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As a registered veterinary technician or veterinary nurse who has worked in the field for over a decade I cannot stress the importance of not just having a first aid kit but also knowing how to use the first aid kit items.
Simply having bandaging supplies or benadryl within your first aid kit is not enough. You need to know how to clean and apply bandages, how much of certain medications to give in an emergency – AND what resources are available to help you while you are getting your pup into a veterinary hospital.
Today I wanted to give you a good outline of what I personally keep in my dog first aid kit and what the items are for – however this list is just a starting point – I highly suggest taking a Pet CPR class, and first aid class so that you understand the basics and you can assist and stabilize your pet on the way to the vet.
Information & Paperwork
Probably one of the most overlooked sections of a first aid kit for dogs is actually the paperwork side of things. Having all this paperwork at your fingertips, easily accessible WITHOUT the use of a computer or phone is extremely important.
The reason for this is that sometimes in an emergency you may not have access to your phone or a computer. Your regular veterinarian may not have power – and if they have electronic records – they won’t be able to provide you with this information if you need it so you can stay at a hotel or board your dog at a facility while you have to evacuate your home.
If you are traveling – having this information WITH YOU can save you so much headache when time-zones do not line up, or you need information on a Sunday and your veterinarian is closed!
You also will want contact information for someone that is not in your immediate travel group as an emergency contact – this is just in case you are in an accident and your dog is okay. Ideally keeping this information on the side of a travel kennel or in the glove box or your wallet is ideal as these are places an emergency or medical professional might check.
- Your regular veterinarian’s address, phone number, and directions to the hospital. - Closest emergency veterinarian’s address, phone number and directions to the hospital. - Closest vet for emergency during travel address, phone number and directions - Emergency contact NOT in your immediate group - Dog Health Information - vaccinations, parasite control, health certificate, titer testing, last bloodwork, picture of dog.
Being able to provide basic cleaning to a wound at home prior to heading to your veterinarian or while out hiking with our dogs is so important. However it is also extremely important to realize that the purpose of cleaning a wound is not to avoid going to your veterinarian, but to stabilize the situation, and prevent further infection or contamination. Even if you do not know how to bandage – cleaning out a wound with some simple saline solution can be a great first step.
For most wounds – a Betadine Solution is probably your best option – Betadine is antibacterial and antifungal, and can be used on simple cuts and scrapes. However YOU HAVE TO DILUTE IT. If using Betadine you should dilute it to the color of VERY weak tea (bearly on off-white color). Betadine can also stain white hair and skin – so keep that in mind when you are using it.
For red irritated eyes, or very dirty wounds – flushing with simple saline is probably your best option. In these cases we aren’t looking to disinfect the area because it is very sensitive, but instead we are looking to FLUSH, FLUSH, FLUSH out dirt and debris.
- Betadine Solution - Saline Flush
A word of caution – if you do not know how to bandage a wound there is no reason you should have ANY bandaging supplies in your first aid kit. I know it may sound harsh, but if you bandage a wound incorrectly you can cause pressure points that lead to sores, cut of circulation leading to edema (fluid buildup under the skin), and tissue necrosis – basically the skin or muscle could die. It’s not worth it.
Instead if you have active bleeding apply pressure using some gauze and apply tape to hold in place. You can also use a sock, t-shirt, or even a towel. Then immediately rush to the vet.
If you do have training on doing bandaging I like keeping a couple rolls of bandaging supplies and bandaging scissors in my kit!
- Non-stick gauze pads - Gauze Pads - Gauze Wrap - Vetwrap - Bandaging Scissors
The safety portion of the kit refers to keeping both you and your dog safe while performing first aid. The first thing is to have some type of gloves available for yourself – I like having these just in case I need to do first aid that is particularly gross – this might be something as simple as butt bathing after a dog has loose stool, or it might be to wear when flushing out a extremely bad wound.
The next safety measure is a Muzzle – I know it’s hard to see your dog is one – however even the best dog in pain will bite. Ideally if you can – muzzle train your pup so that the muzzle itself does not add additional stress to an already stressful situation.
Another thing I love having in my first aid kit for my own dogs is a sheet or a towel. The reason why I love these so much is because they are extremely versatile – you can use them as a bed, you can use them to cover your dog’s head in a stressful situation to help calm them, you can use them for some very creative restraints if you need to provide solo first aid on a trail or hike. You can also use them as a “moving blanket” to move your dog from one space to another without having to have them stand or touch painful areas.
Finally extra food, water and treats. In an emergency you might need them – water can be used to help cool down an overheating dog, and obviously having extra food for your dog (about 3-5 days worth) is ideal for if you need to leave the area you are in for a short period of time.
- Gloves - Large Towel or Sheet - Muzzle - Food, Water, Treats
This is another often overlooked section of a first aid kit – most people don’t think of grooming supplies as necessities. But grooming supplies are extremely useful especially if you are traveling or camping. Items like shampoo can help you remove allergens from paws and bellies if your pup suffers from environmental allergies.
