First Aid Basics for Pet Transporters | CitizenShipper

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated January 17, 2024

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A dog receives pet first aid from a veterinarian.


Keeping your pet well and healthy is the core of your job as a pet carrier. To do so, most importantly, you should keep in mind that you don’t know the pet. With every new pet that you’re transporting, you have to try intensely to get to know them to identify irregularities in their behavior that signal health emergencies. A first step for gaining knowledge about a pet is asking their owners about their health history and special needs. 

This article will provide you with some basic knowledge about first aid for pets in common emergencies, but these insights can’t replace proper first aid education. We highly advise you to sign up for the American Red Cross Cats & Dogs First Aid Online Training.

Note: CitizenShipper will reward you when you complete and pass the class. We’ll give you $24.99 in site credits (the cost of the class) when you email us the completion certificate – confirming you took and passed the course. Read more about our support for Red Cross Certification here.

The First Aid Kit

To administer first aid in an emergency, you must be equipped with a proper first aid kit. It’s essential to have a kit in your vehicle at all times. Your first aid kit should contain:

  • Paperwork & Emergency numbers. Have these critical numbers close at hand. 
    • Veterinarian: Inform yourself about the location of veterinarians on your route, so you immediately know who to contact if needed. If the animal you are transporting has a more complex medical history, you should also have its regular veterinarian’s number close by if you need to share information. 
    • Emergency Veterinary Clinic: Emergencies can come at any time and outside office hours, so it’s essential to search for pet emergency clinics on your route; some vets offer an out-of-hours phone service that may be a helpful resource. 
    • Animal Poison Control: This service provides valuable information on animal poisoning instances. (888) 426-4435; 24/7 365 days/year
  • Tweezers, Wound Wash, Antiseptic Wipes, Gauze, Bandages, Scissors, Disposable Gloves, and Tape: Control bleeding, cleaning and wrapping wounds, and secure gauze and bandages.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide 3%: This can induce vomiting if the pet ate something poisonous.      
    • Important: Always contact a veterinarian or animal poison control before treating the animal.
  • Digital Thermometer: To check the pet’s temperature. 
  • Eyedropper or large syringe without a needle: For oral treatments or flushing wounds.
  • Wet Wipes and Extra Poop Bags: Good to have when the dog is vomiting or has stomach problems.
  • Blanket to use as a stretcher. 
  • Small Flashlight: For good sight of your pet and possible injuries in every situation.

In Case of Poisoning

Products that are harmful to humans, like rodent poison or cleaning products, are toxic to pets; this is central to keep in mind when evaluating a possible poisoning situation. Furthermore, be aware that there are everyday food items, like chocolate, which can be harmful to pets. It’s crucial to research which specific food items are dangerous for the kind of pet you’re transporting.

If the pet’s eyes or skin are exposed to a toxic product, follow the product label and apply the instructions for people exposed to the product to the pet. For example, if the product says that you should flush your skin with water and soap, you should wash your pet’s skin as soon as possible with water and soap. After doing so, call the vet immediately, especially if there is any contact with the eyes, mouth, or nose.

If you suspect the pet may have consumed something poisonous, but you are unsure, call a veterinarian, emergency veterinary clinic, or the Animal Poison Center for further guidance immediately. It can take hours or days for symptoms to show, but acting fast can save the pets’ life. Don’t make the pet sick unless the vet tells you to! If your animal is losing consciousness, has seizures, or difficulty breathing, you should immediately call the veterinarian. If you can identify what your pet ate, collect it in a plastic bag or collect the product container if it exists and take it with you to the veterinarian.

In Case of Breathing Problems

If the pet you’re transporting is struggling to breathe, it can be a life-threatening emergency. Symptoms are noisy breathing, lying stretched out, white, blue, grey gums, and short and fast breaths. Cats open their mouths to breathe if they are struggling.

If the pet has any preconditions that affect breathing, you should contact the vet with any breathing changes. You must stay calm because stress can make it worse. Check if there is anything stuck in the mouth or throat that you can try to remove. If the pet stopped breathing, you should give CPR; we will explain how later in the article.

Depending on how severe the signs are, you should call the vet or drive immediately to the nearest vet practice. If the pet doesn’t have severe symptoms and improves when the pet calms down, the pet might not need emergency treatment, but since you don’t know the pet well, you should even then strongly consider getting it checked. If you have to go to the vet: Call them on the way, so they are prepared for your arrival, especially during COVID-19, since the opening hours might differ.

In Case of Seizures

Try to remove anything around the pet, which might hurt them, but don’t try to restrain their movement. Turn the light off, create a quiet environment, and keep the animal cool because it can quickly overheat during a seizure. You should time the seizure length and record the seizure because it could give the vet a clue about what’s happening to the pet. After it stopped, you should keep the pet as comfortable as possible and talk to it gently to calm it down while contacting the vet.

In Case of Fractures

If you think the pet might have a broken bone, you should muzzle them as a first step since pets are likely to bite when they are in severe pain, scared, and hurting, especially when they are not familiar with you.

