Every good Boy Scout knows that being prepared in an emergency helps you keep a cool head. When your furry friend is suffering from an illness, injury, or poisoning, it’s easy to panic. Learning what to do—or not do—in a critical situation makes all the difference in your pet’s safety, comfort, and recovery, as well as offering you peace of mind. Take a tip from the Boy Scouts and be prepared—create your own plan of action for any pet-related injury.
Packing a pet first-aid kit
Ideally, you’ll already have a first-aid kit in your home, but a few additions are likely required to make it pet-friendly. Gear up appropriately by packing all the following supplies in an easy-to-carry, waterproof container:
- Blood clotting products for quicked nails, such as styptic powder or silver nitrate sticks
- Saline flush to clean wounds or flush eyes
- Wound disinfectant, such as iodine or chlorhexidine solution, with instructions for dilution
- Cotton ball and swabs for cleaning sensitive areas
- Gauze pads for cleaning wounds or for bandage layers
- Non-stick pads for the first bandage layer
- Cotton padding rolls to provide the bulk of a bandage for stabilization
- Gauze rolls to keep padding in place
- Bandage tape
- Bandage scissors with a blunt tip
- Splints that are moldable, or made from wooden dowels
- Self-adhesive bandage cover, such as Vet Wrap or Coban, for the bandage outer layer
- 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting
- Antibiotic ointment
- Artificial tears
- Benadryl for allergic reactions—contact us for the dose and write it on the box
- Your pet’s medications
- Battery-powered clippers to remove sticky hair from cuts and wounds
- Digital thermometer
- Lube for taking temperatures and to place in wounds while clipping hair
- Emergency warming blanket
- Cold packs, which must not be applied directly to your pet’s skin
- Muzzle for moving or treating painful pets
- Slip lead
- Exam gloves
- Collapsible water bowl
Providing first aid for common pet injuries
Once your kit is assembled, consider practicing bandage application techniques. Handling rolls of padding and gauze takes skill, and practice helps you be nimble during a true emergency. Familiarize yourself with common first-aid practices in the event of these pet injuries:
- Wounds are divided into superficial cuts or deep gashes. Surface cuts should be gently cleaned with an iodine or chlorhexidine solution before applying antibiotic ointment. Deeper cuts that are bleeding heavily need to be controlled before cleaning. Apply firm, direct pressure to the area for at least five to seven minutes and then check if a clot has formed. Once you’ve controlled the bleeding, gently clean the wound with a wound disinfectant and apply a bandage, but do not apply ointment. Deeper gashes often require a veterinary team to suture the wound and administer antibiotics to promote healing and prevent infection.
- Sprains or fractures are painful for your pet, so we suggest muzzling her before manipulating an injury. Some pets may simply strain a muscle while playing and will limp, but improve quickly with exercise restriction. If your pet cannot place weight on a limb, she may have fractured a bone, which requires emergency veterinary treatment. Avoid placing a splint if you are unsure about the technique—a poorly placed splint will do more harm than good.
- Burns can be caused by fire or chemicals, and can be life-threatening. Superficial burns can be soothed with cold water, but deep burns, which should not be cleaned or rinsed, need immediate veterinary care. Call us to let us know you are coming. If your pet suffers from a chemical burn, rinse the area with water to dilute the chemical. Most household cleaners are alkaline and can be neutralized with a vinegar and water solution. For acidic chemicals, use a baking soda and water mixture on the area. If you’re unsure of the chemical’s pH, rinse the burn with plain water.
- Heatstroke can occur even in shaded outdoor areas, especially if the humidity is high. If you notice vomiting, lethargy, or excessive panting, rush your pet into an air-conditioned area and apply cool water from the neck down. Avoid wrapping your pet in wet towels, which trap the heat. If you place your pet in a bathtub, ensure she stays conscious and keeps her head above water. Once your pet’s temperature has dropped below 104 degrees, stop your cooling efforts and head to our hospital for evaluation.
- Stings from bees, wasps, and fire ants can cause severe reactions in pets, as they do in allergic people. Itching and hives are mild signs of a reaction that can be alleviated with antihistamine cream and Benadryl after the stinger is scraped out with a credit card. If your pet’s muzzle is swollen, or she has difficulty breathing, vomits, or collapses, she needs immediate veterinary care.
- Poisoning can be caused by any number of toxic substances—chocolate, mushrooms, toads, chemicals, or snake and spider bites. Your pet may vomit, drool excessively, convulse, or become weak, and she needs immediate treatment for the best outcome. Call a poison hotline for help, or give us a call to determine whether you should try to make your pet vomit the toxin at home.
First aid is not a substitute for veterinary care—rather, it’s a way to stabilize your pet until you can reach professional veterinary aid. If your pet runs into trouble, stabilize her condition, and give us a call to let us know you’re on your way.