How to cope in a canine crisis


Would you know what to do if your dog started choking? Joanne Bednall tells us how attending a pet first aid course could potentially save a dog’s life...

When Janice Latreche spotted her puppy gasping for breath one day last summer, she knew exactly what to do. Because — by sheer luck — just a week earlier, the 48-year-old housing association community engagement officer had attended a pet first aid course run by PDSA. There, Janice had learned what to do if a dog starts choking, and she was able to put her newly acquired skills into practice. Realising that her Springer Spaniel-cross, Milton, had chewed one of her grandson’s action figure toys, and got it stuck in his throat, Janice, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, didn’t panic.

“I could see that Milton was struggling to breathe and remembered the skills I had learned on the PDSA course,” explains Janice.

“I tried to see if I could pull the plastic toy out but I couldn’t, so I used a technique, which is like an animal equivalent of the Heimlich manoeuvre — and it just popped out.”

As soon as the toy became dislodged, Milton was able to breathe and, after calming him down, Janice took him to be checked by a vet.

“If I hadn’t done the course, I don’t think Milton would have made it as I wouldn’t have known what to do,” adds Janice.

“I’m so grateful to PDSA for everything I’ve learned, and I think a pet first aid course is something all owners should consider doing.”

To improve pets’ chances of surviving in emergencies, PDSA launched a series of free pet first aid courses in March 2017, to help equip pet owners with vital skills.

Since then, more than 1,000 owners, and those who work with animals, have signed up for these informative courses, which take place at community venues around Britain.

Initially funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the courses have proved so popular that they are set to continue throughout 2019. While not intended to replace veterinary treatment, the courses are aimed at everyone, from ordinary owners to dog walkers, and groomers and boarding kennel/doggy day-care proprietors wanting to brush up on their know-how and be better prepared in an emergency. Participants learn how to be ‘first responders’ in case their pet is involved in an accident, suffers a seizure, starts choking, or gets injured.

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PDSA vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan says: “Knowing your ABCs — Airway, Breathing, and Circulation — can help you assess a collapsed pet, and give CPR if necessary. And stemming bleeding using firm pressure or a temporary bandage can buy you valuable time until you can get to a vet.”

Subjects covered include:

  • Normal temperature, pulse, and respiration rates and how to check for them.
  • Heatstroke.
  • Bandaging.
  • A (Airway), B (Breathing), C (Circulation) and CPR.
  • Burns.
  • Bloat.
  • Poisoning.
  • Seizures
  • Choking.

Contents of a well-stocked pet first aid kit should include:

  • Conforming/open-weave bandages (2.5cm wide).
  • Sterile, non-adhesive absorbent dressings.
  • Absorbent gauze.
  • Body-adhesive tape.
  • Blunt-ended scissors.
  • Cotton wool.
  • Antiseptic wipes and/or solution such as Hibiscrub.
  • Tweezers.
  • Tick removal tool.
  • Vinyl or latex gloves.
  • Digital thermometer.
  • Towels.
  • Old socks and small plastic bags or booties for protecting bandages.
  • Elizabethan/buster collar.
  • Foil/survival blanket.
  • Large rug/blanket that can be used as a stretcher.

Coping with a dog emergency

PDSA vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan offers a step-by-step guide to coping with an emergency.

  1. Don’t panic! You’ll be more likely to help your dog if you remain calm and focused.
  2. Animals in pain can bite. Approach an injured or ill dog from the front so he can see you, and talk softly to him. If necessary, use blankets to cover his head while you assess him. Alternatively, use a makeshift muzzle, consisting of a bandage, lead, or piece of rope. Support the dog between your legs, make a loop and place it over his nose; tighten it so he can’t open his mouth, and tie in a bow behind his ears.
  3. Check your pet for wounds, bleeding, and anything abnormal. If there is excessive bleeding, bandage or wrap a towel around the area.
  4. If your dog is unresponsive, check his ABC vital signs: A — is his airway clear? B — is he breathing? C — is there a pulse/heartbeat? If the answer is no, CPR is needed.
  5. Call your vet at the earliest opportunity. They may need to give you vital information, or want to set up ahead of your arrival to save precious time. Keep a pen and paper handy to write down any instructions.
  6. Don’t let your dog have anything to eat or drink unless your vet says so.

For more information, dates, and locations of upcoming courses, and to book a place, visit

Dos and don’ts of basic canine first aid…


  • Include all of your dog’s toes in any foot or lower leg dressing so you don’t risk cutting off his circulation, and remember to bandage up to above the next joint, to avoid the bandage slipping down.
  • Get your dog used to having a leg bandaged at home — make it a rewarding experience and a game. “Do it slowly, gradually, and gently rather than pinning your dog down,” advises Kaya, who also suggests owners practise their bandaging skills on a soft toy and a person (who will be able to tell them if it’s too tight) before tackling a pet.
  • Store your regular vet’s number on your mobile phone, and when on holiday, remember to add the contact details of the nearest vet.
  • Record your dog’s heart rate at rest so after a walk so you know what is normal for him.
  • Call a vet if a dog’s seizure lasts for longer than five minutes.


  • Attempt abdominal thrusts — the canine equivalent of a Heimlich manoeuvre — on a dog that isn’t choking.
  • Place a dressing over your dog’s face if he has injured his ears or head — restricting his vision could panic him further.
  • Bandage a fracture, as this can cause more harm than good.
  • Exercise your dog for at least an hour before or after eating, as this may lessen the risk of bloat.


  • If your dog has eaten toxic food, such as chocolate, grapes, or raisins, never attempt to induce vomiting yourself unless advised to do so by a vet.
  • An anxious, restless, and salivating dog who’s retching could have a lifethreatening condition called bloat. Look out for a swollen stomach that sounds hollow when tapped. Get to a vet immediately!
  • There has been an increase in the number of dogs who have consumed potentially toxic ecigarettes.
  • If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, you can ring the 24hour Animal Poison Line for advice; call 01202 509000 (charges apply).
  • In the absence of veterinary dressings, clean nappies or sanitary towels placed directly on a wound are effective, germfree absorbers.