You should avoid touching or moving the painful area and not burdening the broken body part. Instead, you should transport the pet on a stretcher. If you suspect the pet has a spinal injury, a flat surface such as a board will stabilize the animal. 

Call the veterinarian for any further steps. Don’t give your pet anything to eat or drink before you talked to the vet.

In Case of Wounds/External Bleeding

In this situation, you should consider using a muzzle or approach the pet with a towel to protect yourself as wounded animals may become aggressive. Move slowly and carefully. Even very calm dogs and cats can become vicious if they are in pain.

If the pet is collapsing, call the vet immediately. Otherwise, find out where the blood is coming from and check the pet for wounds and bruises. Once you have identified where the blood is coming from, use a clean gauze pad, cloth, or bandage on the wound. Now you have to wait until the bleeding stops, which can take several minutes. Keep the pressure on for a minimum of 3 minutes before you check if the wound is clotting.

Call the vet – they will tell you what to do next. If you have to move the pet, be careful not to touch their injuries.

In Case of Internal Bleeding

Internal bleeding symptoms are weakness, collapse, cold feet, tails, ears, bruising, pale gums, difficulty breathing, bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing blood, blood in urine, and a swollen belly. Immediately call the veterinarian and approach the next emergency clinic.

In the Case of Burns

Burns can be extremely painful for the pet and can get easily infected, so it’s crucial to take minor burns seriously. Take the pet away from what is burning it. Check if the pet has any other symptoms or other injuries.

Don’t apply any creams to the burnt skin, but cool it down for at least 10-20 minutes with running water or put the burnt skin into the water. The water shouldn’t be too cold, and you should make sure that you keep your pet warm with a blanket while cooling the wound. If you’re worried that the burn might get dirty on the way to the veterinarian, place gently and loosely cling film over the burn. Afterward, call the vet, no matter the size of the burn!

In Case of Choking

Keep your pet calm and try to see if there is something in their mouth. Try to remove it with pliers or tweezers, but don’t use your fingers because it might let them panic more, and you could get bitten if your pet is unconscious to open their mouth and uses your fingers to remove anything from the back of their throat gently.

If you can’t remove the stuck object, you should lay the pet on their side, place both hands on the side of your pet’s rib cage and then push firmly and quickly or strike the rib cage with the flat of your hand three or four times. With these movements, you want to push the object out with the air of their lungs. Repeat this until the thing is out. If this doesn’t work, call the vet immediately and ask for advice. 

In Case of Heatstroke

First: You should never leave a pet alone in the car; the interior of a vehicle can be many times the external temperature, even on cooler days. This is a common reason for heart strokes in pets – which can be fatal. The common symptoms of heatstroke are excessive panting, trouble breathing, and collapse. As always, you should stay calm and talk calmly and quietly to not further distress your pet.

You should immediately start cooling the pet. Move it to a shaded area and outside the sun. You might use a towel or blanket to move them. You could use the air-conditioning to cool the surrounding air, give them cool water to drink, place a coo,l wet towel around its neck and head, or put them on top of a damp towel. Slowly wet their feet, ears, and fur. When the pet already starts to cool down, you can pour cool water over their body, especially the abdomen and between the hind legs. Massage its legs and sweep the water away when it gets warm from the body.

Call the veterinarian as soon as possible. If your pet is struggling with breathing, ask them for advice. Transport them to the next clinic in an air-conditioned vehicle. 

When the Pet is Not Breathing and Has No Heartbeat

If the pet is not breathing, try to stay calm and access the airway and breathing. Check if there is anything in the throat by pulling the tongue forward. If something is blocking the throat, remove it with your fingers or tweezers. Observe and listen if the pet can return to breathing by checking if their chest is rising and falling and if you feel the breath coming from their nostrils. 

If you can’t feel any breath, check for the heartbeat by pacing your hand or ear over the chest, where the rib cage meets the elbow. If you don’t hear the heartbeat or are not sure if you do, start CPR.

Place the animal on a flat and firm surface on its right side. Barrel-chested dogs need to lie on their backs.

The Red Cross advice:

  • For cats, small dogs, and deep-chested dogs, place the heel of one of your hands directly over the pet’s heart and place your other hand directly over the first hand.
  • For deep-chested dogs, place the heel of one hand over the widest part of the chest and place your other hand directly over the first hand.
  • For barrel-chested dogs, place the dog on its back, place one hand over the widest part of the sternum, and place your other hand directly over the first hand. Lock your elbows and make sure your shoulders are directly above your hands.”

Then you should keep your arms straight and push hard since each compression should compress your pet’s chest by ⅓ to ½ of its width, and you should allow your pace for the chest to return to its normal position before pressing again.

The rate should be 100 – 120 compressions per minute, which means two compressions per second. Some people refer to the beat of the song ‘Staying Alive’ as a fitting reference. After 30 compressions, extend their neck, close their mouth and blow into their nose two times for 1 second until the pets’ chest is rising. Repeat the circle until the pet can breathe independently and check briefly every two minutes for their breath and heartbeat. Continue as long as possible before reaching a veterinarian.

This article is intended as a guide only. Undergoing first aid training is a valuable tool and may save an animal’s life. 

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