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Medicine cabinet for dogs and cats

Whenever your cat or dog needs first aid it's good to be prepared. This article will give you some suggestions for what to stock in your pet’s medicine cabinet at home and some first aid tips for common scenarios.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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First aid items to keep at home

Pet first aid kits are available to purchase ready made, however if you prefer to assemble your own first aid kit, here is a list of some important items to include. We recommend that you check the kit each year, and replace things that have been used or gone out of date:

  1. Vaccination card
  2. Microchip number
  3. Recent photo of your pet
  4. Important telephone numbers, including your nearest 24 hour veterinary clinic
  5. Thermometer, normal temp is approximately 38-39oC for both dogs and cats
  6. Saline: to clean wounds. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to 500ml (1 pint) of cooled boiled water
  7. Chlorhexidine shampoo: use diluted (2% solution) for contaminated wounds
  8. Melolin non-adhesive dressing to apply to wounds
  9. Gauze swabs: to clean wounds or eyes
  10. Cotton wool
  11. Adhesive wrap: for bandaging wounds
  12. Adhesive tape to secure bandages
  13. Scissors with rounded ends
  14. Syringe to administer medication or clean a wound
  15. Spare collar and lead
  16. Probiotics for cats or dogs
  17. Electrolyte powder for cats or dogs. Add to their drinking water. Available from your vet clinic or pet pharmacy.

What to do if your pet has eaten something inappropriate

If your pet swallows something that might cause irritation, damage or perforation of the intestine you should contact your vet immediately. It may be necessary to induce the animal to vomit. This is done with the help of a special vomiting agent. Please do not try to make your pet vomit using salt, as this can cause salt poisoning. Two hours after eating something inappropriate, expulsion by vomiting is not possible because the stomach contents pass through into the small intestine. In some cases it is not appropriate to induce vomiting as the item/chemical may cause further damage on the way back up, or become lodged in the oesophagus.

There are many human food stuffs, as well as other household things, that are toxic to our pets. If your animal is showing any signs of having eaten something abnormal then do not watch and wait; contact your nearest vet clinic immediately. If possible, take a sample, or the packaging of the item consumed, with you as this will help the vet to provide the appropriate treatment.

If your pet seems well, or you are unsure what they have eaten, you can start by calling your vet for some advice. More information is available from the Veterinary Poisons Information Service. Here you will find details, for example, on how much chocolate a pet can consume before signs of toxicity are seen.


Fights and wounds

If your dog is involved in a fight, do not try to intervene with your hands as this risks getting bitten or scratched. Instead, try to distract them, or separate them by soaking them in water, either using a bucket or a hose pipe. For cats, gently introduce a sheet of cardboard or other large barrier between them to split them up and allow them to cool down.

After the fight your pet may be agitated, scared or in pain. Take great care when checking for injuries. If you can see an obvious wound, the animal has difficulty walking or standing, is bleeding heavily, or is in shock, then seek advice from a veterinarian immediately. Keep your pet as quiet as possible. If you find a wound(s) that is more than 1 cm long or more than a few millimetres deep, the wound is over a joint, or the wound is contaminated with debris, a visit to your vet is needed. If the animal is bleeding heavily, it may be possible to tie a firm bandage around the affected area to stem the blood flow. (For bandages, please see the first aid kit list above.) Let the vet know that you are on your way, so that they can be ready when you arrive.

If the animal seems ok, check closely for small wounds or tiny puncture marks. These may be hidden under the fur and may only become apparent after a few days. Puncture wounds often become infected because the bacteria become trapped inside the skin, forming an abscess, which can be very painful.

It may be possible to treat small wounds at home. Carefully trim the hair around a wound and wash it with copious saline solution; if necessary, use clean gauze to remove mild debris. If you notice that the bite is swelling, or it does not heal, then seek advice from a vet.



Lameness and bone fractures

If your pet has an obvious fracture, or bone is visible, it is non weight bearing on one or more limbs, or seems to be very sore, then we recommend that you seek emergency assistance from your veterinary clinic. If a limb has been fractured, try to stabilise it by gently wrapping the leg with cotton wool followed by an adhesive bandage. You can add a light-weight stiff splint for extra support between the layers of cotton wool, for example a wooden ice-cream stick for small animals, and a similar larger splint for bigger animals. If it is an open fracture (the broken bone is visible through the wound), use a clean piece of gauze or melolin dressing, moistened with saline. This should be placed over the entire wound before applying the bandage on top.

Sometimes it may be appropriate to put on a paw bandage to protect a wound and to optimise wound healing (see diagram below):

  1. Cut small strips of gauze or cotton wool and lay it between the toes, including the dew claw.
  2. Wrap the limb in cotton wool starting with the paw and continuing upwards; you may or may not need to extend the bandage over the knee in the forelimb, or the hock in the hindlimb.
  3. Wrap adhesive wrap over the cotton wool the full length of the bandage.
  4. If you put bandages on a back paw, make sure it is properly padded over the hock and do not wrap too hard as this can cause pressure sores.

Claws

The first sign of an injured claw may be that your animal is limping. The nail bed may be very sore. If the claw has been lost completely, then you can clean it very gently each day with saline (see first aid kit list above). Using a foot bandage and/or a collar for the first two weeks may be sufficient to allow it to heal fully. The claw should start to grow back after a few weeks. If your pet won’t let you look at the paw, or if the nail is partially detached, or there are fragments of nail still attached, then you should seek veterinary treatment when your practice is open.


Eyes

Conjunctivitis is typically caused by environmental irritants, such as dust or pollen. If the eyes are both fully open, clear and bright, you can usually start by applying a drop of saline to each eye 2-3 times per day to provide cleansing and lubrication. If it does not resolve within 24-48 hours, or gets worse, then your pet should be seen by your vet.

Eye injuries are more serious. They can progress quickly and are extremely painful so it is important that they receive prompt treatment by a vet. What to look for:

  • The eye is partially or fully closed and your pet does not want to open it
  • The pupils (black hole in the centre of the eye) are different sizes
  • The eye looks cloudy or milky
  • There is blood inside the eye, or there is blood coming from the eye or surrounding area
  • The animal appears to be blind, or is having difficulty seeing with one or both eyes.

To prevent your pet from doing further damage to the eye on the way to the vet, use a restraining harness, or a Buster Collar or Inflatable Buster Collar. A traditional collar and lead is not advisable because pressure on the neck will also increase pressure in the eye.


Vomiting and diarrhoea

If your cat or dog develops vomiting and or diarrhoea ensure that the animal has access to fresh water. Electrolyte powder for dogs and cats can be added to their water to help them maintain hydration. If an adult animal vomits then it should be starved for 2-3 hours before being offered a small bland meal. For example, boiled rice or pasta with a little cooked chicken, turkey or white fish. Please note puppies and kittens cannot be starved as their blood sugar levels will fall dangerously low.

If there is no further vomiting, this diet can be continued for 5-7 days, together with a probiotic supplement, to help the gut microflora to recover faster. It is important to make changes to the diet slowly.

If the animal becomes lethargic or dehydrated, vomits blood, has frank blood in their stools, or vomiting episodes continue after 24 hours, then you should contact your vet to arrange an examination.


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