April is National Pet First Aid Awareness Month—but before you go shopping for supplies, you should know that the first and most important piece of a pet first aid kit is knowledge. The more you know about common pet emergencies, the more proactive steps you can take to prevent them altogether. Here are five of the most common pet emergencies seen at Animal Medical Hospital of Naples, and what you can do to ensure they don’t happen to your pet.
#1: Pet toxin ingestion
Familiarizing yourself with items that are toxic to pets can help you avoid an accidental tragedy. Unfortunately, pet owners often don’t realize that many household items they use routinely can seriously harm or kill their pet.
Take a pet’s eye view of your home, garage, and yard, to look for these common toxins:
- Foods — Toxic foods include chocolate—especially bitter and dark chocolate—xylitol-containing foods and sugar-free candy, onions, leeks, grapes, raisins, and macadamia nuts.
- Medications — Pets often find pills and capsules on countertops and in purses or pockets. Human medications can quickly lead to dangerous—and potentially fatal—overdose in pets.
- Plants — Many popular houseplants, decorative flowers, and landscaping favorites are toxic to pets. Lilies are especially toxic to cats, who are prone to nibbling or grazing.
- Household chemicals — Antifreeze, automotive chemicals, essential oils, and many cleaning supplies can lead to toxicity after only a few licks.
- Pesticides — Mouse and rat bait is extremely appealing to pets, and can be life-threatening when consumed. Secondary poisoning can occur if the pet eats a poisoned rodent. Slug bait can lead to seizures and organ failure.
#2: Heatstroke in pets
Pets rely on evaporative cooling from panting to lower their body temperature during warm weather. Unfortunately, during extreme heat, humidity, physical exertion, or prolonged exposure, pets can quickly become overwhelmed and suffer from hyperthermia (i.e., high body temperature). Without rapid medical intervention, the pet’s temperature continues to climb, resulting in organ damage, failure, and potentially death. Unsupervised pets—such as those left in a car or unshaded yard on a warm day—often perish before they’re found.
Beat the heat by making smart choices for your pet:
- Exercising your pet outdoors only in the early morning or late evening—and keeping exercise intensity low
- Leaving your pet at home if you cannot take them with you at your destination
- Restricting outdoor access for brachycephalic breeds (e.g., pugs, shih tzus, French bulldogs) during warm weather
- Ensuring your pet always has access to fresh water
#3: Pets who are hit by a car or fall from height
Every day, pets suffer from serious internal injuries, broken bones, and death after being involved in a vehicle accident or falling out of a window or from a balcony. These heartbreaking disasters are often avoidable with simple restraint practices, including:
- Keeping your dog on a six-foot leash
- Ensuring gates and doors stay closed
- Supervising your pet outdoors
- Restricting your pet’s access to open windows, terraces, or balconies where they could fall, jump, or slip through the bars
- Restraining your pet in the car—loose pets can be a distraction, escape during stops, or be ejected from the vehicle in an accident. Always use a carrier, crate, seat belt, or barrier, to ensure everyone has a safe ride.
#4: Dogs or cats who fight or attack
Aggressive or reactive encounters between pets can lead to devastating injuries in moments—and with little to no warning. Large dogs often shake little dogs and cats, causing life-threatening head, spinal, or respiratory injuries. Altercations between pets often end with deep bite wounds, bleeding, and invisible—potentially critical—internal damage. Because adrenaline can mask pain, always take your pet to the nearest veterinary facility for a full examination after a fight or attack.
While these encounters may not always be preventable, taking these steps can reduce your pet’s risk:
- Avoiding allowing your pet to interact with unfamiliar dogs and cats
- Not letting your pet roam freely
- Carrying a dog repellent spray or an air horn, in case you are approached by a stray or loose dog
- Separating resource-guarding pets during meal times, or when receiving treats or toys
- Learning how to safely break up a dog or cat fight, to avoid becoming seriously injured
#5: Pet foreign body ingestion
Dogs and cats can be opportunistic and indiscriminate eaters. No matter that you feed them gourmet food, they’ll still consume inedible objects (i.e., foreign bodies) such as food wrappers, meat bones, string, and toys. These items can become lodged in their gastrointestinal tract and require emergency surgical removal.
Protect pets from themselves by:
- Pet-proofing your home
- Storing trash cans out of reach
- Purchasing toys and chews appropriate for your dog’s play habits
- Throwing away broken or damaged toys
- Supervising your pet around children’s toys
Being prepared can save your pet’s life
Taking proactive steps to prevent common pet emergencies can greatly increase your pet’s chances of a long, healthy, and safe life. However, pets are animals, and accidents happen, but knowing how to respond during an emergency can save precious time and help you stay calm.
- Post emergency numbers in a visible location or store them in your phone. Include the Animal Medical Hospital of Naples, your nearest veterinary emergency facility, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
- Build a pet first aid kit that you keep stocked.
- Learn how to assess your pet’s vital signs.
If your pet is experiencing an emergency, or you have additional questions about keeping them safe, contact the Animal Medical Hospital of Naples.