Introduction: Pet First Aid Kit - Simple, Inexpensive, and Effective
A few years back on one of the colder nights in January my fiance' and I found a small lost pup along the road. After searching high and low for his owner with no luck we decided to take him in as our own. Since then he has been a constant companion to the both of use, tagging along on evening walks, on cross country car rides, and on our weekend hiking excursions in the warmer months of spring and summer. As we like to be outdoors and active, we typically keep a small well packed first aid kit with us to deal with minor injuries and occasional emergencies, and although this kit is well equipped for our needs, it occurred to us a while back that it might not be equipped to meet the needs of our little four legged friend. So we hit the internet, did some research, ordered a book or two, and copied what we thought was useful from commercially produced pet first aid kits to create a kit that we thought would serve the needs of our pet without incorporating a lot of the useless excess that you might find in one of the commercial kits.
In this Instructable I will walk you through the process of creating a pet first aid kit for your own furry companion. The kit I describe will mostly be aimed at dog owners, but the concepts and general rationale can be adapted to suit almost any pet. Throughout the steps I will discuss some of the considerations and philosophies that I utilized when putting my kit together and will of course go over the contents of my Pet first aid kit and there intended uses so that you can use the knowledge to put together a kit of your own.
All and all, this is a fairly inexpensive project to put together, besides a few specialty items like a nice pouch or container to hold the items in the kit, most everything else should be stuff that you already have or things that you can pick up inexpensively at your local convenience/dollar store.
Fun Fact: April is pet first aid month, so make sure to keep an eye out around where you live for classes or freebies related to keeping your pets happy and healthy!
Step 1: Philosophy - What Should Be in a Pet First Aid Kit?
Picking and choosing what to include in your pet first aid kit can be challenging. you want to try your best to strike a balance between having the things you will need in an emergency, and not having so much that you need a small cart to tote your kit around on. There are a lot of factors that will contribute to what and how much you keep in your first aid kit, things like the size and type of pet you have, how many pets you have, what your intended use for the first aid kit is, (is it a boo-boo kit to take with you to the dog park, or is it a serious first aid kit for hikes/camping or extended vacations.) I cover my bases by having two separate first aid kits, a small kit with essential items for daily use, and a large more comprehensive kit that I bring along when we go on trips or out into the woods.
Here are some rules to follow as you put your first aid kit together:
Keep it simple: Someone is going to post in the comments that I forgot to include ridiculous things like a suture kit, scalpel, or a pet defibrillator (I don't even know if that's a real thing), but the point here is that 99% of the time you won't need severe medical equipment. Just pack the basics and the things that you think you'll actually need/use and leave the other stuff behind. The extra weight and hassle of going overboard on supplies usually means that you'll end up leaving your kit at home and therefore won't have anything on hand to help you out in an emergency situation. I'll be covering what things I think are worth adding to your pet first aid kit in the next few steps, so don't worry if you're drawing a blank about what to include right now. I'm also hoping to get some great suggestions of actual useful things that I may have forgotten to mention via the comments section, so if you're reading through this instructable and you find yourself thinking, "He should have included X", please make sure to mention X and it's uses in the comments.
Don't Duplicate Unnecessarily: in order to keep your kit trim and effective it is important that you don't over load it with items that serve the same function. For example, if you have a Swiss arm knife with scissors in your pet first aid kit, you might not need to pack an additional dedicated pair of shears. Likewise, if you have gauze and tape, then you can probably forego incorporating large bandages as the gauze and tape will serve the same function.
Pick Items with Multiple Uses: Using one item or tool for two or three jobs can be a great way to keep your pet first aid kit simple and effective. For example, Swiss Army Knives pack an absurd amount of tools into a small space; towels can be used to dry, for warmth, or can be cut into strips for rags and bandaging; and cling tape can be used to hold bandages in place or can be combined with other materials to make an impromptu splint.
Keep in mind the size of your pet: If you have a tea cup Chihuahua, you probably won't need gigantic bandages or leashes strong enough to hold back a charging rhinoceros. Although for the sake of being a good Samaritan and all around responsible pet person, you might want to pack a few extra items for various types/sizes of pets so that you can help other pets besides your own. This will be a trade off between how much you want to carry verses how prepared you want to be.
