A localised accumulation of pus is usually caused by an infection introduced from an animal bite or other penetrating wound. It may appear as a painful swelling or, if it has ruptured, as a draining wound.

What to Do:

  • If it has ruptured, clean the wound with soap (not detergent) and water. Rinse well and pat dry. Repeat several times a day.
  • If there is swelling, apply warm, moist compresses for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat 3 or 4 times daily.
  • Abscesses should be examined by a veterinarian within 24 hours.

What NOT to Do:

  • Do not attempt to open the abscess yourself.
  • Do not apply medicines, potions, or home remedies unless directed by a veterinarian.

Abscesses are a frequent problem in cats, especially unneutered males who get into territorial or breeding disputes.

During these disputes, the pet may receive a bite or a scratch. If the wound becomes infected, an abscess may form within a day or two. Neutering your male cat will reduce his “need” to fight. Without the influence of male hormones, he will mark out a much smaller territory and will be less likely to engage in fights over a female.


Any injury of tissue caused by heat, flame, chemicals, or electricity.

What to Do:

  • Extinguish all flames.
  • For thermal or electrical burns, immediately apply cold water compresses to the site of the injury, changing them frequently as necessary to keep the site cool and wet. Continue this for at least 30 minutes.
  • For chemical burns, see the chemical injuries section.
  • Transport your pet to a veterinary facility as soon as possible.

What NOT to Do:

  • Do not apply ointments.
  • Do not delay seeking veterinary attention.
  • Do not attempt to remove burned hair or skin yourself.


Excess loss of water from the body or inappropriate intake of water into the body.

What to Do:

  • If moderate or severe, seek veterinary attention.
  • If mild, give frequent, small amounts of water by mouth.
  • Move the pet to a cool (not cold) environment to help reduce panting.

What NOT to Do:

  • Do not allow the pet to have immediate free access to water or other liquid.
  • Do not feed him any dry food.

Dehydration often accompanies vomiting, diarrhea, hypothermia, fever, no access to water, and other conditions. It can be detected by several tests:

Mouth: Are the tongue and gums moist or dry? If they are dry, the pet may be dehydrated. Is the saliva thick or ropy? Normally, saliva is quite watery and hardly noticeable.

Eyes: Are they normal, or do they sink into the sockets? Sunken or dry eyes may indicate dehydration and warrant veterinary attention.

Skin: Do the skin turgor test outlined in the Physical Exam Checklist. If the skin is slow to return to position, the animal is at least 5% dehydrated. If the skin does not return fully to its position, the animal is 10% to 12% dehydrated and is likely in critical condition.


Fracture: a break or crack in a bone.

Closed fracture: fractures in which there is no related external wound.

Open (compound) fracture: fractures associated directly with open wounds (the bone may be visible through the wound).

Dislocation: an injury to the connective tissues holding a joint in position that results in the displacement of a bone at the joint.

Sprain: an injury to a joint, ligament, or tendon in the region of a joint. It involves partial tearing or stretching of these structures without dislocation or fracture.

What to Do:

  • Before treatment, precautions should be taken to prevent biting injury to the first aid provider. Muzzle and or cover the head of the pet.
  • Open fractures should be dressed with a wet dressing applied over the opening and bone.
  • If possible, the limb should be immobilized with a splint to prevent further injury.

Use any of the following:

  • A mountaineering splint (see section on Real Limb in splints).
  • A splint fashioned out of newspapers or magazines or coat hangers (see both sections on Splints).
  • A splint made of sticks of wood supporting the fracture, fixed in place with tape or cloth.
  • Any splint should extend past at least one joint above and one joint below the fracture site.

What NOT to Do:

  • If the splint is difficult to apply or the animal objects, do not attempt splinting. Carefully transport them to a veterinarian.
  • Never attempt to set or reduce a fracture or try to push a protruding bone back into position.

A fracture or dislocation or severe sprain may be suspected when the animal suddenly appears lame on a leg or picks up a leg and won’t use it. They may also be suspected following any major fall or blunt injury. Obvious findings of a bone protruding from a wound are rare. What is more common is the unusual angulation or deformation of the fractured area and swelling. Accurate diagnosis requires the use of x-rays.

