In an emergency, the first seconds are the most important in determining whether or not your pet can be saved. The steps described in this article are not meant to replace a trip to the Veterinarian, but they will likely make your vet bill cheaper and increase your pet’s chance for survival.
First, you should designate a box or other container in an easy-to-reach, convenient location to store supplies. This box or container should have the name and number of your veterinarian and the name and number of an emergency veterinarian in the area for after-hours or holiday emergencies. Some veterinary clinics have 24-hour emergency service, and others will give you the name and number of a local emergency clinic they recommend. It is best to get this information before an emergency and have it visible because each second counts. Have someone call while you attend to the animal, if you are alone, call before attending to the animal as the receptionist may be able to help you through the steps necessary and advise you in your unique emergency what not to do. Other useful information to have on hand to receive the best help from the receptionist is the weight of the animal from it’s last visit, any known allergies, dates of vaccinations (especially when using an emergency hospital instead of your usual vet), and any other known illnesses or problems (i.e. diabetes, hip dysplasia, etc.) and current medications, if any.
Next, it is a good idea to have an old, but clean towel with few or no holes. This can be used to restrain an angry cat or to place over a dog’s head while working with the injured area. Remember, an injured pet does not know you are trying to help him and will bite or scratch even if he is normally a calm, loving animal. Always approach with caution.
Some basic bandaging supplies are necessary, but pets don’t use band-aids. Guaze or more clean, old towels makes great absorbent material and also is useful in padding an injured limb to help stabalize it. Thick, cotton guaze is best, especially when you are not sure how much pressure to put on a wound. This will help avoid bandaging too tight which can slow healing or even kill the tissue below the wound. The thick guaze can be purchased at most feed stores as it is often used to pad horse bandages. Again, clean old towels work well too. If you have a cat, cut strips to about the width of the length of your cat’s leg, as well as the length of individual parts of your cat’s leg. Leave the strips long enough to go around the leg at least three times. To hold the bandage in place, use duct-tape. This can either be taped once around the bandage or, to provide a more stable and waterproof bandage (which is preferable in most situations in case there is a fracture involved), wrap the duct-tape several times around the bandage being careful not to place it too tightly around the wound. While pressure is essential to stop bleeding and stabalize a limb, it is important to allow the blood to flow through the veins. A good way to make sure you have not placed a bandage too tightly on a limb is to leave the foot exposed and watch for signs of swelling, loss of color or if the foot is cool to touch.
I do not advise adding disinfectants to the wound without a vet’s approval. The reason for this is that some animals react badly to disinfectants used for humans or other animals. Case in point, during my internship as a veterinary technician, a family brought their beloved cat in because she had become really sick and they thought it was from the injuries she sustained from a cat fight. It was actually the disinfectant that they used that poisoned the cat and the cat had to be put to sleep. The disinfectant was a purple substance often used for horses and cattle. Instead, if there is visible dirt in the wound that you would like to remove before bandaging, use a dispense bottle of distilled water (you can buy distilled water at your grocery store and dispensers at most drug stores or online). This is optional because infections will be taken care of by your veterinarian and are often not the first thing you should worry about in an emergency.
Other items that are useful to have in your kit are syrup of Ipecac or hydrogen peroxide to use as emetics (agents to help your pet vomit). ALWAYS ask your veterinarian before giving these emetics to your animal as some poisons should not be vomitted. Activated Charcoal can be useful too, but it is not easily attainable and again, should only be used with your veterinarian’s approval. All of these things should be measured using an oral syringe (often attainable in your grocery store in the baby section or in your local pharmacy/drug store). A veterinarian can give you the proper dose over the phone if you have the animal’s weight available. Keep in mind, they may ask that you do not administer anything, and allow them to evaluate the animal first, trust your veterinarian’s judgement.
Non-dyed, non-fragranced dish detergent may save your pet’s life in the event of an allergic reaction to a topical substance or is displaying signs of illness after having a chemical applied to their fur or skin. Common substances that have caused adverse reactions in my experience are over-the-counter flea medications, flea shampoos, fragrant shampoos and medications applied (purposely or accidently) to the animal that were not meant for that animal. In the case that your animal has a reaction to something being applied to his fur or skin, wash the animal with the non-dyed, non-frangranced dish detergent to remove the remainder of the culprit substance preventing the situation from getting worse, then rush the animal to the veterinarian.
Another useful item is a bar of Ivory soap or other, non-dyed, non-fragrance bar soap. This is especially useful to have on hand if you clip your animal’s toe-nails yourself. If you ever cut a quick and cause bleeding, dipping the claw in the soap can help stop the bleeding. Cornstarch also works. NEVER use a match because this can hurt the animal more.
If your animal is diabetic, a bottle of karo syrup or honey should be kept in case of a dip in glucose levels.
Latex or rubber gloves may be good to have on hand for yourself. A number of a neighbor or someone who lives nearby (more than one number is better, especially if you live alone or are often alone with the animal) to help with transporting the animal (a large dog is difficult for one person to carry and impossible to carry without causing more pain or injury- with two people a board or blanket can be used to transport the animal without causing furthing pain or injury). You may also find you need someone else to drive. Often pet owners get into accidents bringing their animals in for an emergency because they are distressed. Having someone else drive you and your pet to the veterinarian is safer and also allows you to attend to the animal while you are driving (speak softly and calmly to the animal and watch for difficulty breathing or other abnormal behavior- focusing on calming your pet will help your pet keep from injuring itself more and will help you calmer as an added bonus).
Finally, instructions for CPR for your pet should be kept in the box. A patient in need of CPR rarely has the amount of time it takes to travel to the vet. Ideally, you should have one person drive while the other performs CPR (though this may not be possible without putting yourself in danger being out of a seatbelt). Instructions for pet CPR can be found at http://members.aol.com/henryhbk/acpr.html in a printable brochure form. This is the exact material my Veterinary Technology class read before attempting CPR on our practice models and I found it helpful and easy to follow.
In Summary the kit should include:
1) Name and Phone # of your veterinarian and an emergency veterinarian
2) Information about your pet to include: weight, vaccinations, illnesses and medical conditions, allergies and medications
3) Name and Number of a neighbor or someone close by to help you/drive you
4) CPR instructions
5) Old, clean towels cut into strips or thick cotton gauze for bandaging
6) Duct tape to secure bandages
7) An old, clean towel with few or no holes to use in restraint or to cover your animal’s head
8) Syrup of Ipecac or Hydrogen Peroxide
9) Activated Charcoal (optional)
10) Oral Syringe measured in ml or cc
11) Non-dyed, non-fragranced dish soap
12) Ivory bar soap (or similar) or Cornstarch (optional
13) Honey or Karo Syrup (if your animal is diabetic)
14) Distilled water in a dispense bottle (optional)
15) Latex Gloves (optional).
With these items, you will have the supplies necessary to save your pet’s life in the most common emergencies.