Nervous signs, Kidney problems Stagger, increased drinking & urination, depression, hypothermia, vomiting, collapse.
Household products e.g. bleach, drain cleaner, oven cleaner, thawing salt All directly caustic After ingestion – ulceration and pain in mouth, throat, stomach and intestinal tract, vomiting, swelling of throat. After contact with – skin-irritation/burns, pain
Illicit drugs (cocaine, narcotics, heroin, Amphetamines, Cannabis) Nervous signs Cocaine – excitation, heat exhaustion, increased muscular activity, fits, respiratory/cardiac arrest.
Narcotics – drowsiness, wobbly, pain, vomiting, breathing distress, fits, collapse.
Amphetamines – restlessness, hyperactivity, respiratory distress, cardiac arrest.
Rhododendron Gut and circulatory effects Burning in mouth, salivation, vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, slow heart rate, fits, coma.
Lilies Kidney problems Vomiting, depression, Increased drinking, inappetance.
Poinsettia Gut effects Not very toxic, most severe sign is vomiting.
Grapes, raisins, sultanas Kidney failure Increased drinking, dehydration, collapse.
Onion, garlic Blood changes Anaemia, lethargy, collapse


First prevent further poison being swallowed by removing the source immediately and wash off any of the substance left on the skin. Collect any labels or containers from the poison and seek immediate veterinary advice. There is now a veterinary poisons phone line available to the general public that can give you advice and let you know if you need to see a vet: 01202 509000 . If inducing vomiting is advised, get your pet to the vet urgently.


Fits can occur for a number of different reasons – due to a problem in the brain itself (e.g. epilepsy) or a problem elsewhere in the body affecting the brain. Whatever the cause of a fit, it can be frightening to witness. It is important to remain calm and quiet, and to avoid harm coming to the animal or handlers. The area around the pet should be cleared of hazards, noises and bright lights minimised. Attempt to place padding around the animal. Do not try to clear the animal’s throat or put your hands near the mouth – you could accidently be bitten. If safe try to place the pet in an upright position (ie: lying on its chest) if it is vomiting or frothing. Note the time and the duration of fits. A single fit less than 2-3 minutes, with a rapid recovery, should be reported to the vet when the practice is open and may require further investigations at some stage. A fit lasting more than 2-3 minutes or 2 or more fits within 24 hours require urgent veterinary advice.

Acute Breathing Problems

Increased breathing rate and effort are normal after excitement/stress/exercise; however recovery from this should be quite rapid. Increased breathing rate, with laboured breathing, or open mouth breathing are cause for concern. Check for blockages in the mouth or throat as far as safely possible, keep the animal in a well ventilated place and seek immediate veterinary attention.

Vomiting and Diarrhoea

Vomiting may occur for a variety of reasons – many are not emergencies and as an owner it may be difficult to assess at what stage to seek veterinary advice. As a rough guide if there is violent or repeated vomiting, blood in the vomit and excessive depression or collapse your pet may need urgent attention. Similar rules apply to diarrhoea cases. In severe diarrhoea seek veterinary advice promptly especially where there is blood or the pet is unsteady or collapses.
Puppies and kittens are at a special risk and should be treated promptly as they may become dehydrated much more quickly.

The most urgent cases include:

  • Gastric or Intestinal Obstructions – pets can eat stones/plastic/bones etc. which may cause either partial or complete blockage of flow of food material. They can present with acute or chronic vomiting. You may see diarrhoea if the object does not completely block the intestines. If your pet has eaten something which may cause a blockage seek advice quickly.
  • Poisoning (see above) – if your pet has had access to any form of poison seek veterinary advice immediately.
  • Pyometra – this is a potentially life-threatening infection of the uterus, seen in female dogs usually as they get older if they have not been neutered. She may show vomiting, increased drinking, depression and inappetance. She may have a discharge from her vulva. Animals can rapidly deteriorate thus veterinary advice is urgently required. This problem is clearly avoided by spaying bitches early in their lives.
  • Gastric Dilation and Torsion/Bloat – This usually occurs in large dogs and involves massive distension of the stomach. It often occurs after gorging food or following exercise after eating. This is a real emergency and normally the onset of signs is very sudden and the dog rapidly deteriorates. The main symptoms are a hard and distended stomach, vomiting or attempting to vomit with unproductive retching. The dog will be panting and in obvious discomfort. It can often collapse. Seek immediate veterinary attention.


There are several potential causes of collapse in pets, for example problems with the heart, breathing, nervous system, bones and joints or bleeding, anaemia, heat exhaustion or low blood sugar. Any sudden collapse is abnormal and requires urgent veterinary advice.

Problems Urinating

If your cat or dog appears to be straining to pass urine and is either only passing very small amounts or is completely unable to urinate this can be very serious and veterinary advice should be sought immediately.

Abscesses and fight wounds

Severe dog bites may need stitching so urgent attention is needed. Minor wounds can be bathed with salt water but may need antibiotics. Cat bites frequently become abscesses which are very painful and may burst leaving a wound oozing pus. They are rarely emergencies but should be seen at a routine surgery.

Road Traffic Accidents

Car accidents can have very serious, life threatening consequences. As well as the more obvious injuries internal injuries can cause serious problems. If you suspect a road traffic accident, handle your animal gently and quietly, cover them with a warm blanket to minimise the shock and call the vet immediately for advice.

Foreign Bodies

Grass seeds or splinters in the eye can be very serious. Attempts at removal at home with tweezers should be avoided, as foreign bodies could be pushed deeper into the eye or the tweezers themselves could cause damage. Seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Grass seeds in the ear can cause considerable distress and if so need seeing quite quickly. Foreign bodies in the mouth should be removed carefully with tweezers to avoid being bitten. If that is not possible or if the animal is becoming distressed, seek advice.