Pet First Aid: Simple Tips to Be Prepared

We don’t call our pets “fur babies” for nothing. For many of us, our pets are truly another member of the family. As with human family members, our pets can sometimes encounter emergency situations that require pet first aid. You can prepare by creating a pet first aid kit to treat minor injuries and to respond to more serious emergencies as you head to your family veterinarian or the closest emergency vet.

Why You Need a Pet First Aid Kit

Being prepared with basic supplies and information – whether camping, hiking, in your car, or in your home – can help lead to a positive outcome for your pet during an emergency. Since pet emergencies are unexpected and may not happen frequently, even minor emergencies can be stressful. Having the right items handy can help you to feel more confident and speed up the time needed to respond.

How to Create a Pet First Aid Kit

More likely than not, you already have a basic first aid kit handy for minor human injuries. Being prepared with pet first aid supplies could be as simple as adding a few key items. There are also many options for pre-built pet first aid kits which you can buy online or in stores. Alternatively, you can build your own pet first aid kit, specifically for your fur babies.

Use our checklist for key items to stock your pet first aid kit. Plus, remember to check your kit every six months for replacements or to update expired items.

Wound Care & Bandages

  • Non-stick, self-adhering bandages and/or gauze roll & tape
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Styptic powder
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Antimicrobial wash & ointment/spray (When treating your pet, use the smallest amount possible to prevent ingestion.)
  • Cotton balls & Q-tips

Medications

Always consult a veterinarian before giving any medication to your pet, but have these on hand in case your vet gives you the go-ahead in an emergency.

  • 3% Hydrogen peroxide
  • Sterile eye wash solution
  • An antihistamine such as Benadryl for mild allergic reactions (Make sure the medication only contains diphenhydramine and no other cold remedies.)
  • Antacids

Tools

Be sure to sanitize all tools such as thermometers and tweezers before use.

  • Digital thermometer and lubricant
  • Tweezers
  • Blunt-tipped scissors to remove hair and cut bandages
  • Small flashlight or headlamp
  • Magnifying glass
  • Needleless plastic syringe for giving medications or fluids or for flushing eyes

Miscellaneous

  • A card with phone numbers for your veterinarian, a 24-hour emergency clinic, and animal poison control (The ASPCA Poison Control Hotline number is 1-888-426-4435.)
  • Collapsible water bowl and bottle of water
  • 2 pairs of latex or rubber gloves to protect you and your pet
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Extra leash & temporary muzzle (for dogs)
  • Towel or blanket
  • Treats (Do not feed pets who are vomiting, are unable to swallow normally, or are having seizures.) 
  • Current pet photo and important information about your pet’s medical history kept in a waterproof bag

While this is a basic list, you may need to customize your kit to fit the needs of your specific pet. Also, check our website for information or talk to your vet about situations when immediate professional care may be required.

Use Your Pet First Aid Kit to Handle Common Emergencies

Although having a pet first aid kit is not a substitute for seeking professional care for your pet, there are situations when having basic supplies can make a big difference.

Taking Temperature

Your pet’s temperature will be taken rectally. Use a digital thermometer that reads to at least 105° F and know how to operate the thermometer including how long it takes to get an accurate reading. Apply a small amount of lubricant to the end of the thermometer. If possible, have someone gently restrain your pet while you lift the tail only as much as needed to slide only the metal tip of the thermometer into your pet’s rectum (about one-half inch). The normal temperature for dogs typically ranges from 101°F to 102.5°F, while the normal temperature for cats ranges from 100°F to 102.5°F.

Bleeding

Pets in pain can be unpredictable, so take precautions such as using a muzzle and/or gently restraining your pet. If your pet is bleeding, apply direct pressure to the wound with a gauze pad or sanitary cloth. If blood soaks through, apply additional layers rather than removing the initial pad which can disrupt clotting. Elevating the affected area while still applying direct pressure can also help. If your pet is bleeding excessively or if you suspect internal bleeding, seek professional help for your pet as soon as possible.

Poisoning

Know the warning signs such as drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, staggering, disorientation, and unconsciousness. As soon as you suspect poisoning, call your vet or poison control hotline (the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline number is 1-888-426-4435), or take your pet to the nearest emergency vet. Never induce vomiting unless directed by a professional. If the toxin is on your pet’s fur or skin, put on protective gloves and remove as much of the substance as possible using clean towels or rags. Never use water or other solvents to remove toxins unless specifically directed by your vet.

Choking

Do your best to restrain your pet. If your pet is choking because of a cord, string, or another item around their neck, use a pair of scissors to carefully cut away the item. When a dog or cat is choking on something lodged in their mouth or throat, open the mouth to see if you can locate the object. If you can see the item, try to wipe it away with your finger. If you can’t see the object or aren’t able to dislodge the object by swiping it away, don’t poke your finger down your pet’s throat. This can cause injury or push the object farther down. Even if you do manage to remove the offending object, it’s best to bring your pet for a follow-up visit to rule out any damage or further complications.

Taking a first aid class that includes the Heimlich maneuver and pet CPR, as well as other basic care, can also increase your comfort level. Some online classes include American Red Cross and Pro Pet Hero.

TIP: Although it may seem like overkill, a towel or blanket is a great item to have handy for pet first aid.

A towel or small blanket can be used to cover a pet to maintain body heat, to elevate part of the body, or as a sling to carry an animal that cannot move. It can also be used to apply direct pressure to wounds.

An Additional Note on Emergency Preparedness

In recent months, those of us in Colorado have become acutely aware that emergencies in our community can sometimes lead to evacuation. For an evacuation situation, such as for a fire or weather event, it can help to think through your pet’s needs ahead of time to have a feel for necessary items. In addition to supplies included in your pet first aid kit, including an extra leash and water bowl, you may also consider these additional Items for family emergencies such as evacuations:

  • Any prescription medications for your pet
  • 3 days of your pet’s food
  • Pet carrier or crate
  • Phone number and address for a pet-friendly place to stay

Final Thoughts on Pet First Aid

In the same way that other family members can encounter minor emergencies, our furry family members can, as well. Even minor emergency situations can be scary. To ease stress in the moment, you can prepare by having basic pet first aid supplies on hand. This can be adding a few extra items to your family’s first aid supplies, or creating a specific pet first aid kit.

In any case, it’s important to remember that you should always check with a veterinary professional before giving your pet medications. Many human medications are poisonous to pets, and the size and overall health of your pet can also be a factor.

Also, for more serious illnesses and injuries, providing first aid is not a substitute for seeing your family vet or another veterinary professional. Check our website for information or talk to your vet about situations when immediate professional care may be required. Our privately-owned veterinary hospital is open 24/7/365 for pet emergencies. When in doubt, call us, or bring your pet directly to our Castle Rock location.

More Articles and Information for Healthy Pets

Emergency Vet Care: How Do You Know When It Is Needed

Hiking with a Dog: Pet Safety Considerations Before, During, and After Your Hike

How to Treat Your Dog for Snake Bites

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