Part of our Pets on the Road series, where we’ll Be discussing topics relating to pet health and safety while traveling.
Whether you’re just hitting the road with your pet, or taking them into the back country, it’s important to be prepared for whatever adversity you may face. While we absolutely recommend being prepared for human first aid needs, we also consider it a necessity to be prepared for your pets’ potential health concerns. Let’s go over some basics you should have for your next foray.
Several ready-to-use first-aid kits are available on the market, but many of these kits have items that are unlikely to be helpful, some that would be easy to misuse, are missing necessary items, and they rarely have any information or instructions on how to appropriately use the contents. It may be helpful to start with one of these kits and build from there but don’t expect these to get you very far.
We’ll walk you through the most important items to have in your RV or in your pack when traveling with your pet, and how to use those items should the situation arise. See our checklist below.
First and foremost, any time you are traveling with your pet you should have easy access to a copy of their most current medical records and vaccine history, as well as your personal veterinarian’s phone number.
If your pet takes any medications you should have plenty of those with you, and be ready to call your vet for refills before you run out. Keep in mind that your vet may not be able to call in prescriptions across state lines. It’s also a good idea to scout out emergency veterinary hospitals near your destination and along your route, so you have an idea of who to call if the worst should happen.
Keep in mind that, although unlikely unless you are traveling with horses or livestock, any time you are traveling across state lines you may be required to present a health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination if stopped by law enforcement, so it is highly recommended that you have these at hand just in case. Generally interstate health certificates can be obtained from your personal veterinarian at relatively minimal expense and are good for 30 days.
- Current medical records and vaccine history, and veterinarian’s phone number (ideally programmed into your phone).
- ASPCA Poison Control (888-426-4435) programmed into your phone. If you’re traveling you may not always be in control of your environment and things that your pet could get into. Poisonous plants, toxins, garbage, and human waste can all pose significant hazards, and it’s best to be prepared. You can read more about the hotline and find more resources here.
- Digital thermometer. You can obtain a 5 second thermometer at any pharmacy, or here on Amazon. Thermometers come in handy in almost any situation, and we would highly recommend checking your pet’s temperature (rectal temperatures are the most accurate in pets) if you are concerned that your pet may be sick. Normal body temperatures in dogs and cats are typically considered to be 99.5-101.5. Body temperature may be slightly elevated from heat or activity, so if you see 102 in your bouncy puppy that is likely not a cause for concern.
- Bandage material, including gauze. This can be useful for wrapping wounds, applying pressure to stop bleeding, and also for muzzling injured animals who may be tempted to bite if they are painful. Gauze and other useful material can be found here and here.
- Towels or strips of clean cloth. These can be useful in all different circumstances, including for holding pressure on bleeding wounds, for wrapping around a pet’s hips to create a sling, and for wrapping around large wounds that may penetrate the chest or abdomen.
- Nonstick bandages. Telfa bandages or similar are great for applying directly over a wound to keep it clean. The benefits of being nonstick are that not only are the bandages easier and less painful to remove later, but they are also less likely to shed fibers into the wound.
- Tweezers. Especially helpful in removing things like ticks, tweezers have all kinds of uses. If foreign material is stuck in a wound tweezers might be able to be used to carefully remove the objects, however, we would highly recommend leaving large, penetrating foreign objects that could potentially be entering the chest or abdomen for a veterinary professional to remove. Occasionally when these materials are removed catastrophic bleeds or other complications can occur, leading to life-threatening conditions.
- Scissors. Useful for cutting bandage material to the appropriate size and also for carefully clipping long hair away if necessary.
- Isopropyl alcohol. While alcohol can be used to clean wounds, it’s not ideal for this use. The most helpful use of isopropyl alcohol in the field is in the case of heatstroke, when it can be applied to the paws and more lightly haired parts of the body to help bring the body temperature down using evaporative cooling.
- Kwik-Stop. Useful to control small amounts of bleeding, like in the case of a broken nail. Please do not pour into a bleeding wound, applying pressure with clean cloths or gauze is best to stop larger bleeds. Kwik-Stop is available here.
- Betadine or Povidone iodine solution (not scrub, which contains detergent). This is your main cleaning solution for wounds. Use your water to dilute the iodine to a weak tea color, and carefully flush the wound. Again, if you suspect a wound may penetrate the chest or abdomen, wrap the affected body region in a towel or bandage and do not pour anything onto or into the wound.
- Vetricyn. Good for applying to small wounds and abrasions as a antiseptic.
