Pet First Aid: How to Build Your Kit and Handle Emergencies

by Melody Keilig

Do you know what to do in the event of a pet emergency? Are you prepared with a first aid kit for your pet? If not, it's never too late to build a kit with everything you need if your pet gets hurt. Then, whether at home, at the dog park, or traveling, you can be prepared for anything and tend to your pet's needs right away rather than waiting for emergency services. 

It's better to be safe than sorry. So, let's get started in learning about the most common pet injuries, what to do in an emergency, and how to build your pet first aid kit. 

Getting Started in Pet First Aid

A first aid kit aims to provide medical care, whether minor or severe, when veterinarian help isn't close by. Having a first aid kit for your pet can help preserve their life, reduce pain or discomfort, and minimize the risk of permanent injury. 

For instance, if you're on a hike with your dog and they get a splinter in their paw, would you be prepared with tweezers and antibiotic ointment? Even missing the smallest item can make a huge difference in your outings. 

 

 

Or, what if you're out and someone else's pet gets injured? If just one person is prepared with a pet first aid kit, it can significantly reduce the stress of the situation and help the pet in need until professional help arrives.

The first step in building a pet first aid kit is determining how many you'd like to make. Although one is much better than having none, you'll want to bring it with you everywhere you take your pet. So, you can have one in your car and a travel-sized one for outings

What to Include in Your Kit

Do you need many items to complete your pet first aid kit? Not really, but there are several essentials that you should have on hand. But don't worry; most of these are small items that will conveniently fit in a first aid pack. Of course, you can always add more supplies.  

 

 But, the basics include: 

  • Antiseptic spray or antibiotic ointment: Use to treat minor cuts and scrapes to prevent infection. 
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Use to induce vomiting if the pet swallows something toxic and poisonous, like certain plants or other poison hazards for animals. 
  • Gauze: A light wound dressing that helps in wound care. 
  • Cotton balls: Apply antiseptic spray, antibiotic ointment, or other first-aid topical to the cotton ball to treat smaller scratches, minor cuts, and scrapes. 
  • Bandages: To cover scratches, scrapes, and minor cuts. Apply antibiotic topical to the bandage for better protection. 
  • Adhesive bandage tape: To wrap around deeper cuts and prevent further bleeding.
  • Tweezers: Use to pull out splinters or other tiny objects lodged in a pet's paw and remove ticks. 
  • Scissors: Use to cut gauze or bandage tape. 
  • Disposable gloves: Use as a sterile surface to handle and treat the animal's wound. 
  • Oral syringe: Use with eye solutions to clear the animal's eyes of debris or use to give oral medication. 
  • Saline eye solution or Artificial Tears: Use to flush out debris from the animal's eyes. 
  • A small towel: Use for any clean-up needed, like wiping the animal's eyes or cuts. 
  • Hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes: Use to disinfect your hands before treating the wound. 
  • Styptic powder or cornstarch: Use to stop profuse bleeding. 

 

Optional items include: 

  • Contact Information: Keep the phone number, clinic name, and address of your veterinarian and local veterinary emergency clinics.  
    • If you have this information saved on your phone, you may not need a written note with these numbers and addresses, but it's a personal preference. 
  • Muzzle: Use only if the dog is scared and tries to bite. 

Check every few months to ensure none of the supplies have expired or gotten damaged. You can have your pet first aid kit in any pack you'd like, but make sure it's easily recognizable in a rush. When an emergency happens, we tend to panic and overthink, so make sure you know what your first aid kit looks like and where it is in your home, car, or a larger backpack. 

If your first aid kit is in a typical red pack with a white cross symbol, you'll be able to spot it much more quickly. But feel free to use whichever pack you have on hand and print out an image of the white cross with a red background so it's recognizable as a first aid kit. 

Common Injuries and Emergency Solutions

For the most part, pets get minor injuries when out and about, but it's good to prepare for emergencies. So, we'll go over the most common injuries and emergency situations with the medical solutions to take. 

The most common injuries include scratches, minor cuts, scrapes, insect bites, bee stings, minor bleeding, sprains, and bites from other dogs or animals. These injuries can be handled with a few first aid kit supplies like antibiotic spray or ointment, gauze, wrap bandages, and tweezers. 

 

Most common injuries for dogs: 

  • Scratches 
  • Scrapes 
  • Sprains 
  • Minor cuts & bleeding 
  • Insect bites & bee stings 
  • Bites from other animals 
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    But what should you do if you're treating an animal who isn't breathing? There are two effective methods to use when an animal is in danger. You can help by following the "ABC" first aid method, which goes like this: 

    • A is for AIRWAY
    • B is for BREATHING
    • C is for CARDIAC FUNCTION

      

    When the dog is unresponsive, "rescue breathing" is the best course of action. First, carefully pull their tongue out of their mouth and extend their head and neck back in a straight line. Next, clear their mouth of any object or debris blocking their breathing, and then place your hand over their muzzle while holding their mouth shut and extending their neck.

