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At-Home First Aid for Pets

  • Illustration by John Ueland

  • Illustration by Amanda Lanzone

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Bee stings and broken teeth were just some of the scary pet problems Family Circle readers shared with us on Facebook. We helped solve them with at-home first-aid advice from Kimberly May, DVM, assistant director of communications for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

What should I do if my pet gets strung by a bee? If your animal has a history of reacting to stings, carry an EpiPen or give your pet antihistamines before you take him somewhere he may be exposed. Otherwise, an ice pack can relieve pain or puffiness. Stings aren't worrisome unless the eyes, nose or mouth swell or if he seems ill. If that happens, go to a vet or an emergency care facility immediately.

What should I do if my pet has her nails cut too short? Apply Styptic powder to stop the bleeding. You can also use tape or an adhesive bandage to put pressure on the nail. Whatever you do, stay calm so that your pet will too—if she gets excited, the blood flow will increase. If bleeding continues for more than 30 minutes despite first aid, contact your vet.

What should I do if my pet swallows a foreign object? As soon as your pet consumes something dangerous, contact your vet for next steps. She may recommend you try to make your dog or cat vomit the item back up with hydrogen peroxide, but check with your vet on the amount to give since too much can be harmful. In general, keep floors and couches clear of spare change, decorations and anything that smells or looks like food—especially if it can easily be eaten.

What should I do if my pet eats a box of chocolates? Chocolate can be deadly for our pets. (The dark kind is the riskiest.) Call your vet for a treatment recommendation, which will depend on your pet's weight, the type of chocolate he ate and the amount consumed.

What should I do if my pet breaks a tooth? Make an appointment with your vet. Meanwhile, decrease pain by eliminating rawhide or other treats that are tough to chew from her diet. Offer soft snacks or soak dry food.

Keep the numbers for your vet and the Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) in a prominent spot.

Summer Safety Quiz
As temperatures rise, so do the risks. Learn what you need to know to keep your pet safe.

By Sheila Dougherty

True or false? You need to make a quick stop at the store. Since it's only 75 degrees outside, it's safe to leave your dog or cat in the car as long as you crack the window a few inches.

FALSE. Leaving pets in a car on a hot day for even a few minutes is extremely dangerous and can lead to heatstroke. "When the temperature's 70 degrees or above, animals should be left in the comfort and safety of their home," says Jason Nicholas, BVetMed, president of "Cracking the windows does little, if anything, to slow the rate of heat rising in a parked car."

Which of the following signals heatstroke, fatal after just a few minutes?

A. Lethargy
B. Change in tongue and gum color
C. Heavy panting
D. All of the above

D. Familiarize yourself with the color of your pets' gums and tongue so you can detect a change. "Avoid heatstroke by keeping him out of hot environments, not exercising him during the heat of the day, watching his weight and providing plenty of fresh water to drink," says Nicholas. If you suspect your dog or cat is suffering from heatstroke, take him to the vet immediately.

True or false? You should use animal-friendly sunscreen on pets—even long-haired ones.

TRUE. Protect the bridge of her nose, the inside and tips of her ears and her belly if she's going outside. Breeds with light coats benefit from extra coverage where they have less fur, says Nicholas. Use pet-safe sunscreens that don't contain PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) or zinc oxide, like Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen for dogs (, $18), says Melanie Monteiro, a dog safety expert and author of The Safe Dog Handbook. Check with your vet before applying human sunscreen.

What's the best way to avoid parasites like fleas and ticks?

A. Brushing his coat regularly
B. Periodically checking his skin and fur
C. Preventive topical solutions or soft chewables

B and C. "Even if you're using a topical solution such as Frontline Plus, which has formulations for cats and dogs, check your pet," Payne says. Parasites seek warmer areas on the body, so inspect the stomach, ears and underarms. Flea and tick collars can also offer an added layer of protection, and year-round prevention is critical even for indoor-only animals, states Nicholas.

The Right Stuff

An up-to-date first-aid kit is a must for every pet parent. Here's what you'll need.

Digital Fever Thermometer

Saline solution


Adhesive tape

Hydrogen peroxide

Telfa bandage pads


Sterile gauze

Milk of magnesia

Quick Fix: For on-the-go expert advice and step-by-step instructions during emergencies, download the American Red Cross Pet First Aid app (iTunes and Google Play, 99 cents)

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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