When you’re traveling with a four legged friend, it is important to know some of the basics in handling emergency situations. You should always carry a first aid kit specially made for your pooch, as his needs will differ from yours. It isn’t very difficult to put one together (rather than buying one at the store), and it will give you a chance to both personalize it and familiarize yourself with it before you leave home.
- Your dog’s records: that means copies of his license, health certificate (which can be obtained from your vet with a quick visit prior to leaving), veterinary records if your dog has a unique medical condition, and a pre-made copy of a lost-and-found poster (see end of article).
- Medication: anything your dog is on, as well as a photocopy of the prescription.
- Honey or hard candies (NO chocolate): these are good for helping calm an upset stomach in the car. Stronger medications can be prescribed by a vet, but just remember: if you’re companion isn’t generally a good car rider, you may want to reconsider taking him along!
- Antibacterial ointment: you can get Panalog from your veterinarian, which is specifically designed for animals, but regular Neosporin or Polysporin form the drugstore works as well. If you can find it, the Polysporin is a better choice, as it contains only two of the typical three active ingredients. Polysporin lacks this third ingredient which occasionally causes mild allergic reactions.
- Plastic dosage spoon: again available at your local pharmacy. You’ll use this to measure any liquid medications.
- Paper or plastic cup: or a syringe with a blunt/open end if you can find it. You want something small and flexible, as you’ll use these to administer those liquid medications.
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine): Benadryl can be used on dogs the same way it is on humans; to help treat allergic reactions. Check your dog’s symptoms with a local vet over the phone first, but if you are given the OK, you should typically follow these weight guidelines for oral administration: Dogs less than 30lbs, 10mg. Dogs 30-50lbs, 25mg. Dogs over 50lbs, 50mg. Repeat this dose every 6 hours or as your vet directs you to.
- Slip-on muzzle: also usually available at the local pet store, this is good to keep in your kit. Even the most lovable, trustworthy, and relaxed pet can become panicked, irrational, and dangerous in an emergency situation. Having a muzzle will ensure you can administer the life-saving help your pet may need without harm to you or others. Do NOT use a muzzle if your pet is unconscious, having difficulty breathing, or has any injury near the mouth.
- Stretcher: don’t worry, you don’t need anything fancy. If you’re traveling by car, simply keep a flat piece of wood or cardboard in the trunk. It will take up almost no space and will be invaluable if you need to move your injured friend.
- Kaopectate: you’ll use this for treating diarrhea, which can be caused by stress, food or water changes, or can be a symptom of a more serious illness. You’ll want to give two teaspoons of Kaopectate per 10lbs of body weight, up to once every four hours. If you notice blood in the stool, labored breathing, a change in body temperature, loss of appetite, or if the diarrhea doesn’t clear within 24 hours, contact a veterinarian.
- Hydrogen peroxide, 3% solution: if your dog has swallowed something and you need to induce vomiting. Vomiting should NOT be induced for certain types of poisons! Please refer to the section below on basic poison treatments, and ALWAYS contact the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-800-548-2423 or 1-900-680-0000 in addition to a veterinarian.
- Activated Charcoal: used following hydrogen peroxide-induced vomiting to absorb toxins. Again, this should only be used for certain types of poisons and when advised by the poison control center.
- Olive oil: used to treat other types of poisonings. Again, refer to the section below on determining poison treatments.
- Petroleum jelly: or KY-Jelly. Used to aid in insertion of rectal thermometers.
- Sterile eye drops: or basic saline solution, to flush eye wounds and other areas requiring irrigation.
- Zip lock baggies: these always come in handy, and are great to store your first aid supplies in.
- Sterile gauze pads and adhesive tape: for treating wounds. Vet-wrap or self-clinging bandage is also good to have for treating legs and harder to secure areas. You can find these at the local pharmacy, or in the case of vet-wrap, from your veterinarian or local horse-supply store.
- Rectal thermometer: you will need this for taking your dog’s temperature. Have another person help restrain, unless he is too weak to resist. Coat it with a bit of the petroleum or KY jelly, firmly grasp his tail, and insert gently about one inch. Don’t let it go as it may disappear! After one minute, remove and check the temperature. Normal body temperature for your canine is between 100 and 101 degrees. If it is above 102.5 degrees, you should contact the local veterinary clinic.
- Ice Pack
- Thermal Blanket: even if you don’t pack a thermal blanket, a normal one will do. You will need this when you have to treat for shock. Keep your dog as warm as possible (unless shock was brought on by heat stroke) and keep his head below the rest of his body to encourage circulation (unless he has a head injury in which case you should keep it level). Avoid any sudden movements as this can bring him further into shock.
- Tweezers: for removing splinters/stingers/etc out of pads and skin.
- Blunt tipped scissors: used to cut gauze and other bandages so they should be a decent pair.
