If you own pets, little is more critical than their health, safety and well-being. They trust us to look after them and to always have their best interests at heart. The majority of pet owners understand this; however, even if we take as many precautions as possible, there is always the possibility that our beloved animal companions can get themselves into dangerous situations requiring first aid care.
From inhaling something poisonous from the cupboard under the kitchen sink, to more obvious physical injuries such as being on the receiving end of a dog-on-dog mauling, it is vital that we educate ourselves as pet owners regarding the best way to keep them safe until emergency veterinary care is available. What are the fundamentals of pet first aid, and what can we do to best help our pets if they are suffering from illness or injury?
April is designated as National Pet First Aid Awareness Month, but this topic is important all year round. We wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the benefits of preparing for situations where first aid might be necessary for your pup. In this article, we will also offer some tips on the dog first aid kit must haves that should be included in yours.
The fundamentals of dog first aid
Jo-Anne Brenner is the Executive Director and Founder of K9 MEDIC and PAL Pet Aid Learning. K9 MEDIC is a leading multi-disciplinary team of veterinary, special operations, EMS, K9, SAR and Education experts, and Jo-Anne and her team have worked with over one hundred agencies around the globe, teaching in excess of 10,000 students in 14 countries.
As Jo-Anne explains, before getting into the specifics of what equipment you might need or how to perform pet first aid, there are two important things you should consider.
“When most people think of pet first aid, they think of skills such as Bandaging and CPR — and we certainly do love teaching those skills!” says Jo-Anne. “However, there are two other topics that are even more fundamental and essential than those skills: Knowing Your Dog and Knowing Your Team.”
Knowing Your Dog
As dog owners, nobody understands our dog better than we do – and we should use our ability to read their behavior to help them.
“Knowing Your Dog is all about being able to read your dog’s subtle differences on a day to day basis,” explains Jo-Anne. “There’s obviously something wrong if your dog falls over, but a great pet parent has learned to read their dog on a much more detailed level and can recognize subtle differences in their behavior, their posture, their heart/pulse rate, or any of the other details we teach in the “Dog Eyes / Dog Speak” section of training.”
The importance of identifying any changes in your dog’s behavior is pivotal.
“Knowing about an injury or illness earlier rather than later can be the difference of minimal discomfort/pain (and a less expensive vet bill) and a lot more discomfort and suffering (and a bigger bill). Sometimes, it’s the difference between life and death.”
Knowing Your Team
It is also vital to have a great team and support structure in place, in case your four-legged friend runs into difficulty. Knowing your team members – and their roles – is important.
“Knowing Your Team is all about recognizing that pet first aid is a team sport,” says Jo-Anne. “Generally, the pet parent is the first to recognize a problem (and hopefully sooner because of Dog Speak / Dog Eyes!).
“The primary/family veterinarian is obviously a key team member and typically the first phone call. They know you, they know your dog. And there are also other team members to consider. For example, which veterinarian can you call on Sunday afternoon during that hike? Or Tuesday at 2am when you discover your dog got into something toxic from under the sink? It may be that ASPCA Animal Poison Control or the Pet Poison Hotline is your first call.
“You’ll also want to talk to your family Veterinarian to know where to go in the case of major trauma. It may be that the 24HR Specialty Center is the place to go because you’ve confirmed that they have oxygen, blood products and a surgical specialist available.”
In addition to veterinary professionals, Jo-Anne also believes it is vital to have extra team members on hand so you have help when it is most required.
“Sometimes your team will also include a friend or neighbor that can be an extra set of hands, because you want to be able to sit with your dog instead of drive.
“It takes an entire team to provide the best care. And both your pet, and your future self, will thank you for having figured that all out ahead of time, before it becomes a crisis!”
What to include in a dog first aid kit
The list of items you could include in a first aid kit for your pup is almost endless, but unless you intend to carry a small suitcase with you at all times, you’ll need to pack your kit efficiently – making the most of your available space and using ‘travel-size’ items wherever practical.
- Thermometer – a digital thermometer is a great starting point if your dog appears unwell or isn’t behaving as you’d expect. A dog’s normal body temperature is higher than a human – typically, a dog’s temperature should be between 100.2-103.8 Fahrenheit (37.9-39.9 Celsius).
- Flashlight – this will allow you to take a closer look at any wounds or scrapes, or pay closer inspection if an item is lodged inside your dog’s throat. If you don’t have a flashlight in your kit, the light on your cell phone may be sufficient.
- Tweezers – these can be useful for removing very small items which may be stuck in your dog’s skin, such as a bee sting or a splinter. Note that most household tweezers will not help with ticks – you can remove a tick from your dog’s body with a specialist removal tool (such as the Tick Twister or Tick Stick) or a pair of very fine-point tweezers.
- Syringe – a syringe (without the needle) can have a number of uses, but primarily, they come in handy if you need to administer something orally to your dog – for example, hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting if they have swallowed something poisonous, or water if they are dehydrated but refusing to drink.
- Small scissors – a small pair of scissors can help trim bandages or remove hair from the site of an injury.
- Small battery-powered trimmer – again, this tool can be used to shave hair near an injury on your dog.
- Disposable gloves – particularly useful if you are out hiking or in the outdoors and your hands are dirty.
Bandages, wraps and wipes
- Cotton wool – common in many first aid kits for humans and animals alike, cotton wool can be used to clean a wound – although be careful the cotton does not adhere itself to the wound when in use.
- Gauze (square pads or a roll of gauze) – gauze can be applied quickly and effectively to protect wounds or injuries.
- Bandages and wraps – used to protect wounds and injuries, bandages can either self-adhesive or sealed with medical tape.
- Alcohol wipes – these can be used on scissors or tweezers before use, helping to sterilize and protect against potential infection.
- Antihistamine – if your dog has been stung or has an allergic reaction, an antihistamine can help alleviate the reaction. Check with your veterinarian for a safe brand to use.
- Styptic powder – this blood-clotting powder can stop minor bleeding if your dog suffers a cut or injury. It is also useful to have available at home if you accidentally cut your dog whilst clipping their nails.
- Eye flush (safe for dogs) – a saline solution or specialist eye flush can help you clean your dog’s eyes if necessary.
- Hydrogen peroxide (3%) – used to induce vomiting in the event of your dog ingesting something poisonous – although always check with a veterinarian on the appropriate dosage.
Finally, within your dog’s first aid kit, it can also be useful to include an emergency ID card which contains the contact details for your veterinarian. Include the name of your vet, their telephone number, and an out-of-hours emergency number.
By following the steps outlined by Jo-Anne Brenner (identifying changes in your dog’s behavior, in addition to recognizing the importance of putting a team in place), and having a well-stocked first aid kit for your dog, you’ll be able to help your pup when they need it most!