Putting together a first aid kit for your dog or cat

Putting together a first aid kit for your dog or cat - Vetster

One thing all pet parents can agree on is how important it is to take the best care possible of their fur babies. It's one of the main ways we show them how much we love them. But no matter how much you focus on prevention and good care, accidents can happen. Some accidents are minor and others can be quite severe, so how do you prepare? Many minor mishaps can be handled at home if you have the appropriate supplies. And you can always get a Vetster virtual health appointment to guide you through any problem. A virtual vet can also let you know whether or not your pet needs more than at-home treatment.

Try to think of your pet first aid kit as part of an overall disaster preparedness plan. Since our pets rely on us for everything, it's up to us to make sure we have the things they might need. Consider your living situation, environment, lifestyle and the types of problems you're likely to face so you can plan ahead.

Do you have an athletic pet possibly prone to joint injuries? Does your dog play rough at the dog park? Does your cat like to explore the great outdoors? Maybe your pet is a lap-warmer or couch potato whose greatest risk is a torn toenail? Regardless, take some time today to put the supplies together so you're prepared for any situation.

Basic pet first aid supplies:

• Gauze sponges

• White first aid tape

• Self-adhesive bandage wrap (such as Vetwrap or Coban)

• Duct tape

• Triple antibiotic ointment

• Tweezers

• Nail trimmers

• Sterile saline (usually located with contact lens supplies)

• Wound cleanser containing chlorhexidine (such as Hibiclens)

• Regular 3% hydrogen peroxide (one open bottle and one unopened bottle)

• Styptic powder (such as Kwik Stop)

• Epsom salts

• Muzzle

• Pet poison hotline phone number

• 2-week minimum supply of any medications your pet regularly takes

How to adapt first-aid tools for animals.

Most of the things on this list probably seem pretty self-explanatory. But some simple human practices are a bit trickier with pets. Take bandages. Placing a bandage on a pet is one thing, but fixing it so that it doesn’t fall off is another thing entirely. Don't fret, though. In most home first aid situations it's not necessary to put on a bandage that has to stay. It’s actually not unusual for a bandage to do more harm than good. Bandage supplies like tape and gauze are helpful for applying direct pressure to stop minor bleeding.

In fact, many first aid tools need to be rejigged to be effective for pets.

Triple antibiotic ointment needs to be considered carefully.. If the wound is somewhere the pet can easily lick, there’s no way to guarantee that the ointment will stay on the skin long enough to really do anything. It can actually end up promoting licking and making things worse. Triple antibiotic ointment can be useful for small cuts and scrapes in hard-to-reach spots.

Tools like forceps and tweezers are great for removing thorns, quills, and other embedded objects. With practice (and a helper to hold the pet), a nail trimmer or forceps can also be used to remove a dangling bit of toenail. That's an advanced skill, though, so be sure to do your research or get some tips from a pro before attempting it. You can also get a Vetster virtual veterinarian to walk you through the process. Meanwhile, be sure to use your nail trimmers often to prevent overgrown and broken claws.

Sterile saline can be used to flush out the eyes and nostrils, as well as dirty wounds. If you need to clean the skin around a wound, opt for a solution that contains chlorhexidine. Chlorhexidine has great antimicrobial properties when left in contact with the skin for at least three minutes, and it has the added benefit of not stinging. Take care to avoid cleaning the inside of a wound, any raw skin, or near the eyes, with anything other than saline, however. Wound cleaners — even those with chlorhexidine — should be saved for use on the healthy skin *around the wound. This is especially true for hydrogen peroxide. While peroxide is great for cleaning blood (it just fizzes away), exposing healthy tissue to peroxide not only stings but it delays healing.

Broken nails aren’t just for humans! Cats, dogs, birds, small mammals... you name it. They all experience nail injuries from time to time. These injuries are generally not life-threatening by any stretch, but a broken nail or claw sure can bleed a lot. Clotting agents can be packed into the broken, bleeding edge of the claw (or beak) to stop bleeding. Corn starch can work in a pinch (pun intended), but it's easier to use something designed specifically for this purpose.

Epsom salt soaks are one of the best home remedies for preventing infection with minor skin wounds. Whether it's a blood blister from a thorn working its way up and out from between the toes or a small abrasion, soaking the area with an epsom salt solution for ten minutes twice daily can sometimes be just the thing a wound needs. This is easier to do with wounds on the toes or feet, but other areas of the body can also be treated this way — you may just have to get creative! And, as with everything else, take care to avoid getting it in the eyes.

Ingesting human medication or other toxic substances is a common emergency. There's no way to safely or effectively attempt to induce vomiting for cats at home, so get emergency veterinary care for your cat as quickly as possible if this happens. For dogs, you can induce vomiting at home with peroxide but only do so after speaking to a vet or poison control hotline. They’ll let you know how much to use and what to look out for. In the event of a potentially toxic ingestion, time is of the essence and the peroxide is much more likely to work if it's a fresh bottle that's never been opened before. Keep one on hand for just this purpose, along with a syringe for measuring out the appropriate dose, so you're ready just in case.

In the event of a natural disaster, it's helpful to know you'll have your pet's medications on hand and ready to go. Keep a current supply on hand with your first aid kit, and rotate through it so it doesn't expire. This can also come in handy when you forget to reorder and need some time to get your prescription refilled. Just remember to replace it as you use it so there's always a supply there when you need it.

Even the best-natured pet can end up panicking and biting when it's injured or in an altered mental state due to an illness. When you want to help your pet and need to handle, move, or work on him without getting bit, a muzzle can be a necessity. Be ready to pop it off quickly if your pet is going to vomit, however, and never leave a muzzle on an unattended or unconscious pet. Every pet and every situation is unique, so add things to this as you see fit. These tools can be useful on your own or within the guidance and oversight of a telehealth consultation. Even though we can hope you never need it, it's best to be prepared.

Written by Dr. Jo Myers
Dr. Jo Myers is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University and the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has spent more than 25 years helping pet owners enjoy happy and satisfying lives with their furry and feathered companions.
Dr. Jo Myers is also part of the Vetster medical review team.
Book a virtual appointment with Dr. Jo Myers on Vetster.

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