- Emergency first aid phone numbers: make and keep a list of veterinary hospitals in each location you will be staying. You may also want to note some that are located on your intended routes of travel between destinations, or check out a book from your local library with an extensive directory. Make sure you get the names of 24 hour emergency clinics as well, as these are usually more difficult to find.
Checking Vitals: Your pup’s pulse rate should be as follows: 90-120bpm on small dogs, 70-110 for medium animals, and 60-90 on the larger breeds. Finding a pulse on your dog is not difficult, and on a normal, healthy animal it should be strong and easy to locate. To do so, place your fingers on the inside of the hind leg and slide upwards until you reach the abdomen. Gently move your fingers around this area until you locate the pulse. You can apply this same technique to the area where the front legs join the chest (in the crook near the elbow). Count the pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by four to calculate the resting heart rate. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with your pooch’s resting heart rate before leaving for your trip; this will make it easier for you to determine what is and isn’t abnormal.
All of the following require immediate veterinary attention. These are simply suggestions for what you can do to help prior to arriving at a clinic.
Fractures: Usually indicated by an animal unable to move its leg or holding it at a funny angle. Use the muzzle from your kit and restrain him before checking the bones, and try to handle the area as little and as gently as possible. Move the dog onto a stretcher (that flat piece of wood you brought!) as carefully as possible, doing everything you can to avoid jostling and jarring him. For medium to large dogs, it is best if two people can do any moving to keep twisting and shaking at a minimum. Use what you can to splint the fracture or broken limb (sticks, a magazine, rolled newspaper, etc) and ensure that the splint extends one joint above and below the fractured area. Secure this with first aid tape or vet wrap, and make sure you don’t constrict blood flow. Do your best to keep the animal immobilized until you reach the vet.
Internal Bleeding: Typically characterized by pale skin, gums, and tongue, bleeding from ears, mouth, or anus, bloody vomit or stool, difficulty breathing, extreme lethargy or sleepiness. These symptoms can present both immediately and hours after injury occurs. Get the dog onto a stretcher to transport him into the car and into the clinic. Keep him warm with the thermal blanket, and move or jar him as little as possible.
External Bleeding: Press a thick gauze pad over the exposed wound and apply pressure, holding firmly until clotting occurs. In extremely dire situations with leg or tail injuries, you may need to use a tourniquet, but again, only as a last resort as this may result in the need to amputate the limb (this of course is better than losing the life of your pet). Create a loose loop around the leg with a piece of cloth or a handkerchief and tie it. Place a strong, short stick or pen between the leg and the loop, and twist it to tighten the loop until the blood flow stops. Get to the clinic FAST, and you MUST loosen the tourniquet every ten minutes or so for about 20 seconds to allow some blood flow to the area. Once loosened, apply direct pressure again, and only re-tighten the tourniquet if absolutely necessary.
Shock: Keep your animal restrained, quiet, and as warm as you can with the thermal blanket. If he is unconscious, keep his head level with the rest of his body.
Poisons: If your suspect your dog has ingested a form of poison, you need to determine what kind of poison he ingested, then treat with one of two very different first aid methods, Method One or Method Two. If you don’t have the packaging, or are unable to determine the poison, check your dog’s mouth and throat; if the tissue looks burned or raw, use Method One, otherwise, stick with Method Two. If you can, put some of what your dog ingested (or his vomit) into a zip lock bag; this will help the vet determine exactly how to treat your pet.
For CORROSIVE poisons, such as ACID, ALKALI or PETROLEUM
Neutralize the poison but DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING.
These types of poisons will harm the delicate linings of your pet’s throat and mouth even more if he throws them back up. Rinse his mouth with water to get rid of any chemicals that remain. Force him to swallow two to three tablespoons of the olive oil you packed, or as much as one cup of milk if it’s handy. Keep him warm with the thermal blanket while you rush him to the vet.
For NON corrosive poisons, INDUCE VOMITING IMMEDIATELY.
This is where the hydrogen peroxide treatment discussed earlier comes in. Administer 1 ½ tablespoons of 1:1 hydrogen peroxide and water for each 10 pounds of bodyweight every 15-20 minutes until he vomits. You can give him up to three doses. After he has vomited, make him swallow three to four tablespoons of the activated charcoal in a cup of warm water. Again, wrap him in the thermal blanket while you rush him to the vet.
When Lassie is Lost
It is always smart to keep a master copy of a lost dog poster with you when traveling. Feel free to fill in the blanks on this sample and use it for your own dog. Be sure to include a recent, clear picture of your pet where any distinct colors or markings can easily be seen.
LOST DOG – Attach Photo
Coat color and length:
Collar and ID tags:
Distinctive markings and behaviors:
Last seen at:
Home Phone (CALL COLLECT):
Dates at this location: