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It is Pet First Aid Awareness Month

April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month. An important part of being a professional pet sitter is learning pet first aid. I started in 2011 with Pet Sitters International's Certified Professional Pet Sitter course, then St. John's Ambulance, Dogsafe (twice), and most recently the Pet Safety Crusader (3 courses, through Pet Sitters International). As professionals, we need to recertify every few years so it is part of our ongoing learning and professional development. And I am sure we all want to offer the best service possible for our clients.

I completed the most recent courses with the Pet Safety Crusader in the spring of 2024.

Rabbit and Pocket Pet First Aid

Bird First Aid & Care for Pet Care Professionals

These two courses involved pet birds and small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and hamsters. Both were comprehensive and included best practices for housing, feeding, health monitoring, common diseases, and first aid techniques. I learned a lot. I will share what I found most interesting and helpful here. I hope you find the information as interesting as I do, whether you already have these cool animals in your family or are considering adopting them.


  • Prevention - how to keep your pet's environment clean and safe

  • Common conditions and first aid emergencies, and what you can do to help your pet

  • First Aid kit must-haves


How to keep your pet's environment clean and safe

It is important to learn about your specific species. There are a lot of different birds, small mammals, and exotic pets and they have a range of needs depending on their size, the climate and environment they originate from, how they handle being a pet, and their individual history and health.

One of the best ways to keep your pet safe and healthy is to set up their environment to best suit their needs and prevent unnecessary injuries, illness, or stress.

Observe your pet closely and determine what their normal behaviour, appearance, eating habits, and waste looks like (yes you need to look at pee and poop!). If you notice anything unusual, even a change in appetite or behaviour it may be time for a check-up. Birds and many other species will hide their illness as long as they can, it is simply an instinctual safety precaution. So even a small change may be due to something serious.

Some general tips that are common for most species:

  1. Set up your pet's habitat to suit their species, size, and activity.

    • Provide places to hide and rest.

    • Set up a light and heat appropriate for their species.

      • Birds need UV light daily.

      • Most species need to maintain a certain temperature range so you may need to set up a heat lamp or pad.

    • Most pets need more space than you think, and usually much more than a typical cage at a big box store.

      • Birds need the width of their cage to be twice the width of their wingspan, this allows them to stretch out and fly.

      • Rabbits need space to exercise, run, and jump

        • Multi-level cages can be dangerous if they fall from the top level.

        • They also need a cool and shady place to rest in the heat of the summer.

      • Before buying a cage research the species you have, particularly using animal welfare organizations and rescue groups that specialize in that species

      • Consult with your veterinarian if you have questions.

  2. Wash your hands before and after handling your pets, cleaning, and feeding.

  3. Keep your pet's habitat clean!

    • Some pets are extremely sensitive to chemicals so you have to be very careful but it is important to keep things clean to prevent some common illnesses.

    • Bird habitats - do not use bleach or bleach products anywhere near your birds and have a secondary cage or spot for them to go to when you are cleaning.

      • Use a designated scrub brush, hot water and liquid dish soap to clean and make sure everything is thoroughly rinsed and dried before returning your bird to the cage.

      • Be sure to clean perches too!

      • Use paper at the bottom of the cage to easily clean up the daily droppings (and it is also helpful to have that to show the Vet if your bird becomes ill).

    • Rabbit and small pocket pet habitats - they will need proper bedding that needs to be changed regularly, clean bowls, and spot cleaning daily.

  4. Maintain the temperature in and around their habitat to suit the species you have

    • Keep a thermometer on the cage or tank to accurately tell the temperature.

      • Birds 18.3 °C to 29.4 °C

      • Amphibians 16 °C to 27 °C (species dependent)

      • Rabbits are at risk of heat stroke at 26 °C & up

  5. Ensure they have fresh clean water and a proper well-balanced species-specific diet.

  6. Find a Vet that specializes in the type of pet you have.

    • If you are unsure call and ask if a Vet has experience or training with your species.

    • Avian specialty: Townline Veterinary Hospital; Dr. I. Elizabeth Borgmann at Coastal Rivers Pet Hospital

    • Small mammals, pocket pets, and/or Exotic animals: Gladwin Veterinary Clinic; Townline Veterinary Hospital; Glenn Mountain Animal Hospital; Coastal Rivers Pet Hospital; Ellwood Park Animal Hospital; Clearbrook Animal Hospital; Alpha Animal Hospital

Common Conditions and First Aid Emergencies

And what you can do to help your pet

There are some common situations or problems that we may all face at some point. Often it is environmental, something they ate or came into contact with, or something unexpected happens. These emergencies can happen to any pet but may be preventable. But when it does happen, with fast action, it is something we can address immediately and get the pet safely to the Vet for further treatment. Your pet can then hopefully make a full recovery!

  • Poisoning (inhaled, chemical burn, or ingested)

    • Causes: bleach or bleach products, ingesting human food that contains Xylitol, chocolate, avocado, household cleaners (the fumes can be extremely dangerous), cooking with Teflon with birds in the home, spoiled food (rabbits are particularly sensitive), toxic paint, air fresheners or certain essential oils

    • Symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing, diarrhea, obvious distress or discomfort, rabbits may paw at their mouth and drool excessively

    • Act immediately:

      • if inhaled remove from the area and fully air out the area for at least 24 hours before returning the pet

      • if it is a chemical or topical injury use a mild liquid dish soap and warm water to clean the area and rinse thoroughly, and if the bird is in distress or the chemical is very dangerous take them to the Vet for treatment immediately

      • if it is ingested use the Pet Poison Helpline to determine what the danger and treatment is (know the weight, toxin, how much, and symptoms) but you will likely need to get to the Vet immediately

  • Hyperthermia (too hot) and Hypothermia (too cold)

    • Causes: usually environmental such as summer heat or an extreme heat wave or winter, a power outage where their heat source is not working, or an extreme cold snap but can also be due to different illnesses

    • Hyperthermia symptoms: High environmental temperature, the pet may be panting, showing signs of dehydration, salivating, appearing agitated or distressed, birds will have their wings out for an extended period, lethargy, seizures

      • Act immediately: Get the pet to shade or a cooler spot, if possible use a fan to cool down the area, spray mist on them, wet visible skin (ears for rabbits, legs for birds, paw pads) give them a cool wet towel to sit on (do NOT cover them with the towel)

        • DO NOT use ice or really cold water as this can cause further injury and shock. Use cool-ish water only.

