Q We want to put together a first-aid kit for our pet but are unsure how to get started. What do you recommend?
A: We recommend that every pet owner have a well-stocked first-aid kit for their pets.
Most of the items are the same ones needed for us, so they might already be in your human first aid kit. You can have a shared kit or one that you put together specifically with your pet in mind. Here are the specifics:
Phone numbers. You should have your veterinarian’s number for daytime questions and emergencies, as well as the number to an emergency veterinary clinic for questions and emergencies that happen after hours, on weekends or holidays. It is also a good idea to have the number for the Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435). This helpline is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They can let you know whether a trip to the animal ER is warranted.
Body weight. Have a current body weight written on the same card as the important phone numbers. Dogs and cats are not like people, where we all pretty much take the same size pill. Their doses are based on their weight, which means they can vary dramatically.
Roll gauze. This is a multifunctional piece of first-aid equipment for animals. Its main purpose is to wrap wounds and hold bandages in place. Never wrap too tightly, as you can cause more harm than good by cutting off blood flow below the bandage. This also can be used as a muzzle. When in extreme pain, even the most docile pet may try to bite. Often a soft gauze muzzle will help protect you and allow you to help an injured animal when moving one with broken bones.
Nonstick bandage. These are bandages that can be placed directly on a wound. This allows a wound to be covered so it remains clean or allows you to apply pressure to control bleeding.
Adhesive tape. A roll of 1 inch medical tape is used to secure gauze wraps and bandages.
Hydrogen peroxide. If your pet has ingested a toxin, you want to eliminate it from the body before it is absorbed. Hydrogen peroxide will induce vomiting in most dogs and cats. Always contact a veterinarian before administering. There are certain poisons where vomiting may make the situation worse. Also, the veterinarian can calculate the safe amount for your pet.
Digital thermometer. Just like in humans, temperature is an important way to determine how sick a pet is. Temperatures in pets are taken rectally. It is important to remember that cats’ and dogs’ temperatures normally are higher than ours with normal being 100.5 degrees to 102.5 degrees.
Syringe. This is useful in administering liquid medications orally, force feeding a liquid diet or flushing debris from wounds.
Muzzle. Even though gauze can be used for a muzzle, it does not work as well as a true muzzle. Make sure it is sized properly so it is comfortable but not too loose. Do not muzzle if they are vomiting or having trouble breathing.
Leash. This allows for easy restraint if the pet can walk.
Tweezers. It is better to remove ticks with tweezers than by hand. You want to remove the tick’s entire head, as leaving it in place may cause inflammation or infection, and this is hard to do with your fingers. Tweezers also are helpful for removing splinters.
Antihistamine. Dogs and cats frequently come in contact with snakes and other insects, which results in a bite or sting. Antihistamines administered early on may decrease the severity of the inflammation. Diphenhydramine is a good one to keep on hand. Touch base with a veterinarian before administering to ensure you give the correct amount.
Blunt-ended scissors. Are useful for cutting bandage material, tape and gauze.
Antibiotic ointment. A general purpose antibiotic ointment for humans is useful to apply to small, superficial wounds. Remember that pets will lick it off if not bandaged.
Antiseptic wipes. These can be used to clean a wound. Betadine or chlorhexidine are recommended over alcohol because they sting less.
Customize. If your pet has an existing illness, you may want to have a specific medication to treat that problem. For example, for diabetic dogs and cats, it is a good idea to have honey or Karo syrup on hand in case their blood sugar drops. Also, if you have an epileptic dog, valium that can be given rectally during a seizure might be in your kit.
With a well-stocked first-aid kit, you will be prepared to administer aid to your pet when a veterinarian is not readily available.
Once stable, get your pet immediately to a veterinarian, as first aid is never a substitute for veterinary care but may save your pet’s life until you can get him to the ER.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.