The Best Pet First Aid Kit

January 3, 2008 at 1:32 am 7 comments

The domestic dog is the most diverse species in the world.  Dogs range in size from tiny, four-inch tall Chihuahuas to enormous mastiffs weighing over 200 pounds.  They live in cities, on farms and in suburban homes all over the world – and they can be injured by a wide variety of hazards.  The amazing range of sizes, shapes and lifestyles that dogs enjoy today means that there is no single commercially available first aid kit that is suitable for every dog.

So, what’s a responsible pet owner to do?  Why make your own kit of course!

I could probably devote an entire book to the impossibly long list of all the the things that could be put in a kit – but not only would that be boring, it would also keep you from conducting a bit interesting and helpful research on your own, so instead I’ll present information you should consider when putting together your kit.

What Size is Your Dog?
Important items like bandages, medications and restraints should be selected based on the size of your dog.  The four-inch wide roll of self-adhesive bandaging tape that is perfect for a 100-pound Rottweiler is probably not going to be particularly useful on a 10-pound Papillon.

Where Do You Spend Time With Your Dog?
If your dog spends all his time in highly urbanized areas, you can probably leave that nifty tick removing tool at home, but if he spends time in areas where ticks are common you may want to put it on your keychain.  The importance of other items like insect repellents or pliers to remove cactus spines also varies greatly depending on the environment your dog frequents.

Does Your Dog Have Any Known Health Problems?
If your dog takes prescription medications on a daily basis to control a disease or disorder, you should include them in your kit, especially when you travel.   You should also contact your veterinarian about medications or supplements that would be therapeutic for your dog in a health crisis.  One of my dogs suffers from both Addison’s disease and epilepsy.  Our vet provided me with a list of things that she recommended we keep on hand in case of emergencies and they have proved to be priceless the few times that we needed them.

You should also consider the common, minor health issues likely to affect your dog.  Many relatively minor problems like diarrhea, constipation, hot spots, and ear infections can be treated with over-the-counter medications.  Make sure you have the right dosage and check with your vet (if you haven’t already) to make sure that these treatments don’t interfere with any perscription medications your dog takes.

If you prefer to use natural, herbal, homeopathic or holistic remedies and want to include some in your kit it is a good idea to discuss this with your vet.  Although many veterinarians are skeptical about these kinds of treatments it is important to discuss them with your vet as some may cause adverse reactions with the prescription medications your dog takes.

Never put any unlabeled treatment or medication in your kit.  In the excitement of an emergency it is easy to misidentify an item or to grab the wrong item.  If you must put a treatment or medication in a package other than the one it originally came in (and I don’t recommend that you do this) you must  label it accurately and include dosage information.  Be sure all containers are sealed tightly and don’t store treatments or medications in excessively hot or cold areas for any longer than you have to.

What Information Do You Need?
One item many people forget to put in their pet first aid kit is a list of emergency contact numbers.  These can include numbers to contact you; your vet; local emergency clinics (don’t forget to look up number for the area you’re travelling in); the Animal Poison Control Center; your local animal control authority; and a friend, relative or boarding kennel who can take care of your pet if you can’t.  It is also important to include information on the names and dosages of any prescription medications your dog is taking.  When you travel, keep photos of your pet in the kit in case you need to identify a lost dog or make lost dog posters.  It is also a good idea to carry a copy of your dog’s license, vaccination records and insurance information.

The most important information you can carry is a good working knowledge of pet first aid and CPR.  Studies have shown that approximately 25% of all fatally injured pets could have been saved if they had been treated with just a single first aid technique.  Because many of the methods you should use to treat an injured dog (most notably when performing CPR) are considerably different than the procedures you would use to treat an injured person it is important to learn pet-specific method of treatment.  Taking a class from a certified pet first aid instructor is the best way to get this essential information.

Basic Items

  • Sterile pads, gauze rolls, self stick adhesive tape or other bandaging materials
  • A muzzle that allows your dog to pant (NOT one that holds his mouth closed!) or a strip of cloth to make a muzzle with
  • A multi-tool with a knife blade, pliers, scissors, and tweezers
  • Latex or nitrile gloves and hand sanitizer
  • Plastic baggies (preferably the zip kind), poop bags, trash bags
  • Styptic, alum or cornstarch to control minor bleeding
  • Graduated oral syringe (one with measurements on the side)
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting (NEVER induce vomiting without discussing the situation with your vet or poison control first!)
  • Activated charcoal (NEVER to be used without the recommendation of a vet or poison control staff!)
  • Benadryl for allergic reactions (contact your vet for dosage information)
  • Small, rigid plastic card to scrape off stingers or small thorns
  • Lightweight slip lead
  • Blankets or towels
  • Rectal thermometer and petroleum jelly
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Crate
  • Notepad and pencil

Optional Items (A partial list – this could be almost infinitely long)

  • Hot and cold packs
  • EMT Gel for cuts
  • Trimmer or mat breaker to remove hair
  • Otoscope
  • Duct tape
  • Specialized dressings (for burns, odd shaped areas, different sizes)
  • Elizabethan collar or BiteNot collar
  • Magnifying glass to find foxtails, thorns and ticks
  • Eye wash
  • Ear cleaning solution
  • Saline solution for irrigating wounds
  • Nail trimmer
  • Tick removing tool and jar for ticks
  • Disposable camera
  • Sling or stretcher to transport a large dog

You’ll also need something to put the kit in.  This can be either a bag that zips closed or a plastic storage container.  I suggest that you choose something brightly colored and label it clearly to make the kit easy to find when you are in a panic.  You may also want to consider doing what I’ve done – create two or more kits customized for different situations.  I have a very large kit that I keep in a cabinet in my home, a medium-sized kit in a bright purple bag that I carry on trips and a small fanny pack kit for short hikes and day trips.

