A first aid kit is essential for not only your human family members, but also your pets. Cats and dogs often get into situations that require a bandage, eye flushing, or other treatment that will help stabilize them until they can reach a veterinarian. And, a first aid kit prepared with items geared toward your pet is important for more than natural disasters or at-home emergencies—you should also take it when you camp, hike, or vacation with your pet, especially if you will not be close to an emergency veterinarian.
Pet first aid kit essentials
If your pet is injured while away from home, you’ll be prepared with your first aid kit to provide life-saving treatment. Follow this checklist to ensure your kit includes these necessities:
- Absorbent gauze pads
- Gauze rolls
- Adhesive medical tape
- Vet wrap, a self-adhesive bandage wrap
- Non-stick pads for wound bandaging
- Cotton balls or swabs
- Benadryl and your pet’s dosage
- Activated charcoal
- Fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide
- Antiseptic wash or wipes
- Ice and hot packs
- Disposable gloves
- Scissors with blunt end
- Antibiotic ointment (e.g., plain Neosporin)
- Oral syringe or turkey baster
- Liquid dish soap (e.g., Dawn)
- Small flashlight
- Styptic powder for torn nails
- Saline eye solution—not contact solution
- Artificial tears ointment
- A muzzle
- Phone number, name, and address of local emergency veterinary clinics
- Phone number for an animal poison control helpline, such as the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center
Check your first aid kit every few months to ensure nothing has expired or leaked and needs replacing. And, if your pet requires lifelong medication for conditions such as epilepsy, heart disease, or a thyroid condition, keep a few doses in the kit, rotating them for freshness.
How to administer pet first aid
If you first learn to administer pet first aid during an emergency, you likely will panic and waste precious time. Instead, learn a few simple first aid procedures and become familiar with them in advance.
- Poisoning — Avoid giving your pet hydrogen peroxide to make them vomit if they’ve eaten a toxin. Some toxins, such as cleaning chemicals, are caustic, and can cause more harm if vomited back up. Instead, contact an animal poison control helpline for expert advice.
- Bleeding — Place a thick gauze pad on your pet’s injury and apply firm pressure for three minutes. Do not check the injury for bleeding before then, as you’ll disrupt the clot. If the bleeding continues, you may need to apply a tourniquet to the injured limb. Release the tourniquet for 20 seconds every 15 minutes to keep the limb perfused until you reach an emergency veterinarian.
- Fractures — Avoid trying to place a splint, because an improperly placed splint can do more harm than good. Instead, lay your pet on a stretcher and wrap them in a blanket to immobilize them.
- Seizures — Keep your pet calm and quiet, but avoid restraining them during a seizure, because pets often are unaware of their surroundings and may bite if startled while seizuring. Prevent them from rolling off furniture or down stairs with thick blanket barricades.
- Burns — Apply a cold water compress to the burned area if your pet stumbled into a campfire or tried to snatch a steak off the grill. Always be careful, as burns are extremely painful, and your pet may bite when handled. Consider muzzling them first.
For additional guidance on providing pet first aid, check out the American Veterinary Medical Association’s guide.
Additional pet first aid tips
Putting together a pet first aid kit is a great initial step, but won’t do much good if you aren’t familiar with correct use of the items. To keep a cool head in an emergency, and to learn the proper applications of your first aid supplies, brush up on your pet first aid skills by:
- Taking a pet first aid class — If local colleges or the Red Cross organization do not offer local pet first aid classes, search online for a virtual class. The Red Cross offers a 35-minute online course that covers first aid care for many critical emergency situations.
- Reading pet first aid or animal health books — A pet first aid book in your kit is an easily accessible resource, but ensure you read the book before you tuck it away. This will help familiarize you with specific first aid procedures in case of emergency. An excellent resource is The First-Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats.
- Downloading a pet first aid app — Provided you get cell phone service when your pet is experiencing an emergency, you can use an easy-to-navigate pet first aid app, such as the one the Red Cross provides. This comprehensive pet care app contains not only veterinary advice for emergencies, but also tips for general pet health care.
Remember, first aid should be used only to stabilize your pet’s condition until you can reach our hospital, not as a substitute for veterinary treatment. If your pet encounters an emergency, administer first aid, and then call our Airway Animal Clinic team.