First Aid is important knowledge for any pet parent to have. It is particularly critical during times where there is a lot going on, such as the holiday season. There are numerous changes to routines animals face during this time: out of town guests, travel, inclimate weather, and more. Any of these can pose a threat to their well-being and emotional state, whether it is via food they shouldn’t eat, stress from air travel, or a paw sliced open on ice.
The best thing we can do to protect our canine companions in these circumstances is to be prepared. There are really only two steps to canine first aid preparedness: know the basics & consider additional circumstances. The basics are pretty easy, if a bit detailed.
Have the contact information for your regular veterinarian and for the closest emergency vet clinic posted in an easy to find place, and placed in an outer pocket or luggage tag in your dog’s first aid kit. Include hospital name, regular doctor’s name, phone number, and physical & website addresses. On the other side of this paper, have your dog’s information. Be specific and include name, age or date of birth, breed, sex, known conditions or special handling needs, and medication/supplement list. It’s also a good idea to download the Red Cross’s app, so you have quick access to first aid information for your dog.
First Aid Kit
The main portion of first aid kit should contain a minimum of 3 days worth of basic supplies: collapsible food & water dishes, food & favorite treats, unopened bottle of water, and security item(s) like favorite blanket or toy. For you preppers, check out doggie bug out bags; you can buy one ready-made though it’s ideal to tailor one for your dog’s specific needs.
Packed and labeled in a smaller container, include items like medications, supplements, rescue therapies, unopened bottle of artificial tears or small bottle of unopened contact lens solution (both great for gently washing debris from eyes and wounds). Some medications may harm your dog if stopped without tapering. Examples include anti-seizure, anti-anxiety, and GI or immune-modulation medications. Drugs like antibiotics, antacids, and prescription eye/ear medications should also be in the first aid kit, but a missed dose is unlikely to cause serious problems.
Good supplements to have are those which serve multiple purposes so you don’t have to pack a ton of them. Here are our favorites and why; remember to pick ones you know historically help you dog, and change them up as her health care needs change.
- Hemp supplement: the endocannabinoid (ECS) excels at helping manage temporary stressors. When your dog has need of first aid, her ECS is in high gear and will happily utilize compounds from hemp products. This is one case where hemp oil is preferred as it absorbs quickly and repeat administration is easy; if your dog is already taking capsules, it is okay to administer hemp oil on top of her normal regimen.
- Essential oil blend or kit: terpenes found in many essential oils, like lavender oil, can be quite helpful in calming your dog and assisting her immune system in wound management. You can place a drop on her collar or bedding for aromatherapy, and around the edges of a wound for immune system support. Warning! Make sure you choose essential oil brands which source responsibly and extract safely. Here are some resources if you want to learn more: First Aid with Veterinary Medical Aromatherapy (great to have in a first aid kit) and Animal Desk Reference II (very detailed).
- TCVM or other herbal blend supplements: if your dog takes such supplements, make sure to pack them. Contact your holistic or integrative doctor regarding any first aid herbal blends they recommend and have those on hand too. If your dog isn’t seeing an integrative doctor yet, the AHVMA is a place to start the search.
Lastly, and also in a separate labeled container, have all wound care products, including nitrile gloves for you. Your dog’s veterinarian may have a list of recommended items, or you can create your own. If you make your own, pack just enough to protect open wounds until you reach the nearest emergency veterinary hospital. Items to consider: no stick pads, cling gauze, and paper tape. You may need someone to assist you during the wound cleaning process, as your dog may be in pain and can lash out.
The basics of first aid wound care are thankfully simple. With gloved hands, remove any loose large pieces of debris. Next, rinse the area with contact lens solution, then apply anything your veterinarian recommends as directed, or lavender essential oil around the wound. Start with the no stick pad placed over the wound, then bandage as shown here . For non-limb wounds, you may need to hold a few no-stick pads in place if paper tape is too loose, or fit your dog with a snug (but not too tight!) T-shirt over the bandage. Remember, your aim is to protect the lesion until you can get to a veterinary hospital.
Now, let’s consider additional circumstances, where things like travel, guests and weather come into play. If you’re traveling, look up nearby emergency veterinary hospitals and add them to the medical professional contact list. Similarly, prepare for seasonal weather changes specific to the region in which you’ll be traveling. Always be sure that it is warm enough if you are taking your dog out for a walk. Cold winter weather comes with risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and wounds to paw pads among other things. You can help protect against these things by ensuring that your dog has a sweater or jacket if they are a short-haired breed, or one without in insulating double coat if thicker coated. Numerous companies sell booties or other paw pad protectors specially designed for snow and ice.
Should your dog get too cold (body temperature is below 98.5° via rectal thermometer) or if you find a dog out in the cold weather, the key is to rewarm slowly. First, wrap them in a wool or fleece blanket or equivalent (hoodies work for small dogs), and then place heat packs or water bottles near them. Make sure these items, too, are wrapped in towels to protect from rewarming too quickly or burning their skin. And make sure to get your dog veterinary care as soon as possible.
Of course veterinary care should always follow first aid. Whenever possible, take notes on any care that was provided so you are able to inform your veterinarian of what treatment has been offered. While accidents cannot always be prevented, a little knowledge goes a long way toward keeping our pets safe and healthy.