Our pets provide unconditional love and joy, and seeing them injured or sick is heartbreaking. All pets are naturally curious, including those who are normally well-behaved. From invading leftover holiday candy to injured paws, accidents can happen at any time, and home first aid, while not a substitute for immediate veterinary care, can be life-saving. Our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital veterinary team hopes you never have to provide first aid to your furry pal; however, these tips will ensure you are prepared for any unfortunate situation with your pet.
A: Always keep your pet’s first aid kit stocked
Whether you are snowed in and can’t reach the veterinary clinic quickly, or camping outdoors with your four-legged pal, a well-stocked pet first aid kit is helpful for many situations. Most items in your pet’s kit can be found in your personal first aid supply, but you should prepare a separate kit solely for your pet. Use a watertight bin or box to ensure all supplies are kept clean and dry, and include the following in your pet’s first aid kit:
- Digital thermometer
- Leash and collar
- Elizabethan collar
- Clean towels
- Gauze roll to wrap wounds, or to muzzle an injured pet
- Non-stick bandages or strips of clean cloth to cover wounds
- Self-adhering, non-stick tape
- Lubrication for thermometer, wounds, or eye protection
- Saline solution
- 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting
- Blunt tip scissors
- Rubber gloves
- Dawn soap or generic equivalent
- Antibiotic ointment
- Eye dropper or syringes without needles, to give oral medication, or flush wounds
- Copy of your pet’s medical records
- Contact information for the closest veterinary emergency clinic
Most of these items can be used without veterinary guidance. However, hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, and benadryl should only be administered under the direction of a veterinarian.
B: Bring your pet to the veterinarian safely
Following your first aid, ensure your pet is carefully transported to your veterinary clinic for immediate care. Identify the injury location or illness before you move your pet to prevent accidental bite wounds if they are painful or nervous. Additionally, avoid any pressure on your pet’s stomach if they have been vomiting, are having difficulty breathing, or their abdomen appears painful. Gently move small dogs and cats to a carrier, if available, for safe transfer to your veterinary hospital. Handling guidelines also include:
- Minimize handling an injured pet and encourage them to lie down and stay.
- Lie pets on their side unless you notice difficulty breathing, which may indicate a lung or chest injury.
- Stabilize larger pets on a firm surface such as plywood, an ironing board, or a collapsed cardboard box.
- Position an unconscious pet’s head upright to allow any vomitus to run out, and to retain circulation to the brain.
- Cover your pet in a blanket to keep them warm.
- Speak calmly to your pet.
- Plan your route to the veterinary hospital and call ahead.
C: Common pet emergencies and first aid tips
Following are first aid instructions for common pet emergencies that every pet owner should know.
- Poison or toxin exposure — Many household items can be toxic to pets. Generally, if it’s poison for you, it’s poisonous to your pet. If your pet’s skin or eyes are exposed to a chemical, check the label for instructions, thoroughly rinse the affected area, and immediately call your veterinarian. For toxin ingestion, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline for further guidance.
- Broken bones or leg injuries — Muzzle your injured pet before manipulating them, since they may bite because of the pain. Gently lay your pet on a flat surface, such as a board, and wrap them in a blanket to minimize their movement. Do not splint or manipulate the injured limb to prevent further injury.
- Bleeding —Tissue wounds are also painful, so first muzzle your pet. Press a clean, dry gauze pad over the wound for at least three minutes to allow the blood to clot. Do not check under the gauze, as the blood will take longer to clot. If the wound is bleeding through the gauze pads, add towels to the gauze so the clotting process is not disrupted. Then, seek immediate veterinary care.
- Seizures — During an active seizure, remove objects that could injure your pet, and place pillows or blankets nearby to protect them from further injury. Do not handle or restrain your pet during an active seizure. Keep them warm and calm following the seizure.
- Trauma or shock — If your pet is hit by a car or has any other traumatic injury, they could also have less obvious injuries such as internal bleeding. Minimize your pet’s movement by placing them on a board or firm surface for transport to your veterinarian. Additionally, animals in shock can become hypothermic, so wrap them in a blanket to keep them warm.
- Choking — Clinical signs of a choking pet include pawing at their mouth, difficulty breathing, or blue-tinged lips or tongue. Use caution with a choking pet, who may bite out of fear or panic. Gently remove objects in their mouth with tweezers or pliers, ensuring you do not push objects further down their throat. If you cannot reach the object, seek immediate veterinary care.
Remember, always seek immediate veterinary care in conjunction with your first aid. Additionally, consider registering for a pet first aid certification course for more comprehensive skills and training.
Pet first aid is not a substitute for veterinary care, but knowing how to take care of your ill or injured pet until they receive veterinary treatment may save their life. Contact our office if you have any questions about assembling your pet’s first aid kit, or if your pet gets into trouble—your Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team is here to help.