Depending on your situation/intended use, it might be okay to combine your human and pet first aid kits: If you're a prepared person who always like to keep a normal first aid kit on hand for those unexpected situations, you might be able to upgrade your kit to include pets by adding a few simple items or by stocking extra of some items you already carry. This could be useful if you're into ultralight hiking or if you simple don't have a ton of room to carry a fully decked out pet first aid kit.
Step 2: Containers and Bags
The type of container/bag you choose for your pet first aid kit can greatly affect the function of your kit in an emergency situation. Here are some considerations that should help you to pick the right container for the job:
At Home or On The Go: Where will your kit be used? if it's a stationary at home kit a hard plastic container with an easy to remove lid might be all you need. If it's an on the go kit (like the one presented in this Instructable,) I would lean towards a durable pouch or bag that will be able to protect it's contents and hold up well against the wear and tear of daily carry.
Size and Weight : If you pick a container that is too big or too heavy you WILL end up leaving your pet first aid kit at home as it will be a burden to bring along. Pick containers that are lightweight but strong, and that are just big enough to fit everything you need.
Dumpability : This is something that i find to be very important. In an emergency situation I want the ability to dump everything in my first aid kit out so that I don't have to waste time rummaging through the contents of the kit in a small enclosed space. For my first aid kit I used a simple but effective single pocket zipper bag. it's big enough to fit everything I need and in an emergency I can unzip it and dump it to have quick access to what I need in just a few moments.
Durability : Pick a container/bag that will stand up to daily use. Something like a Ziploc bag will be to flimsy for the job and will quickly wear out after just a few outings. In my opinion Canvas/Nylon tool pouches are the way to go, they're strong, light weight, and built to last. The one I picked for this project is a Klein Codura Tool Bag which can be found on Amazon.com for about 10 dollars.
Visibility: Having your pet first aid kit clearly and visibly labelled can be vitally important. Something like an indiscreet black nylon pouch will not be immediately recognizable as a pet first aid kit in the event that you have to send some one to retrieve your kit while your are attending to your injured animal. To this end it is very important to label your kit in some way, it could be as simple as an iron on first aid patch which you can pick up for a few bucks on Amazon, or you could create your own if your handy with a sewing machine. This will be discussed in more detail in the next step.
Water Resistance: Finding ways to water proof your kit or the items inside of it is one of the most important things you can do to keep your pet first aid kit effective and ready to go when you need it. The easiest solution is to pick a container or pouch that is already water proof. For home or car kits, a great solution is to use a locking, sealing food storage contain, think "Tuperware." For on the go kits I suggest picking pouch or bag that has some built in water resistance, and then doubling your defenses by storing items that might be damaged by moisture in plastic bags. One other tip I can give is to check your old shoe boxes for "Silica Descant Packs", (the little white packages with small beads in them that say "Do Not Eat". You can tuck a few of these packages inside your Pet First Aid Kit to absorb any water or humidity that might be harmful to the items within.
Step 3: Making It Look Like a Pet First Aid Kit - Patches!
One of the most important things about a first aid kit whether it be for humans or for animals is that it is easy to identify in an emergency. If the scenario plays out that your are tending to your injured pet and you need to send someone to retrieve your Pet First Aid Kit, you don't want that person wasting valuable time trying to find an nondescript bag or box of medical supplies. To that end I created a custom, highly visible, pet first aid patch for the front of my kit. This kit will all anyone to recognize the kit at a moments notice, saving valuable time in the event of an emergency.
To make the patch I source images from Google of pet silhouettes and the first aid symbol. Then, in Photoshop, I merged and fine tuned the images to create the look of the patch. Once I had the patch looking good I used a special program called, "SewArt" to turn a JPEG image file of the patch into a PES file which can be read by Brother embroidery machines. with the PES file ready to go I put my embroidery machine to work and about an hour later had a custom patch ready to adorn my kit. This, of course, was a lot of extra work and I really only did it because I was interested to learn how to make PES files, and because I was writing this instructable and wanted to produce the highest quality end result possible. In-loo of designing a custom patch, you could also purchase a standard first aid patch and combine it with another pet related patch, sewing both to the outside of your kit. this would accomplish the same goal and would be just a little simpler, plus there are tons of awesome pouches out there on sites like Amazon and Ebay.
If you're interested in making your own patch, or if you'd like to learn how to change JPEG images to PES so that they can be used with an embroidery machine, there is a really fantastic video on Youtube that explains the whole process very well. YouTube: How to change JPEGS to PES Files with SewArt.