An x-ray is the only way to accurately diagnose a fracture.


Heat Stroke or Heat Prostration

The elevation of body temperature is above normal. It is sometimes indicative of a fever, but it can also be associated with severe conditions such as heat stroke or heat prostration.

Any time the body temperature is higher than 106 degrees F or 41 degrees C, a true emergency exists.

What to Do:

  • Remove the pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred.
  • Move the pet to the shade and direct a fan on the pet.
  • If possible, determine rectal temperature and record.
  • Begin to cool the body by wetting with cool (not cold) water on the trunk and legs. It is helpful to use rubbing alcohol on the skin of the stomach and allow the fan to speed up evaporation.
  • Transport to a veterinary facility.

What NOT to Do:

  • Do not use cold water or ice for cooling.
  • Do not over-cool the pet.
  • Do not attempt to force water orally.
  • Do not leave the pet unattended for any length of time.

In the summertime, other than fever, the most frequent cause of hyperthermia is heat prostration or heat stroke. Most of these cases can be avoided by following the advice in the Preventing a Health and Safety Crisis section. Keep in mind that prolonged seizures, eclampsia (milk fever), poisonings, and many other conditions may cause hyperthermia.

Also, the brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (Pekingese, Chinese Pug, Lhasa Apso, Boston Terrier, etc.) may suffer from ineffectual panter syndrome (see the difficulty breathing section), which results in an increased body temperature that can be fatal.

The most common sign of heat prostration or heat stroke is vigorous panting. The pet is likely to be lying on its side, unable to stand, although some are restless and agitated.

There may be a thick, ropy saliva in the mouth or froth coming from the mouth and/or nose. Often the pet seems to be rigid, extending its head, neck, and limbs. The mucous membranes are often red but may be pale or “muddy.” The pet may show signs of shock.

Rapidly cooling the pet is extremely important. While ice or cold water may seem logical, its use is not advised. Cooling the innermost structures of the body will actually be delayed, as ice or cold water will cause superficial blood vessels to shrink, effectively forming an insulating layer of tissue to hold the heat inside. Tap water is more suitable for effective cooling.

Severe hyperthermia is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body. Simply lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that often accompany this disorder. A pet suffering from hyperthermia should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.


When your pet is “struck” by a snake, it is best to assume it is a poisonous bite.

What to Do:

  • Immobilise the part of the animal that has been bitten by the snake. Try to keep it at or below the level of the heart.
  • Keep the pet calm and immobile; carry if necessary.
  • Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
  • Try to retrieve the snake if it can be done without risk. It is sometimes helpful to identify the type of snake.

What NOT to Do:

  • Do not cut over the fang marks.
  • Do not manipulate the bitten area any more than needed.
  • Do not allow the pet to move about freely.
  • Do not ice pack or tourniquet the area.
  • Do not administer any medications except on a veterinarian’s advice.
  • Do not use electric shock on the area.

Snake bites are a complex problem. The severity and type of damage done by venom depend on the type of snake involved.

Some snakes have venom that causes severe shock and rapid death. Others have most of their effect on the muscles. Some venom is very concentrated, and some require large quantities before damage is done.

The first goal of a snake bite treatment is to keep the venom from circulating in large quantities throughout the body. However, keeping all the venom in the area of a bite (as with ice packs or tourniquets) may cause severe muscle damage.

Antivenom administered at the hospital is the most direct and helpful treatment for your pet.

If your pet is bitten by a snake, assume the bite is poisonous and seek veterinary attention quickly.


A wound is any break in the continuity of the tissues of the body, either external or internal.

What to Do:

Deep Wounds

  • Stop the bleeding (see the bleeding section).
  • Do not attempt to clean the wound unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
  • Protect the wound from contamination by applying water or a saline-soaked compress. Do not remove it until instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
  • Immobilise the wound to prevent further damage.
  • Provide shock care if necessary.
  • Obtain professional veterinary care. Transport the animal with the affected area facing up.

Superficial Wounds

  • Stop the bleeding. Clean and bandage the wound as instructed in the bandaging section.

What NOT to Do:

  • Do not apply materials (other than those mentioned) to the wound unless specifically instructed to by your veterinarian.