Nail trimmers can help you clip away snags BEFORE they become an issue and tear off. Paw balms and creams such as Pup Wax can help you maintain your pup’s paw pads while traveling, protecting and soothing them while out in the elements. I know I use this on my own dog’s paw pads after long hikes and walks to help keep their paws healthy.
Items like Tick Keys, Flea Combs and Forceps can help you remove parasites and items like stickers and burrs from between paw pads in their hair and coat. And BIG TIP here – also include rubbing alcohol in your first aid kit – you can use this to soak ticks prior to pulling them out to get them to retract slightly. For small ticks – flea combs work extremely well.
- Nail Trimmers - Brush - Paw Pad Cream / Balm - Tick Key - Flea Comb - Hemostats / Forceps - Rubbing Alcohol - Regular Shampoo
Toxins & Accidental Ingestion
The wonderful world of your pet eating something toxic that they shouldn’t – I cannot stress the importance of PREVENTION in order to avoid using this section of your first aid kit. Training a really good “leave it” and “here” cue can be SO HELPFUL for keeping your dog away from toxic mushrooms, medications/foods that fall to the floor, and rat poison or snail bait. Also teaching your dog good boundaries so they understand where they are allowed to be, and where they shouldn’t be (like the counter) is SO IMPORTANT.
But – if by chance your dog accidentally gets into something having some items at home or in your travel dog first aid kit can be a good idea. I personally like keeping both activated charcoal and hydrogen peroxide in my first aid kit. However, I NEVER use them unless I’ve contacted the emergency veterinarian, or the ASPCA Pet Poison Control Hotline FIRST.
This is because sometimes you may not want to give one or both – aka it could cause harm. A good example of this is if your dog ingests something like bleach – we don’t want him vomiting that back up as it will irritate the throat AGAIN. And for some substances we might want to use a different binder than activated charcoal because it doesn’t work, and could enhance the effects of the toxin.
I highly recommend placing the number for the ASPCA Pet Poison Control Hotline and your Local Emergency Vet taped onto the bottle of these so it reminds you to CALL FIRST.
- Phone Number for ASPCA Pet Poison Control - Emergency Vet Phone Number - Hydrogen Peroxide - Activated Charcoal
Medications / Supplements
Similar to how we don’t give things like hydrogen peroxide or activated charcoal without consulting our veterinarian first – the use of medications and supplements to help treat or manage a medical condition should be placed into this same category. REMEMBER first aid is not to be provided instead of going to your vet – it is to stabilize your pet so your can get to the veterinarian in a safe manner.
In my medication and supplement section I keep only a couple things. The first is Benadryl – these are the 25mg tablets that online contain Diphenhydramine HCI 25mg and no other substances. These can be used for mild allergic symptoms, or for slight motion sickness. I’ve personally never used them, however I do keep them in case of an odd allergic reaction while camping, I’ve never personally seen it work much for motion sickness in dogs.
I also keep two things in my emergency kit for loose stools – Proviable DC – which is a probiotic for dogs that contains multiple strains of beneficial bacteria. And canned pumpkin – which is a fiber source. Both of these I use in the first 24-48 hrs if my dogs have loose stools while waiting for a vet appointment. If your dog has blood in their stool, is lethargic, or generally seems “off” I would not wait, and instead just take your pup into the emergency vet.
- Benadryl 25mg (Diaphenhydramine HCl) - Probiotic - Canned Pumpkin
Being prepared for an emergency comes with a couple extra items of gear as well. This is again a section I find many people overlook as they focus on the medical side of their kit, but forget that they may need to carry a dog, leash up other dogs, or even have their dog walk out of an area with a cut on their paw.
The first item of gear I like to keep in my kit are a pair of booties – personally I love the one’s from Ruff Wear – their hiking booties are great for not just protecting your dog’s feet while hiking, but protecting any cuts or scraps they might have on their paws. If your dog has a torn nail, you can treat the wound – then apply the bootie with a bit of gauze padding so your dog can still walk into their vet appointment.
But if by chance your dog is unable to walk out and you do have a larger dog like I do having a dog sling or a way to carry your dog back – especially while hiking in the back-country – is so important.
Extra leashes are a MUST – not just in case your own leash breaks, but in case you come in contact with another dog on the trail or while walking who is not leashed! This can allow you to help get the other dog and get them to safety. On this same note, having extra bowls – ideally the collapsible ones – can be very helpful in a pinch if you need to provide water or a snack and you’ve evacuated from your home or you’re hiking on a trail.
- Booties - Extra Leash - Dog Sling - Small Bowls
The number one thing I want you to think about when designing your first aid kit is “does this prepare me and my dog for an emergency” and “do I know how to use all these tools adequately”. If you don’t know how to use something in a first aid kit, think of an alternative way you might be able to deal with a situation.
Or better yet – take a first aid and CPR class for dogs so you can be confident in how to care for your dog in an emergency. I can tell you from experience – emergencies are sometimes scary and overwhelming, and having confidence while in that situation can help prevent further injury.