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Course teaches first aid for pets

Organization says pet first aid can help pet owners handle emergency situations by recognizing problems early and acting on them quickly

It could be a matter of life or death, but not only for your human family member.

A course in pet first aid could save your furry family member. 

As with humans, first aid knowledge can help save a pet’s life, reduce the potential for increased injury and promote fast recovery. 

“Dogs and humans differ. Dogs are horizontal compared to our bodies. Humans have flat chests and we can lie on or backs. You can’t lie a dog down and their chests aren’t flat. And if a paw is cut, it bleeds much more quickly. Humans can stop the flow but for dogs, gravity goes against them,” said Lynda Kitson, owner of K 9 Compass and a certified pet first aid instructor with Walks ‘N’ Wags. 

Kitson is looking forward to teaching another pet first aid course in Guelph this month at Scratch and Sniff Canine Services in Guelph. 

She says pet first aid is not a replacement for going to a veterinarian, but it can help pet owners handle emergency situations by recognizing problems early and acting on them quickly. 

“Even though our pets love us, if hurt, they might react with anger and try to bite. So, we teach how to restrain them. Unfortunately, when pets are injured or hurt, they go down hill so much faster than humans. And infection travels much faster too if not caught quickly. That’s why it’s so important to recognize illness,” Kitson says. 

“We deal with this often because pets are so good at hiding illness or injury. It goes back to their natural instinct. They know that if another animal sees that they are injured or hurt, they could become that animal’s dinner.”

Walks “N” Wags is an internationally recognized organization which offers the longest standing pet first aid course in Canada since 2007. 

The course was originally developed by Oakland Educational Services in 1993.

It now has over 65 instructors teaching Walk ‘N’ Wags Pet First Aid in over 100 communities in Canada and the USA. 

The course is designed to treat both dogs and cats and is suited for all pet owners and pet industry professionals. 

“This is becoming more and more popular. It was originally designed more so for trainers and groomers because it is important for them to know what to do but now, I’m finding many more individual pet owners are taking the course,” Kitson said. 

“About 80 per cent of the classes used to be pet professionals and now, it’s about 50/50.”

Kitson, who lives in Pickering, has been teaching pet first aid since 2011.

She says the pet first aid course should be an integral part of being a responsible pet owner and an absolute requirement for anyone working in the pet industry.

The 10-hour certificate course covers everything from prevention to treatment of illness and injury as well as information on how to keep pets healthy.

Course topics include: internal and external bleeding, choking and seizures, fractures and sprains, poisons and allergic reactions, heat and cold injuries and artificial respiration and CPR.

Upon successful completion of the course and exam, participants receive a certificate valid for three years. 

“I bring my own pet retriever as my demo dog. And as for any other dogs, it depends on the host’s choice. We do try to have one real dog there and I have lots of stuffed animals for people to practice on,” Kitson said. 

For Kitson, the pet first aid course is designed to build an owner’s confidence to respond to an illness or injury situation. 

“Confidence is the key after taking this course. That is the biggest part. We are teaching people to be like paramedics so that they can assess, attend and stabilize, and know how and when to treat their pets so they can be safely transported to the vet if needed,” Kitson said. 

“People come out of the course feeling confident in knowing what they can do if they recognize something is wrong with their pet.” 

Courses have a maximum class size of 16 participants. 

Emily Fisher from Scratch and Sniff Canine Services has been working with Kitson for about six years and hosts the pet first aid course twice a year, in the spring and fall. 

“Pet first aid skills are really critical for pet owners to have, not to mention any dog professionals caring for other people’s pets,” Fisher said. 

“It’s never a matter of ‘if’ something will go wrong but ‘when’ and simply having a plan to fall back on is so valuable for dealing with emergency situations, particularly since most of us have trouble thinking in emergencies.”

Fisher is a certified dog behaviour consultant through the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants and a certified professional dog trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

From helping owners recognize intestinal blockages - which can be lethal - to wrapping a dog’s ear after a being scratched by a cat, Fisher has put her first aid knowledge to practice many times. 

Fisher says that going to the vet is always included in the suggested response to emergency situations and it’s important to keep in mind that first aid skills aren’t a substitute for quality veterinary care. 

“The course also includes a lot of preventative information like identifying dangers at home and out on walks,” Fisher said. 

“Many people don’t know about foods that are safe for people but deadly for dogs, for example the sweetener, Xylitol or what human-safe medications could cause irreparable harm to their pets. I once had a pharmacist tell me to give my dog ibuprofen which could have been deadly.” 

Kitson says the pet first aid course offers a real hands-on experience for participants. 

“The classes are super fun and I just got another demo dog named Star. Her sole purpose is to be a pet demonstration dog and she has just been amazing,” Kitson said. 

Just two years ago, Kitson sadly lost her previous demo dog, Emma, who worked with Kitson since 2011.

As owner of K9 Compass, Kitson continues to facilitate the Walks ‘N’ Wags Pet First Aid courses and also offers private in-house classes.

“Teaching pet first aid, I really feel like I’m helping people. People e-mail and say thank-you because something happened to their dog and they knew just what to do,” Kitson said. 

“We spend so much money on our dogs so why not do this extra thing. In case anything ever happens, you can save their life.”

For more information or to register for pet first aid courses, visit and/or