If you have access to an Embroidery Machine that used PES files, such as my Brother Machine, you can download the PES file for my custom patch by following the like below:
Step 4: Medical Related
The medical supplies that you incorporate into your kit are going to be the same basic things that you might find in a human first aid kit, wound dressings, antibiotic or other healing ointments, and perhaps some medications. Some of these items can be used as expected and others have unique uses specific to pet medical needs. Also, some things like self adhesive band aids have been omitted or are included in reduced numbers in my pet first aid kit as I find that the adhesive can pull hair upon removal and I find that a combination of Tefla pads (nonstick) and Self Adhesive Cling Tape can accomplish the same task better.
Rubbing Alcohol or Alcohol Pads: Quite possibly the most useful thing you can keep in your pet first aid kit! Alcohol pads are going to serve to main functions, the first is pretty obvious, they are a great way to clean and sterilize wounds and tools. The other use is a little unexpected but may just save your pet's life. On hot days heat stroke can strike dogs quickly in severely. As dogs can't perspire through their skin, they have difficulty shedding excess body heat and can quickly succumb to heat on hot days. Wiping the paw pads of a dog or cat who is suffering from heat stroke with rubbing alcohol can save their life. as the alcohol evaporates the transition from liquid to gas pulls heat cooling the overheated animal and potentially saving it's life.
Tefla Pads: These are basically upgraded gauze pads that resist sticking to wounds (anybody who has had to remove a gauze pad from a dried wound will know how important the "non stick" feature is. These come individually packaged and sterile so they are ready to use at a moments notice.
Self Adhesive Cling Tape: an upgrade from standard medical tape, this tape only adheres to itself and therefore is idea of wrapping wounds on pets where standard tape might rip or pull at fur.
Band Aids: As mentioned above, I don't keep a lot of these in the pet first aid kit as I simply don't find a lot of uses for them where Tefla Pads and Cling tape aren't better suited. That being said, I do keep a few if for no other reason that they're nice to have if I get injured tending to my pet, (otherwise I have to break out the human first aid kit and that can be a bother for something as simple as a band aid.)
Triple Antibiotic Ointment: Most people refer to this as Neosporin, it's highly effective at diminishing the chance of infection in open wounds.
Saline Solution: great for washing out wounds or eyes prior to applying antibiotic ointment.
Medications: This can be a tricky area to advise upon. Any medication that is prescribed by veterinarians is most likely safe to pack, but be very cautious of using human medication to treat your pets. Certain human medications can be used in smaller doses for pets without issue, but certain medications that are harmless to humans can be fatal if administered to a pet. For example, Tylenol headache medication is poisonous to cats, even in small doses. About the only medication that I keep in my kit is a few tablets of Benadryl which is useful fro stings, bites, and minor allergies or skin irritations.
Collapsible Water Bowl: I picked up the one that I keep in my kit for
around 6 dollars on amazon. it's a simple, lightweight, and inexpensive tool that helps to keep my little buddy well hydrated.
Syringe: Combined with purified water or a saline solution, a small syringe can be an invaluable tool for rinsing wounds or eyes. Plus they are very inexpensive, running about .35 cents at your local pet store.
Rubber Gloves: For keeping your hands clean while tending to your pet, or they fingers can be cut off and placed over a dressed paw wound to keep it waterproof.
Styptic Pencil: Stopping bleeding from a broken nail/claw.
Cotton Balls or Swabs: Cleaning ears or around wounds.
3% Hydrogen Peroxide: For cleaning wounds or inducing vomiting (consult your vet).
Ice pack/Hot pack: Reducing swelling and relaxing inflamed muscles.
Step 5: Tools
Tools and medical supplies go hand in hand, but for the sake of keeping things organized I've broken them into their own individual categories.
Tweezers: Pulling thorns or removing ticks. Note, if you're going to use tweezers to pull ticks, I suggest that you purchase and use ultra fine tip tweezers as these will allow you to grip and pull the head of the tick as opposed to gripping and potentially ripping the body of the tick which would be more likely to happen with blunt nosed tweezers. What ever way you decide to go (Pointy Nosed or Blunt Nosed), make sure you pack a GOOD pair of tweezers as their is nothing more frustrating than trying to deal with a cheap pair of tweezers that barely grab anything while your pet is thrashing about or in pain.
