Pet First Aid While Traveling
This is a brief guide to help make traveling with your pet safer. It is meant to be used as an aid when immediate veterinary care is unavailable. Because a veterinarian will be able to advise you best based on the particular circumstances of your pet's emergency, you should contact a veterinarian at the earliest possible moment, preferable before initiating any nonessential treatment.
- All puppies and kittens have relatively low body reserves and become dehydrated easily. They may also suffer from low blood sugar if not nourished frequently. Also, their immature immune systems allow them to pick up infections more easily than adult pets. Make sure that they eat and drink frequently, and minimize their stress. Make sure that your pet is comfortable and not exposed to excessive heat or cold.
- Older pets may have internal aging changes that require proactive care while traveling too prevent dehydration and stress. If you have an older pet, consult your veterinarian before traveling.
- Overweight pets and pets with flat faces and underdeveloped nostrils may be more prone to heatstroke. At all times, make sure that your pet is protected from extreme heat. Never leave your pet in a vehicle on a hot day.
- Preexisting disease processes may be worsened by the stress of travel. If your pet has any preexisting medical difficulties, consult your veterinarian before you travel.
- Motion sickness can make pets nauseated so that they are not willing to eat or drink. This may lead to dehydration and low blood sugar. Contact your veterinarian for medicines that can help control motion sickness.
Five Ways to Prepare for an Emergency
- Compile a list of local veterinary practices and emergency clinics along your route of travel.
- When in rural areas or areas without veterinarians, carry a first aid lot and the book Emergency First Aid for Your Dog Handbook or Emergency First Aid for Your Cat (both by Dr. Tamara Shearer, and both available at this website).
- Take a pet first aid class to learn proper techniques.
- Carry the number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-800-548-2423. (They do charge a fee for their advice: $50 at the time of this printing.)
- Make sure your pet is healthy prior to travel. Pets of any age should have regular health screening tests. If your pet has not been examined recently and you plan to travel, see a veterinarian prior to traveling.
- Travel with a pet first aid kit (see below).
Making a Pet First Aid Kit
- Obtain a box that is easily transportable, durable, and water-resistant (such as a fishing tackle box). Ideally it should have a handle and be non-locking for easy access.
- Label the outside of the box "PET FIRST AID".
- Store the pet first aid box in plain view.
- Stock your kit with the following items:
• 2 rolls of 3" gauze bandage
• 12 gauze sponges 3" x 3"
• Nonstick bandages
• Nonstick adhesive tape
• Antibiotic ointment (e.g., Polysporin®)--small tube
• Water-soluble lubricating jelly (e.g., K-Y™ brand)
• Saline solution--8 ounces (same as used for contact-lens care)
• Hydrogen peroxide--8 ounces
• Eyedropper or dosage syringe
• Nail trimmers
• Rectal thermometer
• Muzzle--preferably nylon
• Benedryl® or diphendydramine elixir (12.5 mg per 5 ml liquid)
• Paper towels--to clean up any mess
- On the inside of the box, attach the following emergency information:
• A local poison control phone number, or the number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-800-548-2423.
(They do charge a fee for their advice: $50 at the time of this printing.)
• Your veterinarian's phone number
• The phone number of an after-hours veterinarian
• Fire department phone number
- A copy of the book Emergency First Aid for Your Dog Handbook or Emergency First Aid for Your Cat
- A plant identification book.
Additional Pet First Aid Items
In addition to your pet first aid kit, ideally you should nave the following items to use in an emergency:
• Towels--for use in restraining your pet
• Blanket--to keep your pet warm and comfortable
• Pet carrier--for transport, if you have a small pet
• Two 2-liter soda bottles--for use as hot-water bottles
• An Elizabethan collar
Basic Emergency Steps
- Assess any danger around you (e.g., watch for traffic and electrical hazards, etc.).
- If possible, get veterinary help.
- If no veterinary help is available, confine your pet, but make sure that you do not restrict breathing.
- If your pet's temperature is not elevated (e.g., from fever or overheating), keep your pet warm using a blanket or soda bottles filled with warm water.
- If no veterinary help is available, perform your own first aid using the guide below, or better yet using the reference Emergency First Aid for Your Dog Handbook or Emergency First Aid for Your Cat.
- Get veterinary assistance as quickly as possible. In the meantime, observe whether the situation is getting better, staying the same, or getting worse.
