Pet First Aid: What Should You Have in Your Trunk?


FIDO Blog | Aug 10, 2015

Dear Melissa and Dr. Sip:

I keep a first-aid kit in my car in case of a small emergency for the human travelers.  I’ve heard of first-aid kits for pets, but what does that mean? Can you even put a Band-Aid on a dog?

- Louise from St. Louis, MO

Dr. Sip:  It’s a great idea to keep a pet first - aid kit in your car. If you are traveling or if you come across a wounded pet on the side of the road, you’ll be prepared.

Melissa: I competed for years in canine disc with my dog, Sadie, and always had her first aid kit in the car. The only difference I could see was the dog-kit had prettier wrap.

We literally ONLY have a pet-first-aid-kit, and I clearly don’t know how to use it. (Melissa McCue)

Dr. Sip: I called my friend and former colleague, Dr. Christine Pelletier of the VCA Wakefield Animal Hospital in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Dr. Pelletier often gives talks on pet first aid, so I knew she would have some great tips for us.

Her first bit of advice: Think about what the term “first aid” really means.  She describes first aid as using simple basic treatment techniques in the event of an accident or illness. Nothing fancy, no shocker paddles. The next principle to remember: Safety first and do no harm.

Melissa: Wait...they have shocker paddles for dogs?

Dr. Sip: Yes, but I’m not showing you the on-switch.  Anyway, as far as the kit, she recommends the following items:

  • a thick towel
  • a section of plywood
  • a cardboard box
  • duct tape
  • rope

Melissa: The rope could be used as a slip-lead leash or improvised muzzle if necessary, and a cardboard box can be used to carry a small dog or cat for transport to the animal hospital. This can also be used for pets that are found on the side of the road that you might come across.

Dr. Sip: The plywood could be used as a stretcher for a larger animal, using a towel over the pet and the duct tape around the board to secure them.  You can also use the towel when scooping up an animal.

Melissa: I’m thinking about the “safety first” part. That means for the pet, and for anyone handling the pet. No one thinks their dog or cat would bite, but if the pain is acute enough, well-intending owners trying to help Sparky can get badly bitten.

The right muzzle can help you stay safe, and make new friends.

Dr. Sip: We see this all the time in hospitals. An animal is in pain and goes into pure instinct mode. I have seen plenty of owners come in with their injured animal and the owner was bitten while trying to help the pet. So that big towel can help you get gentle control over a situation without claws or a dental impression left in your hand.

Melissa: A basket muzzle might be a good addition to your kit. Muzzles are not just for aggressive dogs. I tell all of my students to teach every dog to accept and love a basket muzzle before an emergency ever happens. Another benefit of this training is in the unlikely event of an evacuation from a natural disaster. If you have to flee, Fido and Fluffy have a better shot of staying with you in a public shelter if they are crated and muzzled. Teaching every dog how to accept a muzzle is just as important as "sit," "down," and "good God, don't eat that."

Dr. Sip: I can’t stress enough that we’re writing general tips. The rule of thumb is "go to the vet." These supplies will help you to get there as quickly (and safely) as possible.

Melissa: If we've inspired you to learn more, call your local SPCA or trusted veterinary clinic to ask about where you could take a pet first aid course.

 Dr. Pelletier. Trust her. She’s a professional. (Image credit: Sarah Norton)
Dr. Pelletier demonstrates the incredibly awkward Doggie Heimlech. Imagine if this were a 70 pound Labrador!

Special thanks to Christine Pelletier, DVM, of the VCA Wakefield Animal Hospital for all her great advice.

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