Safety Pins: Removing Splinters.
Swiss Army Knife: In terms of the amount of awesome that can be fit in the smallest possible space, you can't do much better than a Swiss Army Knife: If you're putting together an ultra light weight pet first aid kit, a good Swiss Army Knife (SAK) can cover most of your tool needs. a model like the Victorinox Explorer, can be picked up for right around 20 dollars on Amazon or Ebay and will include multiple first aid related tools like a knife, scissors, tweezers, a saw, a magnifying an awl, a pin, and even some Phillips and flat head drivers. The knife and saw can be utilized to free leashes that are hopelessly entangled in brush, the scissors can be used to process first aid materials like gauze, or can be used to remove painful matted hair, the magnifying glass can provide a close look at wounds or irritations, the tweezers and pin can remove splinters, shards, and ticks, the awl can punch a new hole in a broken collar.
Pet Nail Trimmers: I don't know if I would include these in a light duty kit, but they would definitely come along for long trips or hikes. There are all types of nail trimmers but the best in my opinion are Miller's Forge style trimmers, (these trimmers resemble scissors except that the cutting edge is short and semicircular.)
Flashlight: Flashlights can really save the day during a pet emergency. They're great for getting a better look at a wound and can help you to find a lost pet in failing light.
Whistle: For signaling your pet or calling for help.
Shears: Although I really like the small scissors on the Swiss Army Knife, a dedicated pair of shears is also very useful.
Step 6: Paperwork and Digital Resources
Beyond carrying the tools and materials needed for first aid, it's also a good idea to incorperate important information into your kit. Below you will find some of the various paperwork and digital resources that I keep with me in my Pet First Aid Kit.
Note, When I say Digital I'm basically referring to things that I keep on my phone. I don't like to depend on my phone in an emergency situation as it could be dead or broken, so the things I keep on it are generally supplemental to what is in the kit, i.e. if my dog were to run away while on an outing, I might keep several hard copy pictures to give to park personnel and I might use a picture on my phone when questioning if anyone had seen him.
Here are some simple pieces of information that you should keep in your kit to help you in an emergency situation.
Pictures of my Pets (Both hard copy and digital)
Vet Contact Information
Poison Control Information
A Pocket Pet First Aid Reference Manual
Copies of Vaccination Records
Information and location information regarding nearest emergency animal hospital
Step 7: Just in Case Items
Besides having the necessary first aid equipment, it's also a good idea to add a few just in case items to your Pet first aid kit. Things like spare leashes or sewing kits to repair broken leashes and harnesses are great to include, but you can take it as far as you like, by adding treats or toys, or whatever you would like to also keep on hand for your little buddy. below are some of the "Other" things that I keep in my kit.
Paracord: Dozens of uses but when combined with a clasp or carabiner it can make a perfectly serviceable impromptu leash. (useful for handling lost dogs or for replacing your own broken leash.)
Small/Medium Sized Towel: Very handy for drying off wet pets after romps through the water. Can also be used for warms. Additionally, if you need to dump your kit to find something asap, you can spread the towel out so that the kits contents are on the towel and not on the ground which would help to keep things clean and accounted for.
Treats: Injured animals can be scared and therefore unwilling to allow your approach to tend to their needs. Teats are a great way to coax in a frightened animal or just a great way to get your pets attention in the event that they should escape their leash and start high tailing it through the park.
Muzzle: Injured pets can snap and bite while being treated. a muzzle can keep them under control while you apply first aid. Note, do not use a muzzle if there is any type of airway restriction associated with the injury.
Small Bottle of Detergent or Bar of Soap: when were away from home on hiking trips, Tucker sometimes ends up dirty, either from playing in a creek or from finding something unpleasant to roll in. a little bit of soap can be very useful, especially if you happen to have a bit of running water near by.
Lotion: Can be useful for dried or cracked paws and skin.
Step 8: End
Thank you for taking the time to check out my instructable on how to assemble a Pet First Aid Kit. I tried to combine the information on what should go into the kit with some information on unique ways to use the items to help your pets in an emergency situation. My goal was to make this instructable more than just a list of stuff to put in a first aid bag so I hope you found the information useful and enjoyable to read through. If you have any suggestions about how to improve this project or ideas for other things to include I encourage you to leave a comment. If you're idea really stands out, I'll make sure to update the instructable to include it, making sure to give you credit in the process.
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