    Blow into their nostrils, giving them 2-3 breaths, and look out for their chest rising. If the dog's chest isn't rising, reposition their neck and search for any other airway obstruction. And, for small dogs, you can turn them upside down with their back against your chest. Then, give five sharp thrusts to their abdomen to get any airway obstruction out. 

    Continue rescue breathing by providing 20 breaths per minute. If the dog still isn't breathing, firmly press your fingernail or another hard object in the area beneath the animal's nose on their upper lip. Keep pressure on the spot for 10-30 seconds. 

    And, if that isn't working, then it's time to try CPR. Only use CPR when the dog is unresponsive and you cannot feel a heartbeat. 

    Begin CPR by checking to see if there is no significant bleeding. If the dog is bleeding, have someone nearby manage it by applying pressure with the small towel in your first aid kit. While they're handling any bleeding, you can perform CPR. 

    But, if you're by yourself with the dog, apply pressure to the bleeding the best you can and then focus on giving CPR. 

     

     

    If possible, lay the dog on their right side and feel for a heartbeat or femoral pulse, which is a pulse inside the dog's leg in the groin area. You must check here because dogs don't have a readily palpable pulse in their neck as humans do. 

    Then, bend the dog's left forearm and check the area where their elbow touches their chest. This area is close to the middle of the dog's rib cage. Place one hand on each side of their chest in the middle of the rib cage and apply pressure to compress their chest 100-120 times per minute. 

    For smaller dogs, like toy breeds or any dog under ten pounds, use one hand to compress the dog's chest from both sides by placing your fingers on one side. Next, place your thumb on the other side of their chest with around 30 compressions for every two breaths. 

    Try compressing the chest wall with about 30-50% capacity, about 2-3 inches or 5-8 cm in medium to large dogs. This pressure would be equivalent to 1-inch or 2 cm for smaller dogs. 

    Here's a rundown of what methods you should use to help the dog in trouble with other emergencies. 

    • Blood loss: Once you've done the steps above, if the dog is severely bleeding, try your best to stop it. If the bleeding is coming from a cut paw, apply gauze from your first aid kit to the area and apply pressure. You can also wrap a bandage around the paw by wrapping it tightly around the hurt paw. This pressure can help stop the bleeding, but make sure the bandage isn't too tight, just enough to apply the necessary pressure. Remember that this isn't a definite solution, only a temporary one. So get medical help as soon as possible after wrapping the paw. 
    • Burns and scalds: If the dog has gotten burned, pour cold water over the burn or scald immediately. Cover the wound with a cold, damp towel until you get medical help. If the burn or scald is because of a substance, rinse the area with cold water for 15 minutes and call your veterinarian for further assistance. When the situation is stable, give water to the animal to drink right away. 
    • Eye injuries: If there is something in the animal's eye like grass, dirt, hair, etc., gently remove the debris by rinsing the affected eye with the eye solution in your first aid kit. Make sure the animal doesn't rub their eye with their paw and call for medical help from your veterinarian. 
    • Seizures: This medical condition can occur from eclampsia, toxicities, and epilepsy. If you know the seizure is happening due to eclampsia, which affects mother dogs who are nursing, remove the puppies from their resting area and place them in another safe place. Contact your veterinarian right away for further medical help. If other factors are causing the seizure, try to put the dog in a dark and quiet area until medical help can arrive. Do not reach into your dog's mouth: some people are afraid that their dog will choke, but they can't swallow their tongue. Even though your dog is unconscious, they can still bite you if you reach into their mouth. Just get medical help as soon as possible. 
    • Heatstroke: When dogs are in cars unsupervised, primarily during the summer, their body temperature rises to dangerous levels. The signs of heatstroke include excessive panting and distress, but these symptoms are more dangerous than they appear because they can quickly lead to coma and death. Until medical help arrives, reduce the dog's body temperature by pouring cool water over their body and keeping them wet until they get medical help. If you have to drive the dog to the veterinary office, keep your car windows open. When treating the dog in the meantime, only use cool water because ice-cold water could make their body temperature drop too quickly and cause further complications. 

     

     

    When treating a dog with your pet first aid kit, you need to know what each item is and how to use it effectively. Without first aid knowledge, you won't be able to function properly in an actual emergency. Take a pet first aid class if possible and practice your skills to be prepared. So, consider these tips and build your pet first aid kit to best step in with the supplies needed to help a pet needing medical attention.

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