Pet Care Blog

What to Put in a Dog First Aid Kit: Top 10 Items All Owners Need

Kate Boatright, VMD
Dr. Kate Boatright
Associate Veterinarian, Speaker, Author - Penn-Ohio Veterinary Services and KMB Veterinary Media LLC
Dog sitting in front of first aid kit outdoors

As a loving pet parent, you want to be prepared for any pet emergency your pup might experience… but what supplies should you have on hand? If you’re not sure, this list can help you create the best dog first aid kit that can help treat a wide range of medical conditions.

Dog First Aid Kit Infographic

We've gathered the 10 most essential items for all owners to carry at the park, on the trail, or in the home. We've also included additional medical tools to include in a sporting dog first aid kit considering the additional safety risks these dogs face. Click on the links below to learn more about each item, with details about when and how it might be used on an injured dog.

What to Put in a Dog First Aid Kit

1) Clean Gloves

Disposable latex gloves can protect both you and your dog, so keep a pair in your pet first aid kit. If you are outdoors, you may not be able to clean your hands before caring for a wound. A clean pair of latex gloves can help to prevent you from introducing additional dirt or bacteria into an open wound while you are cleaning and bandaging it.

Additionally, gloves can prevent bacteria or other organisms on your dog's fur from entering any open cuts or wounds on your hands. While it is rare to contract a disease from contact with your dog's blood, maintaining good hygiene is still important.

2) Soft Muzzle

No matter how loving and gentle your dog is under normal circumstances, he or she may bite if they are in pain or fearful. Keeping an appropriately-sized muzzle in your pet emergency kit can help to protect you and others who are trying to assist your pet. You can move your pet more quickly and safely once the muzzle is in place. However, if your pet is having trouble breathing, it is best to leave the muzzle off.

3) Water Bottle

Keeping an unopened water bottle in a dog first aid kit can help in multiple situations. First, if you are worried your pet is overheating, you can offer him or her small amounts of cool water to drink. Then wet their paws and ears to help them cool as the water evaporates.

Water is also useful for cleaning dirty wounds before placing a bandage. Pour the water over the wound to help clean large pieces of debris or dirt and mud from the area. Then you can use your wound cleaning (see item 4) and bandage supplies (see item 5) to protect the wound during transport to your vet’s office.

4) Wound Cleaning: Alcohol Swabs (+ Topical Antibiotic)

There are many portable products available that can help to clean wounds, kill bacteria, and prevent infection in the short term. An alcohol swab can help to clean and sterilize a wound before applying a bandage (see item 5). Remember that alcohol can sting when it is used on an open wound!

Pet-safe antibiotic ointments and sprays are available. They can be useful but are not a necessity in a basic first aid kit for dogs. If you apply one of these products to a wound, make sure to cover the wound as your pet may be more likely to try to lick the wound to remove the medicated ointment/spray.

Hand wrapping injured dog's paw with bandage

5) Bandaging Material: Non-Stick Telfa Pad, Gauze & Adhesive Tape

In the event your pet has an open, bleeding wound, applying pressure with a bandage is important to stop or slow bleeding. If you don’t have bandage material available, a clean towel or T-shirt can also work well.

To apply a bandage, start by placing the non-adhesive pad over the wound to prevent other bandage material from sticking to fresh blood and causing pain or disrupting a blood clot when it is removed. The gauze roll can be used to apply pressure to the wound over the pad. It’s one of the most important items in a cat or dog first aid kit because the material is lightweight, absorbent, and can be especially helpful for wounds on paws or legs.

No matter where the bandage is located, you can cover it with adhesive tape to hold it in place and protect the bandage from moisture. Remember that bandages can cause harm if they are placed too tight or left on for too long, so even if the bleeding stops after bandaging, you should still have your pet seen by a veterinarian urgently.

6) Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that can help to reduce facial swelling and hives that are seen with some allergic reactions, especially to insect bites and bee stings. While facial swelling and hives can be alarming in their appearance, they are rarely life-threatening. Signs of more severe allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis, include trouble breathing, collapse, rapid bruising, or a change in gum color. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, so call your vet immediately.

