Every pet owner knows the importance of having a first aid kit on hand, but not everyone has one or knows what should be in it, or how to use whatever is in it. This article is designed to give some practical suggestions about what sort of things may be useful and how to use them. When your pet is sick, or there is an accident or emergency it is not always possible to get to the veterinarian right away. There are some things that can be done with basic first aid that can help your cat or dog and increase their chance of survival in a really serious emergency, or maybe deal with the problem before you even get to the vet in a more minor situation. It is a good idea to keep a first aid kit in your car as well as in your house.
The first rule of dealing with an emergency or problem situation is to stay calm. It is best to take a deep breath and to remind yourself not to panic, and get someone to help you, if possible. It is easy to panic when it is your animal that is sick or injured, but that will not help them or you, so try to stay as calm as possible and concentrate on what needs to be done. So take that deep breath and count up to ten and this will help you make the right decisions.
THE FIRST AID KIT
The first thing to have is a thermometer, and if your pet seems to be not eating, depressed, to have diarrhea, or any respiratory symptoms then it is worth taking their temperature as soon as possible, to see if they have any sign of a fever, indicating an infection. Equally important to be aware of is when the temperature is too low. This indicates that shock may be starting, for example if they are getting dehydrated, or losing blood somewhere, although there are many other causes too. The normal temperature for cats and dogs should be on average 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Below about 99 degrees is too low, and a sign that the animal is too chilled or going into shock, and above 103 degrees is usually a fever. To take the temperature it is best to use some lubricating jelly which is applied to the end of the thermometer before it is inserted in the rectum. It is best to have someone firmly hold the cat or dog, when this is done, for obvious reasons. The small glass thermometers are fine, but the electronic kind are easier to use, and smaller, so I prefer to use these. Also they beep when the temperature is finished and is not longer getting higher, and you do not have to remember to shake the mercury down, which is safer anyhow, as if you break a glass thermometer the mercury rolls everywhere. In hot summer weather be careful about heatstroke and if you suspect this is the case and the temperature is as high as 106 degrees then put your animal in cool water as soon as you can, to bring their temperature down, and call the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Another useful thing to keep on hand is a heating pad. This is helpful if there is any kind of shock, or low temperature, or for general sickness and debility as well. Get one that is designed for animals if possible, and make sure that the electric wire is covered and unavailable for chewing. In an emergency hot water bottles can be improvised using empty plastic bottles, which are filled with hot, but not boiling water. Be sure to cover these with a towel, or cloth so that the hot surface is not in direct contact with the skin or fur. This will help keep them warm until you can get into the vet. Shock can be seen due to serious medical problems, such as acute diarrhea, hypoglycemia, blood loss from trauma or internal problems, poisoning and many serious internal problems that might not be evident without x-rays or blood tests. If your pet shows any of these signs seek medical help as soon as possible. In general the smaller the animal the more rapidly they will go into shock and the more urgently medical attention is required. This applies especially young kittens and puppies, who are very susceptible to chills as well as hypoglycemia.
The next useful thing to have is pediolyte, or another dehydration fluid. This is basically water and electrolytes and is essential if your animal is having diarrhea or any signs of shock, such as low temperature, cold extremities, pale gums and weakness. You will need a syringe to administer the pediolyte and a five or ten cc syringe usually works well, you can give one or two syringes of this into the mouth every hour until they are looking better, depending on the size of the animal. To check for signs of dehydration it is best to take the skin at the scruff of the neck and raise it up between your finger and thumb then let go. If it goes immediately back down to normal they are not dehydrated, if it stays up for more than a few seconds, then they are starting to get dehydrated and need to be given oral rehydration fluids immediately as described above. Another useful thing to start giving, especially to puppies and young animals of any type is a little honey and water, or even glucose. The honey needs to be dissolved in a little hot water then some cool water added to get it into a solution which can be given with a syringe. Toy breeds, such as chihuahua’s are particularly prone to hypoglycemia and low blood sugar, especially as puppies, so this is well worth doing in an emergency, when you are not exactly sure of the cause.
For injuries some bandages are useful. You can bandage an injured foot or leg, or even an ear, using tape to secure it in place, and this will help keep the wound clean and dry as well as stop bleeding as you are on your way to the vet. For heavy bleeding, such as surface wounds from fighting or other accidents take some cotton and gauze squares and apply pressure for as long as you can, to stop bleeding. You can improvise a tourniquet by tying pantyhose above the bleeding area, if it is on a leg, and keep the pressure on for five minutes then release for one one minute, unless it is still bleeding excessively. At this point you should be on your way to the veterinarian or emergency clinic. Bandages that are useful are gauze bandages, some soft kind of padded bandage, as well as a conforming bandage, which you can get at some good pet stores or your veterinarians office. Some wooden splints might be helpful in case of a broken limb, and can be included in the bandage to prevent moving the bones too much. As a caution take care, as any dog or cat, however gentle, will bite when they are in pain, so just do what you can without injury to yourself, and get to the vet as soon as you can. You will also need some blunt scissors to cut any bandages and tapes with. Some cotton swabs are also useful for cleaning the wound, as is hydrogen peroxide. It is best to dilute the 3 % hydrogen peroxide using one part of this to nine parts of water, then use this mixture to cleanse the wound. Bandages and swabs are easily obtainable at any good pharmacy and some rubbing alcohol is also useful for cleansing the scissors and general hygiene.