      • If symptoms are severe or the pet does not recover soon get to the Vet for a check-up and additional treatment. Organ damage and death can occur without proper and timely treatment.

    • Hypothermia symptoms: Cold environmental temperature, the pet may be shivering, sluggish or very still, visible frostbite, birds may appear fluffed up

      • Act immediately: Get the pet to a warmer sheltered spot, use a warm towel from the dryer or warm up a rice sock in the microwave and cover or place it by the pet to help warm them up. Do NOT try to warm them up too quickly or use high heat or water as this can cause further injury and shock.

      • If symptoms are severe or the pet does not recover soon get to the Vet for additional treatment.

  • Diarrhea can be a symptom of many different illnesses or a reaction to something in their diet or environment

    • Causes: stress, unsuitable food, unsanitary conditions, parasites, pancreatic disease, infection, poisoning, illness

    • You may need to clean up your pet's fur or feathers, sanitize their habitat, or change their diet (permanently or temporarily) to assist in their recovery

    • Monitor your pet closely and if there is no improvement you should take them in for a check-up (generally, the smaller the pet the more dangerous this is, so the check-up may be needed a.s.a.p.)

  • Dehydration can be a symptom of an illness or caused by their environment or habitat

    • Causes: Hot environmental temperature, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, lack of an adequate amount of clean water, injury, and can be a symptom of different illnesses

    • Symptoms include lethargy, unusually hard or dry poop, sunken eyes, loss of appetite, breathing faster

    • Act immediately: give the pet fresh clean water in a dish or bowl, and ensure their bottle or water dispenser is functioning and clean, if they are not drinking voluntarily administer water with a dropper at the side of their mouth slowly and in small amounts, you may need to give them electrolytes (unsweetened and unflavoured Pedialyte)

      • If they still will not drink or their condition does not improve you will need to get them to the Vet for fluid treatment and a check-up

Pet First Aid Kit

If you google 'Pet First Aid kit' you will find a bunch of options to purchase a ready-made kit including from Amazon, BC SPCA, Petsmart, St. John's Ambulance, and more.

Or you can assemble your own!

First Aid Kit Must-Haves

  • Gauze pads and adhesive tape

  • Cotton balls or swabs

  • Tweezers

  • Betadine Solution (must be diluted to use safely for pets - to tea or iced tea colour)

  • Syringe

  • Gentle liquid dishwashing soap (like Dawn)

  • Disposable gloves

  • Styptic powder for blood feathers or a torn nail (external use only)

    • cornstarch or flour is a good alternative and safe for internal use like an injury in or around the mouth

  • Alcohol wipes

  • Saline solution

  • Blunt tip scissors

  • Magnifying glass

  • Small flashlight

  • Thermometer

  • Nail clippers

  • Ice pack

  • Unflavoured Pedialyte (no Xylitol sweetener) or sugar to make your own electrolytes

  • Corn syrup or honey

  • Benadryl

  • Bene-Bac Plus Pet Gel (a supplement with probiotics for digestive issues)

  • Water

  • A carrier that your pet fits comfortably in & a towel for transport

Additional items that are recommended to have ready for emergencies or natural disasters:

  • A card or note with your Vet's address, contact info, and local Emergency Clinic, Pet Poison Helpline info

  • A card or note with your pet's information, age or date of birth, species, name, and a list of any prior health issues, vaccine records, microchip info

  • Keep a list of pet friendly evacuation centres or hotels in case of emergency, the names of friends or relatives you can stay with and their addresses

  • High value food such as Tuna for cats, or a favourite canned food

  • Their regular food and medication

  • Brush

What to add on for Birds

  • A scale for monthly weigh-ins

  • A heating pad or lamp

  • Baby food, Critical Care formula

  • Forceps for larger birds (blood feather removal)

What to add on for Rabbits and pocket pets

  • Puppy pee pads

  • Simethicone (an over-the-counter product used for human babies for too much gas in the digestive system)

  • Vanilla Ensure, baby food, and Critical Care Herbivore formula

  • Gentle body wash or species-specific shampoo (regular shampoo is NOT safe to use!)

Dogs only!

  • add an antibiotic ointment like Polysporin for minor topical injuries

    • Cats often have a bad reaction to antibiotic ointment and it is not safe for birds, rabbits, or ferrets

  • Hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting

    • you should NOT try to induce vomiting in cats, birds, rodents, and rabbits

  • Leash and muzzle

  • Large towel or blanket to help transport a large dog if they are seriously injured, unable to walk, or unconscious

Note: The Fido Pro Airlift or Emergency Dog Carrying Harness is an option if you do a lot of long hikes or go on outdoor adventures with your dog.

Can be ordered locally from Valhalla Pure

There are other brands with similar products if you google 'sling for injured dog when hiking'

Further reading and helpful resources

Pet Poison Helpline 855-764-7661

Pet Safety Crusader, courses and books

Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid

Dogsafe Canine First Aid

VCA Animal Hospitals

Avian Enrichment


BC SPCA First Aid Kit

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