You may know diphenhydramine by the brand name Benadryl®. However, there are many types of Benadryl available on pharmacy shelves, so you should make sure you have a pet-safe product. First, ensure that the only active ingredient is diphenhydramine. Second, check the ingredients to make sure there is no xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs and is found in many products including chewable tablets, orally disintegrating tablets, and liquid formulations. When in doubt, show your veterinarian the product you have on hand at your next visit.

While Benadryl for dogs is generally safe, you should check with your veterinarian for an appropriate dose for your pet and make sure that the medication will not interact with other drugs and supplements your pet may be taking.

Please note, over-the-counter (OTC) medications should never be administered to pets without first checking with your veterinarian. There are no safe OTC pain medications for pets. While pet owners always have the best intentions, you can put your pet at risk of organ damage and interfere with your vet's treatments by giving some OTC medications.

7) Stainless Steel Tweezers

In some cases, your dog may step or chew on a sharp object that becomes embedded in his or her skin. Having a small pair of tweezers to help grasp these items can be helpful, but proceed with caution.

First, removing the object might be painful, so be careful not to get bitten, especially if the object is in the face or mouth. If the object is not in the mouth, this is a great time to use the muzzle in your kit.

You should be cautious about what items you try to remove. Do not remove fish hooks or other objects with barbed ends. Pulling these items out through the skin can cause more damage. Removing multiple objects, such as porcupine quills, without sedation can be very painful for your pet and is not recommended. Remember, there are no safe OTC pain medications!

In some cases, the embedded object may be helping to slow bleeding or seal a major wound. If you are close to a veterinary office and can safely move your pet, it may be better to leave the object in place until you arrive. If you do remove the object, taking a picture of the object’s location in your dog and bringing the object with you to the vet’s office can be helpful for your vet. The more information your vet has, the better able they are to treat your pet.

8) Flashlight or Headlamp and Batteries

Keeping a flashlight in your dog’s first aid kit ensures that you are able to see your pet, the surrounding area, and your supplies clearly, no matter where you are located. While it might be tempting to rely on the flashlight in your phone, you should be using your phone to call for help or contact a veterinarian while you are working with your pet. The flashlight can also be helpful to illuminate your path if you have to carry your pet out of a dark area or at night.

9) Fresh 3% Hydrogen Peroxide

It only takes a second for a pair of underwear, a chocolate bar, or a dropped pill to disappear down an eager pup’s throat. If your pet has ingested something toxic that dogs can’t eat (i.e. chocolate, sugar-free gum, rat poison, human medication) or an item that has a high chance of causing an obstruction (i.e. a toy or piece of clothing), your vet might recommend inducing vomiting.

Never try to induce vomiting in your pet without first consulting a veterinarian or pet poison control. Some items can cause harm to the esophagus if your pet vomits them back up. Additionally, there is a risk of your pet inhaling some of the fluid they bring up, which can lead to aspiration pneumonia.

It is always safest to take your pet to a veterinary office so that the staff can induce vomiting with medications specifically approved for dogs. Hydrogen peroxide has been shown to cause ulceration to the gastrointestinal tract of dogs when it is used to induce vomiting. Therefore, it should only be used under explicit instruction from a veterinarian in cases of extreme emergencies.

10) Vet Information Card

Just like for humans, seconds count in a pet emergency. Having your vet's contact information readily available can save time. It's always important to call your vet to determine the best plan of action in an emergency. Even if you are already on your way to a vet clinic, calling ahead will allow the staff to be as prepared as possible for your dog's arrival, saving time in critical situations.

Other helpful information to include on your information card is the phone number and address for local emergency clinics in case your regular veterinarian is unavailable, such as at night or on weekends and holidays.

Finally, keep a copy of the phone number for either the Pet Poison Helpline or ASPCA’s Pet Poison Control in case your dog ingests a toxin unexpectedly. Don’t be afraid to call even if you aren’t sure the item is toxic. While there is a fee for these services, the staff is invaluable in an emergency. They can tell you if what your pet ingested (item and amount) is of concern and how to proceed. Once you've started a case, your vet can get unlimited guidance on how best to care for your pet.

