Why Learning Pet First-Aid is a Smart Move By Denise Fleck, Sunny-dog Ink

How I got involved in Pet First Aid? One morning in February of 1997, Sunny, our yellow Labrador Retriever, woke up unable to move and in agonizing pain. We sat on the floor by her bed trying to comfort her as she began to tremble, hoping against hope that someone would come into the veterinarian’s office extra early to tell us what to do. For this most easy-going of dogs who never complained about anything, every movement, no matter how slight, now caused her great distress. All of a sudden she frantically dashed for the outdoors, letting out a cry that echoed through the house. Sunny answered nature’s call and then collapsed on the ground.

Emergencies similar to this can occur suddenly and without warning. Has an outdoor cookout ever been so inviting that your pooch couldn’t resist reaching up for a sizzling treat? Has your cat’s tail ever been accidentally closed in a door? Have you found a dog left in a car and suffering from heat stroke? Have you ever feared your cat would get bitten by a bee and suffer an allergic reaction? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll realize that being prepared applies not just to the Boy Scouts, but to you as well.

Statistics show that preventable accidents are the leading cause of death among companion animals. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), one out of four additional animals could be saved if just one pet first aid technique was applied.

In an emergency, First-Aid is the initial and often most critical step. Knowing what to do in those first few moments can save your animal’s life. The most accomplished veterinary surgeon will not be able to bring your dog or cat back once his heart and lungs have stopped, but by knowing the life-saving skills of First-Aid and CPR, you can keep your animal’s organs working until professional medical help is available.

Many of us have taken human First-Aid or CPR courses. However, dogs and cats don’t share the same anatomy as us. Although the concept is the same, the techniques differ. In addition, we can’t ask our dog or cat, “Where does it hurt?” or “Did you just eat something out of the trash?” Pet-specific training is therefore essential.

Anyone you entrust the care of your dog or cat to should also know these important life-saving skills. It’s a great responsibility to look after someone’s four-legged friend, and a good pet sitter, groomer or caregiver should be ready for the unexpected.

“I was caring for two precious Cairn terriers and had just given them a doggie treat when one of them suddenly started choking,” said Tina Kenny of TLC Pet Sitting. “As I watched her desperately trying to cough up the biscuit lodged in her throat, I realized she needed my help. I am so grateful I had taken a Pet First-Aid class just the day before. I quickly took the appropriate action (side chest thrusts) and the biscuit shot out of her mouth and across the kitchen floor. There was nothing quite as rewarding as knowing I had saved the day for this helpless little dog, and her wagging tail and thankful licks let me know she felt the same way.”

Cat mom Heidi Fielding adds that one of the biggest benefits of taking a Pet First-Aid class is that it gave her “confidence in dealing with an emergency situation.” Knowing what to do is no good if you don’t have the confidence to react and use that knowledge.

After surgery to remove three ruptured discs, Sunny bounced back to her usual self, but I never again wanted to feel helpless if or when my pet was in distress. The experience led me to not only learn Pet First-Aid and CPR, but to teach it to others as well. One of my students, Kate Ahrens, sums it up best: “The last thing you want is to wish you had taken a Pet First-Aid and CPR class.”

It is time to take note of what we should be prepared to do every day of our lives as pet parents — lower a pet’s body temperature, minimize blood loss, soothe an upset tummy, alleviate choking, induce vomiting to expel poison or in worse-case scenario…be the pump our pet’s heart cannot be until we can get them veterinary help!

In addition to learning Pet First Aid & CPCR (Cardio Pulmonary Cerebral Resuscitation – a newer and more efficient method) and having a Pet First Aid Kit, there are five specific things you can do to help your pet live a longer, happier, healthier life with you:


  1. Know where your nearest Animal ER is & Keep up with annual Veterinary Visits.

Drive there before you need to, so that you know where to enter, what services are offered and how they accept payment. Don’t miss annual veterinary exams where professional eyes, hands, ears, stethoscope, blood test and urinalysis can diagnose problems at their earliest stages.


  1. Do a weekly Head-to-Tail Check-up of your pet and notice changing habits.

Really get to know your pet, his body and his habits so that you can more quickly determine when something is not quite right. Feel for lumps and bumps, parasites and burrs, anything that should not be on him. Notice what your dog or cat looks like when he sits and stands. How often do you have to fill his water bowl and how often he needs to answer nature’s call? Changes may warrant a veterinary check-up.


  1. Get Down on all Fours.

Look at your house and yard from your pet’s perspective. Anything on the floor is fair game and an animal’s amazing sense of smell can find hidden temptations behind cabinet doors. Cleaners and fertilizers not absorbed through paw pads will be ingested when your dog or cat grooms himself, so keep items out of paws reach and use pet friendly chemicals.


  1. Read your pet’s food label.

The first 3-5 items listed on the ingredient label are the bulk of your pet’s diet. Make sure the first one is a high quality protein — the name of the animal in the food (ie: chicken, lamb, salmon, or venison). Limit or avoid wheat, corn and soy which results in allergic reactions in many pets. Can’t pronounce it? Your pet probably doesn’t need it. Feeding the right food (all dogs and cats won’t do well on the same brand) just may prevent illness. Educate yourself for your pet’s sake as food okay for humans may not be so for canines or felines.


  1. Spend quality time together.

That’s why we have pets – to make them part of the family, so when you walk the dog, don’t talk on your cell phone or text. Tune in to kitty rather than mindlessly petting her. Be in the now and keep your eyes open to your pet’s environment to avoid disasters.



Denise Fleck is an award winning author, freelance writer and a two-time finalist as Pet Industry’s Woman of the Year. After extensive training, practice, more training and more practice, she developed her own Pet First-Aid & CPCR curriculum and has taught more than 10,000 pet lovers animal life-saving skills. This fall she will emBARK on a first-of-its-kind 10,000-mile Pet Safety Tour throughout the Southern U.S. Fleck also teaches Animal Care course to high school students in conjunction with the Burbank Unified School District and Animal Shelter.  She has demonstrated animal life-saving skills on CBS –TV’s “The Doctors,” Animal Planet’s “Pit Boss,” “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life” and countless other shows. To complement her teachings, she created a line of Pet First-Aid Kits, posters and books for children teaching animal respect and care!  Visit or call (818) 951-7962.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing my story and how we each can help our pets!

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