Preparing for an Emergency: A Basic Pet First Aid Kit

One pet first aid kit item

Whether you’re talking about people or pets, medical emergencies are a sad fact of life that can occur at any time. Unfortunately, while many people have at least some of the items they might need in case they or their human friends and family become injured or hurt, this might not be true when it comes to their pets.

To ensure you’ll be prepared if a little one you care about is affected in this way, we’ve compiled a list of first aid essentials that a pet parent should consider having on hand at all times. These items should be stored in a plastic, water-tight container that is compact, readily transportable, and easy to find should circumstances warrant.

  • Storage/transport container.  Ideally, the case that holds your supplies should have a carrying handle and clamp firmly shut, and should include built-in trays or dividers that will allow each item to be kept in a separate area. While not specifically designed for this purpose, fishing tackle boxes, available online or in big box stores, work quite well.

  • Absorbent padding. Because bleeding is an issue in most first aid scenarios, it is important to have some cotton padding or gauze in your kit. In fact, Telfa pads, which are sterile and don’t stick to wounds, are an option worth considering. They can be purchased at a pharmacy or general merchandise store, through a veterinarian, or online.

  • Stretchy bandaging tape. Otherwise known as “vet wrap,”a roll or two of this pliable material can come in quite handy if you’re trying to secure the padding on a wound. Since it sticks to itself, tape is often unnecessary. Bear in mind, however, that it can tighten down on a limb, so use it with caution and only for short periods of time.

  • Thermometer. Your best bet is a digital “fever” model that can take a reading in less than 10 seconds. There’s no need to seek out a veterinary-specific model; the basic version you’ll find at drug or variety stores is all you really need.

  • Petroleum jelly. This well known salve can be used in a variety of ways. It can keep your pet’s wounds moist, cover and protect his paw pads in icy weather, and lubricate the tip of a thermometer so it can be inserted rectally, which will enable you to obtain the most accurate temperature reading possible, as we noted in “The 5 Key Basics of Pet First Aid.”

  • Slip leash. Sometimes, emergencies crop up and your pet’s collar or leash is nowhere to be found. For those times, this combo should definitely be a component of your first aid arsenal. It doesn’t necessarily have to cost you anything, either. They are often given away as promotional items at grooming salons, veterinary hospitals and big-box pet stores.

  • Honey packets. One or two inexpensive food-service honey packets, like the ones found in coffee shops, are probably enough for an emergency situation. Owners of diabetic pets should always have honey on hand in case of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. Otherwise, it is not all that rare for a dog to accidentally ingest xylitol, a no-calorie sweetener that can lead to life-threatening low blood sugar. Should this happen, give your dog the honey by mouth and seek veterinary attention ASAP.

  • Isopropyl alcohol (70%). Otherwise known as “rubbing alcohol,” this strong-smelling chemical compound is a great antiseptic. Because it can evaporate over time, however, you should ensure that you double-check the “best by” date on the label and store your first aid kit in a cool, dark location.

  • Hydrogen peroxide. This oxidizer, bleaching agent and disinfectant can be used to clean minor abrasions and cuts, and can also be taken by mouth to induce vomiting. If your pet has ingested something he shouldn’t have, your veterinarian or animal poison control center may recommend that you give him some hydrogen peroxide to flush out the toxin. As with rubbing alcohol, you should monitor the “best by” date because it tends to lose potency over time.

  • Blunt-ended scissors. Otherwise known as “bandage scissors,” these shears are ideal for cutting gauze, tape and dressings, while also reducing the chances that you or your pet may be inadvertently stabbed.

  • Disposable gloves. Whether made of latex or not, these stretchy coverings can help keep your hands clean and minimize the prospect of making a larger mess when you change bandages or handle chemicals and medications.

  • Small syringes. An assortment of these–in the 3 ml, 5 ml and 10 ml sizes–can come in handy, especially if your pet frequently requires liquid medication. They are also helpful for measuring out hydrogen peroxide if you need to induce vomiting. Many veterinarians will give you a few for free if you tell them you are stocking up your pet first aid kit.

  • Towel. This simple item can support your pet while he is walking, restrain him while he is being treated, and clean him and the surrounding area up after an emergency. A convenient way to store it is to simply wrap it around the outside of your first aid container.

  • Tweezers and pliers. These tools can be used to remove the burrs from between your dog’s toes. Moreover, in case your pet has attempted to swallow something such as a small toy or other object that has left him choking and which is visible and accessible, you can, as discussed in the article highlighted earlier, use the pliers to extract it.

  • Diphenhydramine. Often referred to by the most well known brand name, “Benadryl,” this antihistamine drug can be good to have on hand in case your pet has an allergic reaction or “hot spot.” Ask your veterinarian about what would be the correct dose for your pet and acquire either the tablets or the liquid for your kit.

As you can see, it is not difficult or expensive to put together an invaluable trove of items you may need in case of an emergency. Indeed, you may even be able to streamline the process by taking this list along on your next veterinary visit. Your vet may be able to give or sell you many of the items necessary for a well-stocked pet first aid kit.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it!

1 Comment

  1. In a Reddit post on the subject, contributors also suggested including the following (in no particular order):

    • Numbers to call in case of emergency, including your veterinarian, pet poison control hotline, emergency vets in your area and your back-up vet
    • Medical tape
    • Knife
    • Skin glue
    • 18 and 20 gauge needles
    • Lactated Ringer’s fluids (with line)
    • Chlorhexidine (e.g., Nolvasan)
    • Colloidal silver spray
    • Tick key
    • Styptic powder
    • Eye wash
    • Neosporin
    • EMT gel
    • Gas-X (can be used to buy some time if a dog gets bloat)
    • Booties (not technically part of my first aid kit, but I bring them along when we’re hiking in case one of the dogs scrapes a foot and needs some extra protection on it until we can get back to civilization)
    • Cling film
    • Treats
    • Nylon muzzle (hurt animals often nip or bite, even if otherwise friendly; don’t hold it against them)
    • Sterile lubricant (e.g., Surgilube) – this can help you examine a tunneling wound
    • Popsicle sticks in a variety of sizes – for a rough splint
    • Lighter stick – to sterilize tweezers or other tools, use after dipping in alcohol for added effect; you can also heat a metal tool and cauterize (probably not going to be tolerated well, but…)
    • Flashlight or penlight – to clearly see wounds and cavities
    • Veterycin – a wound treatment that does not damage tissue
    • Potassium permanganate – to cauterise split, warn or bleeding nails

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