Eventually, most service dogs experience minor injuries or illnesses and even medical emergencies. In many cases, a service dog’s work and frequent trips out and about in the world increase the odds of small wounds and contracting sicknesses and parasites. A well-thought-out, well-stocked canine first aid kit helps ensure you can readily cope with a wide variety of problems.
Some minor concerns can be addressed fully at home, and the first aid kit allows you to quickly alleviate discomfort, stop bleeding, prevent infections, and otherwise keep your partner happy and healthy. The kit can also help tend to your dog until you get to the vet’s office or animal hospital. Don’t forgo an appointment if there’s any chance your dog requires more care than you can provide at home; when in doubt, call and ask whether you should go in.
Preparing Canine First Aid Kits
Take “kit” literally and gather the medical supplies together in one container, as opposed to keeping all the stuff in different places around your home. This ensures you can efficiently find all the items you need when you need them. Any sturdy, waterproof, obvious container works, or purchase a kit specifically made for this purpose. If you buy a first aid kit, it usually comes stocked with some of the basics. Kits for humans work, but many pet supply stores carry them too.
Put together an at-home kit and a travel kit. Since you take your assistance dog with you wherever you go, having a portable version of the first aid kit makes life much easier. Keep the travel kit in your car, but since a well-stocked kit contains some medications, pay attention to any temperature sensitivities, as sitting cars can get quite hot and cold inside. If you have secondary locations, such as a friends or relative’s house or a vacation house, where you and your dog go often or for extended periods, keep another first aid kit there.
Personalizing the First Aid Kit
The list of suggested items below is a bit long, and it’s unlikely you’ll have everything, but the more you have, the better prepared you are. If your service dog is prone to certain problems because of personal factors, her work, or your environment, make sure you’re equipped for those concerns. Ask your vet for recommendations along these lines.
Add personalized information to the first aid kit. Include your veterinarian and local 24-hour animal hospital’s phone number and address, along with directions to get there. If you don’t know where your nearest emergency veterinary clinic is, ask your vet; go to the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society website at www.veccs.org for a searchable list of emergency clinics by state; or visit MyVeterinarian.com at AVMA, enter your zip code, and check the “Emergency” box.
Also include a contact number for an animal poison control center, like the ASPCA’s at 1-800-426-4435. The kit should also have copies of your dog’s veterinary paperwork, such as proof of vaccinations and anything relevant to medical conditions or care requirements, a supply of any medications your dog takes, a toy your dog loves, as well as an ID tag and recent photo of your dog.
The recommended items for your dog’s first aid kit also includes a few useful medications. Ask your vet for dosing instructions and attach this to the medication.
Stocking the First Aid Kit
The following items are smart inclusions in any at-home first aid kit for your assistance dog:
- Canine first aid guide (Dog First Aid from the American Red Cross at Red Cross Store is recommended)
- Muzzle (never use it if your dog is vomiting, coughing, choking, or having breathing problems)
- Self-clinging bandages (which adhere to their own material, but not to fur)
- Sterile gauze
- Medical adhesive tape
- Topical antibacterial agents
- Cotton balls or cotton-tipped swabs
- Tongue depressor
- Tick removing tool
- Otic cleanser
- Sterile eye wash
- Sterile saline solution
- Oral syringe or eye dropper
- Nail clippers
- Styptic powder or pencil
- Rectal thermometer and water-based lubricating jelly (your dog’s temperature should never fall below 100 or rise above 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Ice pack/heat pack
- Towel or blanket
- Water/food bowl
- Disposable gloves
- Veterinarian-recommended topical clotting application
- Veterinarian-recommended painkiller
- Veterinarian-recommended antihistamine
- Milk of magnesia and hydrogen peroxide (for poisonings, only to be used at the direction of your vet, an animal poison control advisor, or other qualified professional)
First aid treatment isn’t a substitute for professional veterinary care, but an accessible first aid kit can ease your dog’s suffering and possibly save her life. Always consult your vet about injuries, illnesses, and any health concerns.
Check medications and other products for expiration dates periodically and replace them as needed.
Don’t jeopardize your personal safety while administering first aid. If your assistance dog is hurting or afraid, she may become aggressive. Use a muzzle or towel to prevent this when appropriate and necessary.