Treatment for Ten Common Travel Emergencies
- Vomiting--If your pet is vomiting, withhold food and water (but not for more than 2 hours if you have a young or debilitated pet). If vomiting is violent or will not stop, seek immediate veterinary assistance. For dogs, when you resume feeding, provide a bland diet of boiled ground beef and rice (50/50), or obtain a prescription bland diet. Cats may also benefit from special diets for sensitive stomachs--ask your veterinarian.
- Diarrhea--If your pet has diarrhea, withhold food for 2 to 4 hours, but not for more than 2 hours if you have a young or debilitated pet. Do NOT withhold water. If diarrhea is violent or will not stop, seek immediate veterinary care. For dogs, when you resume feeding, provide a bland diet of boiled ground beef and rice (50/50), or obtain a prescription bland diet. For cats, when you resume feeding, feed small meals frequently. You may give your pet 1 to 3 teaspoons of yogurt twice daily in addition to the food.
- Trauma/Collapse--The goal in helping a pet that has experienced trauma or has collapsed is to prevent shock until veterinary care can be provided. If there is bleeding, apply pressure to stop the blood loss. (See #5 below.) If your pet's temperature is not elevated (e.g., from fever or overheating), place a blanket or soda bottle filled with warm water next to the pet to help prevent shock. Transport your sick pet in a carrier or make a stretcher out of a blanket or jacket. Place your pet in the back of the car, and transport with any fractures facing up.
- Insect Bites/Bee Stings--If your pet has been stung or bitten by an insect, apply a cold compress over the swollen area for 15 minutes. If your et is a dog and its face begins to swell, or your dog begins to scratch at its face, you may give the pet Benedryl® or diphenhydramine elixer (12.5 mg per 5 ml liquid) as follows: 1/4 tsp for dogs under 5 lbs, 1/2 tsp for dogs weighing 5 to 10 lbs, 1 to 1.5 tsp for dogs 10 to 15 lbs, 1.5 to 2 tsp for dogs 15 to 25 lbs, 2 to 3 tsp for dogs 25 to 40 lbs, and 3 to 5 tsp for dogs weighing more than 40 lbs. Cats react unpredictably to Benedryl®/diphenhydramine, so it should be used only under a veterinarian's supervision.
- External Bleeding--Apply direct pressure for 5 to 10 minutes. If the bleeding is difficult to stop, do not attempt to clean the wound, or it may begin to bleed again. For significant wounds, you have 2 hours for the veterinarian to safely close the wound with sutures with less risk f infection. If you apply a wrap to the wound, make sure the wrap is not too tight; the wrap should not interfere with breathing or make the paws swell. If the injury is severe, refer to Trauma (item #3 above) to prevent shock.
- Poisoning--If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, know your pet's weight, know the approximate time of ingestion, save the suspected unconsumed medicine or container or plant, and then call a local poison control center or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-800-548-2423. (They do charge a fee for their advice: $50 at the time of this printing.) Many plants are poisonous, so do not let your pet eat plants.
- Lameness--Restrict your pet's activity until a veterinarian can check the seriousness of the problem. Observe for signs of illness. Some diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, can also cause a dog to limp. Bite wounds can make cats ill and lame.
- Eye Emergencies--Do not let your pet rub the eye that is affected; rubbing may make the problem worse. Rinse the eye with saline solution. Never pull out an object that has penetrated into the eye. Apply an Elizabethan collar, if available.
- Heatstroke--If your pet's temperature is above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, you should lower its body temperature by bathing the pet in cool water. Once heatstroke has occurred, your pet has lost the ability to regulate body temperature and needs to be monitored closely. Stop cooling your pet when the body temperature reaches 103 degrees, and then monitor temperature every 5 minutes. Organ damage and shock can develop during heatstroke, so get immediate follow-up care with a veterinarian.
- Coughing/Breathing Difficulty--If your pet is coughing or having breathing difficulty, avoid all stress, minimize excitement, and do not hold your pet tightly. Never lay your pet on its back. All of the above may precipitate a crisis when a pet cannot breathe.
© 2006 Tamara S. Shearer and Stanford Apseloff. All rights reserved. This guide may not be reprinted for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Ohio Distinctive Publishing. Please contact webmaster@ohio-distinctive for information on commercial reprinting.