Keep these 10 items organized in a compact bag at home that you can bring to the dog park or hiking trail where there’s a greater risk of pet injury. The supplies might seem unnecessary, but they could make a life-saving difference in an emergency situation where every moment matters.

Additional Sporting Dog First Aid Supplies

If you have a gun dog or perform sporting activities with a canine companion, then gather pet first aid supplies tailored to the risks presented in those environments. For example, a hunting dog first aid kit would likely require more items to safely set out compared to the basic essentials you take on a quick, casual hike. Weather and location can also indicate how to prepare a dog first aid kit because you might need to bring materials that could help them survive an off-the-grid injury until you can get to an emergency vet nearby.

hunting dog outdoors

If you’re not sure what to put in a first aid kit for dogs, but want to know you’ve covered all the bases in case an accident or injury were to happen, here is an additional list of medical supply list that considers the elements and activity:

  • Digital thermometer to check for hypothermia (low body temperature) or hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)
  • Emergency thermal blanket
  • Boots or paw wax for paw pads in hot or cold temperature extremes
  • Instant cold pack to treat heatstroke
  • Towels to wet and cool body temperature or provide warmth
  • Hydration drink mix for dogs
  • High-calorie nutritional gel
  • Sunscreen to shield the nose and skin
  • Lifejacket for birding dogs in need of rescue
  • Skunk odor remover
  • Tick key remover
  • Fine-tooth flea comb
  • Oral syringe
  • Sterile eyewash
  • Dish soap to remove oil and toxic chemicals from fur and paws
  • LED magnifying glass to see cuts, splinters, and debris more clearly
  • Cotton balls for the application of medicine or cleaning wounds
  • Pillbox organizer for dogs taking multiple medications

Tips on Pet Safety and Dog First Aid

It’s a good idea to purchase a pet first aid manual to learn how to safely use these medical tools and keep the booklet in your supply kit in case you ever need them before you can receive professional veterinary care. The American Red Cross also offers instructions on how to perform pet CPR, which could save your dog’s life one day in the unfortunate event that a medical emergency causes them to stop breathing. Familiarize yourself with common scenarios that could call for dog first aid, like how to respond to a poisonous snake bite, so that you can remain calm under stress as you bring your dog to the vet.

Keep in mind that pet insurance can cover the cost of veterinary treatments for common accident-related injuries. Depending on the policy, pet parents can receive reimbursement for up to 100% of vet visit costs paid for out-of-pocket, which can run thousands of dollars for emergency care. Learning how to make a dog first aid kit is an important step in protecting your pet’s health and safety, but pet insurance provides valuable peace of mind if there’s ever a concerning situation that requires you to use those essential supplies.

Key Takeaways

  • Pet parents should carry a dog first aid kit on them so they can provide basic treatment for minor injuries, or temporary treatment during medical emergencies while on the way to the veterinary hospital.
  • While there are some essential supplies any dog could need for an accidental injury, sporting and hunting dog first aid kits should include additional tools due to increased safety risks.
  • Be sure to learn the proper use and application of each tool in the dog first aid kit so you can efficiently tend to your pet's wound if the situation ever presents itself.

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Kate Boatright, VMD

Dr. Kate Boatright
Associate Veterinarian, Speaker, Author - Penn-Ohio Veterinary Services and KMB Veterinary Media LLC

Dr. Kate Boatright, VMD, works as a small animal general practitioner, freelance speaker, and author in western Pennsylvania. Since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with her veterinary degree in 2013, she has worked throughout Pennsylvania as both a general practice and emergency veterinarian. Both in the clinic and outside of it, Dr. Boatright enjoys building relationships with her clients and educating pet owners on how they can keep their pets as healthy as possible. She loves being a veterinarian and educating students and colleagues on wellness, communication, and the unique challenges facing recent graduates. Outside of the clinic, she is active in many veterinary organizations, enjoys running, watching movies, and playing games with her husband, son, and cats.

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