Things You Don’t Need
Don’t waste valuable space in your kit by carrying an electrolyte drink for your dog unless your vet specifically recommends that you do so.  Dogs don’t sweat to cool themselves off, they pant.  Unlike sweating, panting doesn’t result in a loss of electrolytes.

You probably don’t need a snake bite kit either.  Because of the vital importance of early treatment, your car keys are the most valuable item available to you in a snake bite emergency according to Dr. Joe Trueba, director of Pima Pet Clinic and Animal Emergency Service in Tucson, Arizona.  Dr. Trueba’s clinic sees one of the highest numbers of snakebitten pets in the country.  Along with Dr. Trueba, most veterinarians today recommend against using tourniquets or “cut and suck” methods of treatment.  Take the money you would have used to buy the snake bite kit and use it to get an inexpensive disposable camera to get a photo of the snake instead.  Most snakes are not venomous, but if your dog is bitten by a venomous snake you may need to know EXACTLY what kind of snake it was to get the dog proper treatment.

Specialized splinting materials are another item that you are not likely to need.  Splinting a terrified, injured dog is about as simple (and as dangerous) as hugging an angry, soaking wet cat.  If you suspect your dog has a broken bone you are almost always better off securing the dog in a crate and transporting it to the vet ASAP than in messing around with an injured limb yourself.  If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to splint a limb – and you have the training to do it properly - you can combine things like rolled gauze, duct tape and adhesive wrap from your first aid kit with other items you find in your home or car to get the job done.

In Summary
Take some time, consider carefully, get advice from your vet, be creative and enjoy making your own pet first aid kit.  The lists I’ve provided include general recommendations.  Take a pet first aid and CPR class to learn more – and remember – the life you save may be your dog’s!

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Do You Take Pitbulls? Fur-Kids or Kindred Spirits?

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Therese  |  January 7, 2008 at 5:22 am

    What an excellent post! Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  • 2. best insurance travel  |  January 20, 2008 at 11:16 am

    best insurance travel

    Good comment. It is a pitty that many people does not think like that. Thanks.

  • 3. The Best Pet First Aid Kit | HolisticDogOnline.com  |  January 22, 2008 at 10:05 am

    [...] smartdogs article is brought to you using rss feeds. Here are some of the latest findings and news on holistic health care for dogs. If you prefer to use natural, herbal, homeopathic or holistic remedies and want to include some in your kit it is a good idea to discuss this with your vet. Although many veterinarians are skeptical about these kinds of treatments it is … [...]

  • 4. Eric  |  January 28, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Eric

    Geat post. I added you to my blog roll!

  • 5. Border Wars - Christopher  |  February 23, 2008 at 6:32 am

    That line about having a cheap disposable camera is key. Even having an older digital camera in this day and age is an excellent idea. I keep an old one in my glove box for all sorts of reasons and it’s come in very handy.

    (1) take pictures of drunk or irresponsible drivers while on the road. Forward to Police after calling 911 or highway patrol.

    (2) take pictures of damage to car and VIN number of other car if you get in a fender bender. Take a photo of their info and license and face too.

    (3) have a camera on hand for that really awesome sunset, the freak occurrence that needs to make the rounds on the Internet, or any other unexpected event that you’d be better off having a picture of than not.

    Taking a picture of the snake is a REALLY REALLY good idea. Not only does it make the job of saving your dog’s life much easier, it’s SO SO SO much safer and smarter than trying to kill the snake and bringing its carcass into the hospital.

    For some reason people still think you need to do that, even in the day and age of cell phone cameras and much safer easier things to do.

    I was actually on a hike in High School with a group of people who had cameras when someone screamed SNAKE! and sure enough one of the other people thought that this meant that someone up ahead was bitten… and they yelled “don’t let it get away, we need to kill it for the doctors.”

    Thankfully no one was actually bitten or even close, we had a herp person in the group who came to the defense of the snake and yelled to not kill it and not even try (lots of yelling)… and we had plenty of cameras (not digital at the time) to “shoot” it even if we needed to.

    Something so simple… think about taking a picture instead… really could save a life.

  • 6. Be Prepared « Smartdogs’ Weblog  |  June 11, 2008 at 5:58 am

    [...] a good pet first aid kit on hand.  You should put the kit together yourself and it should contain some basic poison treatment items [...]

  • 7. amee  |  November 21, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    show more pictures

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