First Aid Information for Pet Owners: Handling the Injured Pet

Ande Johnson, DVM
Editor Walt Ingwersen DVM, DVSc, DACVIM


An injured animal is frightened and in pain. The most gentle pet can bite under such circumstances.

It is safest to muzzle an injured pet before attempting to move it. A properly applied muzzle will do no harm for a short period of time while allowing the pet guardian to obtain the best and safest service for the pet.

If a pet is experiencing breathing problems, do not apply a muzzle.

Muzzles are contraindicated when the animal has a blockage in the nasal cavities or other injuries that cause breathing problems. In such situations, a thick bed cover or layers of soft towels around the pet, and between you and them during handling, is best.

Cats are often best handled wrapped in towels or blankets, as are short-nosed dog and cat breeds that are impossible to muzzle.

A muzzle should be part of every pet first aid kit.

Easy-to-use, comfortable, nylon muzzles are available in sizes to fit all types of dogs and cats. If you have a correctly fitting "store-bought" muzzle for your pet, use it. If you do not have a muzzle, one can be made out of a necktie, pantyhose, or a length of large-bore, soft rope.

Homemade Muzzle

In order to be effective, a homemade muzzle must be applied snugly.

1. Begin with an 18-inch (45 cm) length of rope (or suitable material). Make a knot

2. Make a loop in the middle of the rope that is large enough to fit easily over your pet's nose

3. Quietly slip the loop over the pet's nose and immediately tighten

4. Bring both ends down and cross under the chin

5. Bring the ends back behind the ears

6. Tie snugly around behind the ears and neck and secure with a bow for quick release if needed


Lifting the Injured Pet

Speak calmly to the animal as you gently lift the pet by supporting both the pelvis and the chest.

Small pets can be cradled against your own chest.

Medium or large dogs should be lifted with one arm under their chest and the other behind the thighs.

Evaluating Injuries


If your pet is bleeding profusely from a wound, apply a pressure bandage. (Described in Bandages and Splints). If your pet is bleeding from a body orifice, take immediately to the veterinary clinic.

Body cavity wound

If your pet has a gaping wound that penetrates the abdominal cavity or chest cavity, cover the wound with a moist, clean cloth, and wrap the entire chest or abdomen with a bandage.

Body Temperature

If your pet's extremities feel cool, cover with a blanket.

Unable to Stand

Usually indicative of severe internal injuries or fracture.


Small dogs and cats

Transport injured small pets in a padded crate or basket lined with a pillow. Gently place the pet on the pillow; cover with a blanket if body temperature seems low. It is always safest to transport cats in a covered carrier to prevent escape.

Large dogs

Injured large dogs are best transported using a stretcher. The easiest homemade stretcher is simply a blanket (or sheet, towel, or tarp). Place the blanket beside the injured dog and gently slide the dog onto the blanket. Two people are needed to transport a dog in this fashion.

A plywood sheet should be used as a rigid stretcher if the injury is a suspected broken back. Duct tape may be used to secure the dog to the plywood. To avoid compromising breathing, do not apply tape tightly around the chest.

The muzzle may be removed once the injured pet is placed in the vehicle for transport.

The muzzle may be removed for small pets after they are placed in their padded crate or basket.

On arrival, request staff assistance to transport the pet into the clinic.