As far as preventing infection you can use a natural antibiotic cream, such as Goldenseal or another alternative that works really well is Calendula ointment, which is a herbal ointment. This is available at the health food store. Some tweezers are also useful for removing foreign objects or insect stings. For irritation to the eye an eyewash can be used to clean and soothe the eye until you can take them into the veterinarian, an eyewash that is safe is boric acid and this needs to be diluted to half strength. In an emergency to flush our foreign material or irritants form the eye a natural saline based contact lens solution can be safely used. You can use a rubber bulb syringe, such as is used for babies to do this. Eyebright tea or solution also works really well for any kind of eye infection or irritation.
For shock or trauma as mentioned in my previous articles Rescue Remedy is also of great benefit. This is invaluable any time there is shock, stress or trauma. It can be safely used before visiting the vet office or after any kind of injury. It will often revive animals that are in shock and help in their journey to the vet and subsequent recovery, though is obviously not a replacement for immediate veterinary care. It has definitely saved many animals and is totally safe. Basically four drops of the stock bottle are added to a one ounce glass dropper bottle of spring water and shaken up. It is best to make this up immediately before use as the mixture will not keep too long. It is best to use plain spring water. Two or three drops of the mixture can be given into the mouth or onto the gums every five minutes until a response is seen. A few drops of the combined essence on the gums or even onto the ear of the injured animal will calm them down and make them easier to handle. It can even be sprayed onto the skin or ears with a spray bottle and will still have a beneficial effect. The other useful remedy that anyone should consider keeping in their first aid kit is homeopathic Arnica, the potency can be 30 C or 6 C for first aid use. It is used for bruises and trauma to the body and helps healing after any kind of surgery or accident as well as helping with shock. It is available in pellets that can be dissolved in water and given by mouth. It works more on the physical body, while Rescue Remedy works more on the emotions. It is important to ensure it is homeopathic Arnica not the herb. Both of these useful remedies are easily obtained at the health food store and will help with any emergency on the way to the veterinarians office.
For diarrhea a little Kaolin with Pectate is useful to give four times a day, and the dose depends on the size of your pet. I no longer recommend the human brand KaoPectate as they have added aspirin, but you can get natural Kaolin with Pectate at this link.
Overall I prefer the more natural approach, which is to use the herbal remedy Slippery Elm. The dose of Slippery Elm is half a capsule twice a day for an average sized adult cat, for younger animals a fourth of a capsule twice daily is better. For larger dogs one or two capsules twice a day works well. The best thing to do is mix the capsule powder with a little water to make it liquid and give it with a syringe. In addition some pediolyte as described above would be very helpful to prevent dehydration. It is also worth giving a little natural live yogurt, to help balance the intestinal flora or some acidophilus capsules. I would recommend taking any animal with diarrhea into their veterinarian, however to make sure that it is nothing serious, as they can become dehydrated so rapidly. With all first aid measures remember that they are called first aid, because this is the first aid to be given but that it is still well worth having your veterinarian examine them to make sure there is no other problem that needs to be addressed. Be very careful using any human drugs on animals as they have very different metabolisms, and a regular aspirin can be fatal to a cat, so do not give anything without first checking with your veterinarian. Remember if you are not sure what is happening to your pet, please take them to your vet or the emergency clinic. It is best to err on the side of caution, rather than try to treat them at home, without really knowing the problem. There are many things that you can do to help your pet at home, but in an emergency remember to stay as calm as possible, as this will help your pet and get them the help they need as quickly as you can. Find out where your nearest emergency clinic is and how to get there and keep that number and that of your local vet somewhere that is can be easily referred to as well as the Poison Hotlines listed below. Have fun with your pets, and I hope that none of you have to deal with any emergencies, but if you do I hope this gives you some practical ideas to help you and your pets in a more natural and holistic way.
THE FIRST AID KIT LIST
Hot Water Bottles
Cotton Gauze squares
GoldenSeal or Calendula ointment
Local Veterinarian Number
Emergency Clinic Number
Numbers for the Animal Poison Hotline & Poison Control for Pets:
1-800/548-2423 or 900/680-0000 (they do charge a fee)
Dr. Anna Maria Gardner is a holistic veterinarian, based in Washington State, and is certified in acupuncture and homeopathy. She lives in Washington with her daughter, two dogs, seven cats, sixteen chickens, two goats, a donkey, a horse, two ducks, a pair of geese and one bossy parrot.