by Janet Ciarico

Among the most important topics in canine health is first aid. Whether at home in the back yard, out in the field, or on a Sunday afternoon walk with your Flat-Coat pal, you never know when an unforeseen accident will happen resulting in your dog needing first aid. This article discusses the importance of basic first aid knowledge, provides references for dog first aid, and offers a list of essential items for a first aid kit. An accident or emergency is something we certainly do not expect, but when it happens there is nothing more important than having the knowledge and essential items on-hand to deal with the situation.

The information provided in this article has come from a variety of sources. Please consult these resources as well as your veterinarian to learn more about medications and first aid techniques.

An injury or emergency situation involving your dog can be very scary. Situations such as shock, heat exhaustion, bleeding, broken bones, bites, stings, bloat, or some other type of trauma can be serious. As a result, it is important to take time to read and become familiar with the basics of dog first aid. I don’t have the time, space, or expertise to provide remedies for all emergency situations, but suffice to say that they can happen and it is always best to be prepared — an ounce of prevention can really save a life!

There are a number of great first aid resources available including books, information on the web, and videos. Conduct your own research on first aid books and materials, ask other dog owners what they use as a first aid resource, and ask your veterinarian what he or she recommends. Choose a couple of books you like and buy them! Read through the information, tab important sections for easy reference, and keep them on-hand for quick referral.

There are several very good web sites with excellent information on first aid. In addition, there are instructional videos on canine first aid that can be purchased inexpensively. The following is a list of books, web sites and videos to consider:

First Aid Books
Field Guide to Dog First Aid: Emergency Care for Hunting, Working, and Outdoor Dog
by Randy Acker, D.V.M., Jim Fergus, and Christopher Smith.

Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook
by Delbert G. Carlson D.V.M. and James M. Giffin M.D.

First Aid for Dogs: What To Do When Emergencies Happen
by Bruce Fogle and Amanda Williams.

Pet First Aid
by Bobbie Mammato and Susie Duckworth and published by the American Red Cross in collaboration with The Humane Society of the United States.

UC Davis Book of Dogs: The Complete Medical Reference Guide for Dogs and Puppies
Mordecai Siegal (ed.)

First Aid Videos
Save Your Dog’s Life by Dr. Bernadine Cruz ($19.95) MediaMax Productions
(800) 440-8386. This video deals with CPR, internal & external bleeding, fractures, choking, drowning, heat stroke, poisoning, burns, snake bite, and how to move an injured dog.

Advanced Canine First Aid for Sporting and Outdoor Dogs by Randy Acker, D.V.M. ($20)
(800) 699-2663. This video covers just about every first aid and emergency aid situations including venomous snake bites, foot and pad Injuries, poisons, vomiting, heat stroke , ear/nose/eye injuries, stomach torsion, fractures, allergies, shock, diarrhea, burns, drowning, and bleeding.

Once you have read or viewed your first aid materials and have a good understanding of basic first aid techniques, it is time to put together a first aid kit! It’s important to have a kit that can be taken with you in your vehicle, yet has all the essential items needed. There are several companies that sell quality first aid kits such as Outdoor Safety, who sells a Dog First Aid Kit for that range from $30-70 (see Gun Dog Supply also carries a variety of sporting dog first aid kits in the same price range. Outdoor stores often carry pocket first aid guides that are geared for people and animals in remote locations. The Acker “Field Guide” mentioned above is very portable and is available in area outdoor stores.

My first aid kit is homemade and I like it because I have the flexibility to include the specific items I feel are most important. I started out with a good-sized box. I have heard of people using tackle boxes which sounds feasible. My box is a bright red, medium-sized, plastic tool box with tray which was reasonably priced at my local home improvement store. Clearly label your box with “FIRST AID” on all sides using a permanent pen. There will be no doubt what the box is if someone else needs find it in your vehicle.

Tape a 3×5 card to the inside lid of the box with the following information:

your name, address, phone number;
the name and phone of someone to contact in an emergency and who will take care of your dogs in you are incapacitated;
the dog’s name and any information about necessary medications they take, allergies, or medical conditions;
the name and phone number of your vet.
There are a variety of sources that suggest items for a first aid kit. Some lists are so extensive it seems you might need a large suitcase for your kit! I believe you can cover the basics without the suitcase. Most of the items can be purchased from your local drug store or ordered online or by catalog. A good basic kit includes:

Basic First Aid Kit
Cotton gauze pads
Sterile non-stick pads
Cotton gauze wrap (1.5” width and/or 3” width)
Vet wrap (2” width and/or 4” width) [can also be used for a muzzle]
Ace bandage (self adhering)
First aid tape
Regular Band-Aids
Cotton rounds or balls
Cotton swabs
Needle & thread
Razor blade
Small blunt end scissors
Tweezers or homeostatic forceps
Antibiotic ointment (Neosporin or generic)
EMT gel
Ophthalmic anti-biotic ointment
Small bottle of rubbing alcohol
Bottle of hydrogen peroxide (for cleaning wounds and to induce vomiting)
Iodine wash
Eye wash
Hydrocortisone cream
Benadryl capsules (for allergic reactions; generic works well – 25 mg)
Pepto Bismol tablets (for digestive trouble)
Buffered aspirin ( never give you dogs Tylenol or ibuprofen – they are toxic!)
Imodium tablets (for diarrhea — generic works well)
Anti-gas tablets (for digestive problems – Gas-X works well)
Activated charcoal (for absorption of ingested toxic substances)
“New skin” or “Mole Skin” (to quickly repair splits in pads)
Small jar of Vaseline or KY jelly
Rectal thermometer
Tongue depressors
Rubber gloves
A small supply of any prescription medicine your dog takes regularly
Small flashlight
Instant ice compress
Small plastic bottles (with a tight seal) about ½ full of rubbing alcohol and labeled as “ticks”. (Put any ticks pulled off yourself or your dog into this bottle. The alcohol will kill the tick and you have the critter preserved in case identification is required at a later time.)

Other items important to have on-hand but probably won’t fit into your kit include:

Towel and blanket (which can also make a doggy gurney in a pinch)
“Space” blanket or other heat reflective blanket

And of course, its always important to carry adequate clean drinking water with you. For over-the-counter medications, check with your vet for the dosage that is correct for your dog’s weight and write that information on a 3×5 card to put in your kit. It is important to note that the more comprehensive your first aid kit and other supplies are, the more likely your are to address a problem when it arises. This is particularly important if you travel to an unfamiliar or remote area far from a veterinarian. It is also a good idea to keep similar supplies on hand for home use.

Whether this info is a ”refresher” on first aid information or you need to learn the basics from scratch, I hope you find the information and resources helpful.

Dog Owner’s Guide. Dog Owner’s Guide: A Simple First Aid Kit. From the world wide web at Canis Major Publications 2001.

McGuire, Ann V. What to Put in Your Canine First Aid Kit. From the world wide web at

Pinkston, Lucy L. D.V.M., and vet@dog. Serious Traumatic Injuries. From the world wide web at

Powell, Charlie. Dog First Aid. The Retriever Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1. November/December 1999, pp 72-73.

Powell, Charlie. First Aid Judgment Calls. The Retriever Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2. January/February 2000, pp 63-65.