From dish soap to duct tape, many common household items can provide temporary first aid while you get your pet to the veterinarian.
The most important first aid item is your mobile phone, says Dr. Heather Loenser, senior emergency clinician at Crown Veterinary Specialists in Lebanon, NJ, member of the AAHA Board of Directors, and regular guest on Fox News. Dr. Loenser stresses the importance of programming two phone numbers into your mobile device:
- ASPCA Poison Control Center (888-426-4435): They’re open 24/7 and veterinary toxicologists are standing by to help you in an emergency. “They’re the gold standard for pet owners and veterinarians,” says Dr. Loenser. “These are people I call when I have questions.”
- The phone number of your nearest emergency veterinary hospital: Know where it is and how to get there in case of emergency. Practice driving there—in a true emergency, this will save precious minutes. Dr. Loenser reminds us, “The sicker the pet, the more apt we are to get lost.”
Also for your mobile device, the Pet First Aid app from the American Red Cross is available to download for 99 cents. The helpful app features an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital locator as well as useful first aid tips for 25 emergency situations, including heart and respiratory emergencies in addition to the all-too-common pet emergency: poisoning.
Once you’ve got your phone programmed and ready for an emergency, read on for Dr. Loenser’s list of common household items to include in your improvised pet first aid kit.
Kitchen cabinet first aid
Corn starch. If you’ve cut a nail too short or if your pet’s long nail gets snagged and is bleeding, you can use corn starch to slow, and even stop, the bleeding. It works only on nails, not on bleeding skin wounds.
Plastic wrap. If your pet has been attacked by another animal and wounded her abdomen or chest, unspool plastic wrap fully around her body as if you were wrapping a watermelon. This keeps her as clean as possible as you drive to the emergency veterinary hospital. It can also prevent a punctured lung from collapsing by keeping air from rushing into the body cavity, which can add another 5 to 10 minutes to keeping her alive. Not every kind of chest or abdominal wound benefits from wrap, but this is especially helpful when you’re worried you might see internal organs coming out through the wound. Wrap is also helpful if stitches from an abdominal surgery, like being spayed, have torn open.
Duct tape. If your pet has lacerated or scraped a paw pad, it will bleed a lot. To contain the mess while you drive, slide a sock over the pet’s injured paw, and then wrap that sock in duct tape. You can also use duct tape to keep the plastic wrap mentioned above in place. Put the duct tape on loosely, and do not leave it on for more than 30 minutes. If duct tape is wrapped too tightly, it can cause more damage than if there is no bandage at all.
Credit card. To remove a bee stinger, slide the edge of the credit card next to the base of the stinger and gently “massage” it out. This trick does not work when a tick is attached to your pet’s skin.
Chicken broth. If your pet has chewed on or licked certain toxic plants (such as dieffenbachia, poinsettia, or jalapeño) and has an irritated mouth, liquid can help to dilute the toxins. Water works, too, but a pet may resist drinking water. This can also work if your pet has chewed on a glow stick or licked a Bufo toad (common among dogs in the Southeast U.S.). Call the ASPCA Poison Control Center immediately after applying the liquid to the irritated area. Dr. Loenser also cautions that if your dog is frothing at the mouth, make sure he’s not having a seizure.
Dawn-brand dish soap. The Dawn brand has a gentle degreaser. If your dog has rolled in motor oil, or if your cat has accidentally been given certain canine flea and tick preventives, wash him off with Dawn-brand dish soap. Dr. Loenser urges us to never put canine flea preventive on a cat because a cat is highly sensitive to the active ingredients (pyrethrin and permethrin). If your pet is suddenly shivering violently, it may be a sign of overdose of flea control, so wash him off immediately with Dawn dish soap and head to your veterinarian.
Hydrogen peroxide 3% (dogs only!). If your dog has eaten something poisonous, call ASPCA Poison Control immediately. If you’re instructed by them to induce vomiting, use hydrogen peroxide 3% in the amount instructed for your dog’s weight. Put the liquid in a turkey baster or bulb syringe, or mix it with a little peanut butter or milk, before injecting the solution into your dog’s mouth. Dr. Loenser notes that some Internet sites instruct soaking bread in hydrogen peroxide, but she doesn’t recommend this because hydrogen peroxide often loses potency. Hydrogen peroxide should not be administered to cats.
First aid in your closet
Necktie or pantyhose. An improvised muzzle, made using a necktie or pantyhose, may be needed if your dog is in pain and fights back if you pick him up. Dr. Loenser has had to send people to the emergency room after they’ve been bitten when trying to help an injured pet.
Sock. Remember the duct tape? A sock will be needed to temporarily contain the bleeding from a cut paw pad. A sock is not to be used to stop arterial bleeding (see below for arterial bleeding). Note: If there is arterial bleeding, apply pressure and drive quickly to the veterinarian. If necessary for safe driving, you can tie a bandage with duct tape to the approximate tightness of a blood pressure cuff (not super-tight like a tourniquet).
Scarf. Use it to wrap a wounded ear tip to prevent blood from spattering when your pet shakes his head. Fold his ear inside-out and wrap the scarf around the top of his head. Ear tips bleed a lot because they have many blood vessels.
T-shirt. If you don’t have plastic kitchen wrap, use a T-shirt to protect a wound to the chest or abdomen. Covering the wound also prevents your pet from making his wound worse. You might use a T-shirt if the wound happens at a dog park, for example, so you can drive directly to the veterinary hospital.
Beach towel. Help your older dog stand up by using a beach towel like a sling under the dog’s belly and hoisting up her back legs. This supports walking if you are unable to carry her.
Comforter or blanket. Use a blanket as a stretcher to drag a larger dog that you can’t easily carry. It’s safer than pulling on a dog’s limbs or tail.
From your human first aid kit
Tweezers. To remove a tick, grab it at the base. A veterinarian can remove a tick for you if you’re uncomfortable doing it. Dr. Loenser cautions to never pull out a porcupine quill—it’s a complex procedure best done by a veterinarian.
Eye wash. If something is in your pet’s eye and you notice she is blinking or rubbing, wash out her eye with sterile eye wash (or you can use contact lens solution). Sit your dog, point her nose to the ceiling, open her eye, stabilize her head, and squirt the eye wash into the affected eye. If you also have sterile eye lubrication, use it afterwards to keep the eye moisturized. This is easier done with two people: One person stabilizes the dog while the other squirts the eye wash.
Gauze and white tape. Use as a temporary bandage before you arrive at the veterinary hospital.
Antibiotic ointment. It wards off further contamination before you arrive at the vet. Prevent your pet from licking off the ointment. At the vet, your pet will be fitted with a head cone (also called an Elizabethan collar or E-collar).
Just like human first responders still take their patients to the hospital after they’ve administered basic first aid, your pet still needs to go to the veterinarian after you use these tips to try to help them.
Larry Kay is an award-winning pet author. His new book, Life’s a Bark: What Dogs Teach Us About Life and Love, will be published in June 2014.
Photo credit: iStock images