Pet Health

First Aid for Pets

Written by Dr. Adam Abou-Youssef Apr 17 • 5 minute read

Being prepared has never seemed more prudent than this month! As Joliet, Illinois, and the entire country works to flatten the curve of COVID-10, we want to make sure you are armed to handle pet first aid without an unnecessary trip out of the house.

1. Poisoning / Toxin Ingestion

Last month we posted Dr. Adam’s three step approach to pet poisonings; take a look at the full article for more details and resources.

  • Prevent emergencies. 

Ok, yes, it’s cheating to say the best way to handle an emergency is to prevent it in the first place, but it’s true. Make sure you know what is toxic to pets (ASPCA Poison Control publishes lists and an app) and keep those items out of reach.

  • Call for help.  

You don’t need to figure this out on your own! Call us or the ASPCA Pet Poison Control number for immediate advice. The pros can help you triage what is possible at home and whether in-person veterinary care is warranted.

  • Don’t wait!

Many toxins don’t create any symptoms in our pets for hours or days, and by the time your pet seems sick, the damage may be permanent. Immediate treatment is the best way to help your pet survive.

2. Injury

It's never wrong to seek medical help for an injured pet! Use the information below to help you decide how best to do so.


Limping, or lameness, occurs on a spectrum, from a slight gimp not using a leg at all. It can also happen gradually (think pets with arthritis, who slowly become more prone to mild limps over months to years) or all at once (think of a broken leg).

If your pet has suddenly developed a limp or is having a hard time using one or more legs, he/she needs to be seen by a veterinarian. If your pet is completely unable to use a leg, that needs to happen immediately. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut in these situations.

If your pet falls into the “slight gimp” category, especially if this has been a recurring issue or slow to develop, you can probably take a few days to monitor the issue at home:

  • REST your pet

Consider this as close to “bed rest” as you can get. No running, jumping, playing, or even strolling around the house. If you had a sprained ankle, you’d stay on the couch all day. Provide a similar level of restriction for your pet, with a few short leash walks for the bathroom. For cats, try restricting to a small room with minimal jumping opportunities.

  • DO NOT GIVE over the counter medications

Many human medications are highly toxic to pets. If you think your pet is in enough pain to need medication, please let us know and we can provide advice on safe options.

  • MONITOR for improvement

Mild sprains should improve in a few days. If your pet is still limping (at all!) after 2-3 days of rest, home care is unlikely to be sufficient and an office visit is worthwhile. During the visit we can rule out serious injuries and prescribe safe medications to accelerate recovery.


Wounds fall into two categories: partial- and full-thickness. As you may get from the description, partial thickness wounds are essentially scratches of various severity that do not go all the way through the skin. Full thickness wounds go all the way through and expose underlying tissues to the outside world.

Small, partial-thickness wounds may heal well without an office visit. Keep these scratches clean and dry. Use an antibacterial soap to clean it once daily (tip: be sure to rinse all the soap off and dry well!), preventing your pet from licking it, and do not apply topical oils. If a wound is not healing within 1-2 days, contact us ASAP as medication may be needed.

Larger wounds and ANY full-thickness wounds need to be seen in the hospital, as oral antibiotics and possibly stitches are needed. The sooner a wound is seen, the more straightforward treatment will be (even a 12-24 hour delay may make simple stitches impossible and necessitate surgery).

3. Sudden Vomiting / Diarrhea

Oh, dogs and cats. How do they always know the most inopportune time to develop an upset stomach?


While there are no hard and fast rules, you can often manage mild diarrhea by providing a brief break from meals (12 hours for small dogs and cats, 24 hours for large dogs) and then feeding VERY bland food for a couple days.

Bland food consists of a lean protein (boiled skinless and boneless chicken breast OR lean ground beef is a good option) and a simple carbohydrate (boiled white rice is a good option), with no sauce, salt, or oils added. Usually a 1:3 ratio of protein to rice is good for dogs.

If your pet is eating well, energetic, not vomiting, and has no other health issues, you can try this for 1-2 days before coming in. There are, of course, parasites, infectious diseases, and more serious health problems that can cause diarrhea, too. So, if your pet is acting ill (lethargic, not eating), has blood in the stool, or is getting worse despite the above, don’t delay a visit!


A single vomit pile isn’t cause for concern, as long as your pet is otherwise well (eating well, good energy, no other health concerns). We get worried when your pet can’t keep food down at all, doesn’t want to eat, or is acting lethargic.

For a single vomit episode, make sure nothing is missing from around the house (we’ve seen some weird foreign bodies over the years!) and monitor your pet. If the vomit continues or your pet is ill, then please call us. We can go through your pet’s recent medical history and see if there’s a simple explanation or if a visit is a good idea.


Alright you cool cats and kittens! Hang in there and let us know if you need anything from us. We're here during this crazy time and want to make sure our four-legged community members are staying healthy, too. 

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