Pet First Aid Kit

Pet first aid kitWhen it comes to our pets, things can happen when you least expect it.  Having a first aid kit handy is essential to help you quickly and effectively deal with minor cuts, as well as more serious situations.  You may be on a walk or hike with your pup when they experience an injury, therefore it is a great idea to create two kits - both a home kit and a mobile version that you can carry in a backpack or keep in the car.

Although self-administered emergency treatment for serious situations should never be considered a substitute for veterinary care, knowing how to respond quickly can save your pet from more pain and distress, and can also help save their life before you reach a veterinarian.

First, we'll talk about temperature and heart rate, and then go into building our own first aid kit.  We will also go over important things to take into consideration if you live in rattlesnake country (including the rattlesnake vaccine option).  

Common Pet Injuries

Pet injuries are inevitable, and knowing how to quickly and effectively help your pet can make all the difference in the world.   After exploring the article below on building your own first aid kit, learn how to treat common pet health problems such as cuts, limping, stings, choking, poisoning, and other injuries.

Treating common pet injuries

Temperature & Heart Rate

Let's familiarize ourselves with a dog or cat's vital signs to have a baseline of what is normal and what is not:

    Heart Rate   Temperature
Puppies/Kittens   60-220 BPM   96-100°

Small Dogs (<30 lbs.)   100-220 BPM   100-102.5°

Dogs (>30 lbs.)   60-160 BPM   100-102.5°

Cats   140-220 BPM   100-102.5°

Source: Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians 

Measuring the Heart Rate

For a dog or cat, feel for the heartbeat:

Hold your middle finger and index finger on the pulse point.  Count how many beats or pulses you can hear during a 10-second period, and then multiply that by 6 to calculate the number of beats per minute.

Taking the Temperature

A dog or cat's temperature is taken rectally.  Using a rectal or pediatric digital thermometer, lubricate the tip with petroleum jelly or vaseline.  Keep your pet in a standing position if possible, and hold the tail up.  Gently insert tip into their rectum and leave for the required time (usually a beep from the thermometer).  Remove and read.

Building the First Aid Kit

You can either purchase a pet first aid kit online, or make your own.  The benefit of purchasing a complete kit is that it often comes in a handy container.  Let's take a look at what a good first aid kit should include.


First aid kit
  • Scissors
  • Rectal thermometer
  • Eye dropper (to flush wounds)
  • Large and small syringe
  • Forceps or tweezers
  • Gauze pads/non-stick pads, also known as "telfa pads" (2" and 4" square)
  • Gauze roll (for wrapping wounds, and for muzzling an injured pet)
  • Non-stick bandages (to control bleeding or protect wounds)
  • Adhesive bandages (2" rolls for securing non-stick bandages and gauze)
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting of poisonous substances)
  • Vetericyn (safe and non-toxic for all pets, including reptiles, rodents, birds, and livestock)
  • Milk of magnesia or activated charcoal (binds to poisonous substances, preventing them being absorbed in the bloodstream)
Topical Antibiotics/Ointments
  • Vetericyn
  • Baking soda (for bee stings)
  • Vaseline
  • Tick twisterTick Twister (to remove ticks)
  • Set of booties (for hot concrete/tarmac on a hike or walk, or for an injured paw)
  • Leash and muzzle (to prevent a dog irritating an injury or to help keep a dog calm)
  • Large, clean towel or blanket (kept sealed/clean - can be used to stabilize during transport)

For extended trips or periods of time

  • Medications your pet needs

 Emergency phone numbers

  • Your veterinarian's phone number
  • Poison control centers:
    - Pet Poison Helpline:  (800) 213-6680, cost is $35/call
    - ASPCA Poison Control Center:  (888) 426-4435, cost is $65/call

Pet First Aid Courses

There are several organizations that offer pet first aid courses around the United States.  They are often only 2-4 hours long and can be invaluable in helping you to respond to health emergencies, and provide basic first aid for the four-legged members of your family.  

Examples of these organizations include:

If You Live In Rattlesnake Country

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

It is important to familiarize yourself with the vets in your area that carry antivenin.  Not all vets do, and knowing where to head in the event of a rattlesnake bite can mean the difference between life and death.  

If your dog is bitten by a rattler, it is always an emergency, even if your dog has had the rattlesnake vaccine.  Bites by non-venomous snakes should also be looked at by a vet in case of infection.

What to do if your dog is bitten by a snake...

When animals are bitten by snakes, it is generally around the mouth area, head, or the paws.  Puncture wounds may or may not be visible depending on their size and the thickness of fur.  Symptoms include painful swelling at the bite site, drooling, trembling, paralysis, collapse, vomiting, and dilated pupils.  Poisonous spiders can cause severe pain at the bite location, and may or may not cause other symptoms similar to a poisonous snake bite.

If you suspect your pet is a victim of a snake bite which may be poisonous:

  1. MINIMIZE any movement - the more your pet moves around, the faster the poison will spread throughout the body.  IMMOBILIZE any joint that has been bitten to slow the spread of poison.
  2. Do not try to suck or squeeze the venom out.
  3. Firmly bandage it, which will help slow the spread of the poison.
  4. See a vet immediately.  Call ahead to see if your vet has antivenin - not all do and they may refer you to another local area vet who does.

Your vet may or may not administer an antivenin.  To be most effective, antivenin should be administered within 4 hours of the bite, as it becomes less and less effective as time passes.  Your vet will likely also administer IV fluids and antibiotics.

If you know your pet has been bitten by a snake and you are not sure whether it is poisonous or not, even if your pet exhibits no symptoms whatsoever, please still call your vet with a description of the snake and monitor your pet very closely for the next 48-72 hours.  Keep an eye on the bite area for any signs of infection.  Some poisons may not have immediate or apparent symptoms but may cause internal injuries such as organ damage.  There are many harmless snakes, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Learn more about the rattlesnake vaccine...

If you live in rattlesnake country, should you consider the vaccine?  The rattlesnake vaccine (crotalus atrox toxoid) was developed for protection against the Western Diamondback rattlesnake and it is most effective when used to protect against this specific type of rattler.  But as the venom of other rattlers is similar to the Western Diamondback, the vaccine is also effective against these rattlers, but to a lesser degree.

The benefits of the vaccine include less pain, less tissue damage, and faster recovery when a dog has been bitten, as compared to dogs who have not had the vaccine.  However, different factors can reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine, such as the age of the snake, the amount of venom injected, the location of the bite, and how long ago the vaccine was administered.  The vaccine protection slowly declines over time, and is typically given on a yearly basis.

The decision of whether to use this vaccination should not be taken lightly, as all vaccinations have the potential to cause serious side effects and health problems.  Weigh how serious the risk is of your dog being bitten against the risk of the vaccine.  Do not administer the vaccination to a puppy under 6 months old (who does not yet have a fully-developed immune system), and never administer any vaccine to a sick dog, or a dog suffering from a chronic disease such as cancer.

Pet vaccinations - making an educated decision...



In this section...
In other pet sections...