- Saline eye flush. If your pet is squinting or has known foreign material in their eye, this can be useful to help flush the material out. Be careful never to touch the cornea (the clear part) of the eye. We recommend this one.
- Liquid dish-washing detergent. Useful for washing your pet off if you suspect they got into a potentially toxic substance, or if they encounter a skunk on the trail.
- Sterile lube. After rinsing a wound, sterile lube can be applied to prevent further contamination of the wound. This is often done in veterinary practices before clipping a wound to keep further contaminants from falling in the wound. Amazon carries sterile lube here.
- Extra collar and leash, and/or slip lead. We love these pretty slip leads.
- Syringes. Useful in flushing wounds and dispensing medication, you can find a box here.
A few items deserved mentioning as good things to have if you can justify the space in your pack, the cost, or are things that you should carry with you that don’t technically fall under the heading of “first aid”.
- Extra water for your pet. While not technically first aid, if you are carrying water for yourself you should also have extra for your pet. Water on trails can be contaminated with parasites and bacteria that make it unsafe for both humans and animals.
- Collapsible water bowl.
- Soft muzzle. If you have the space, an appropriately sized soft muzzle is much easier to apply in an emergency than a makeshift gauze muzzle. Please do not ever apply a muzzle to a vomiting animal.
- Dog booties. These can be used to help cover paw pad abrasions, to keep a bandage dry, and to prevent injuries and burns on hot days.
- Flashlight. In case of nighttime emergencies.
- Ice pack.
- Hemostatic gauze (QuikClot or similar). If you can spare the space this can be quite useful in stopping bleeding during an emergency.
- Benadryl. We placed Benadryl on the honorable mention list because your veterinarian may direct you to give Benadryl to your pet under certain conditions. Oral Benadryl is not quick-acting however, so it has very limited uses in a true emergency. Please consult your veterinarian for appropriate dosing for your pet.
As we mentioned earlier, there are also ready-made first aid kits on the market that contain items that we would highly recommend you not use unless at the direction of your veterinarian. These items include:
- Vetrap, or other stretchy bandage materials. Although commonly included in first-aid kits, stretchy bandages are incredibly easy to put on incorrectly and can cause tissue damage. We have both had pets present to us in the hospital with improperly applied bandages that have resulted in the pets losing toes or even entire limbs.
- Hydrogen Peroxide. While hydrogen peroxide is commonly thought to be helpful as an antiseptic in flushing wounds, and while the bubbling it does is very impressive, hydrogen peroxide actually has very limited uses in medicine. Hydrogen peroxide does a good job of killing a very limited number of bacteria, most specifically the Clostridium species (the type of bacteria that cause botulism and tetanus). It is also what we call “cytotoxic”, meaning it causes damage to the cells of the body and can actually delay healing. The best use of hydrogen peroxide is in removing bloodstains from fur and clothing, which is usually how it is employed in veterinary hospitals.
- Pepto Bismol. While Pepto does a decent job of addressing minor gastrointestinal issues in people, it rarely works well in pets. It can also cause a number of problems including appearing radiopaque (white) on radiographs, which can cause difficulties with the doctor being able to interpret them properly, and it can cause dark stools which may give the appearance of, or may mask, blood in the stool.
- Baby aspirin or “pet aspirin”. Although there are products out there that are specifically labeled for pets, aspirin should never be given to your pet unless your veterinarian has directly told you to do so. Aspirin has very few relevant uses in animals, and can cause bleeding issues, as well as interacting with several of the commonly given pain medications used in veterinary medicine. It also just doesn’t work that well!
- Human pain relievers including ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is extremely toxic to cats, and all human NSAIDs can be toxic to dogs and cats in human doses (and sometimes much less than a standard human dose). Human NSAIDs will also often interact with veterinary medications that may need to be administered to your pet.
For that matter, please just avoid giving human medications, over the counter or otherwise, to your pet unless at the express direction of your veterinarian. Most human medications have limited if any legitimate use in pets, and the majority can be toxic.
We hope that you find this list to be helpful as you get ready to hit the road and the trail with your pets. Stay tuned for further posts on pet health, and feel free to comment and/or email us with questions, ideas or suggestions for topics you would like us to discuss!
Disclaimer: While we are both licensed veterinarians, this post is meant to be general health and wellness information and is not meant to represent specific medical advice for your pet. We will not answer specific questions regarding your pet’s health. If you have questions or concerns about your pet please contact your veterinarian.
ASPCA Animal Poison Control https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control
AVMA Pet first aid supplies checklist https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist
ASPCA: How to make a pet first aid kid https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/saving-lives-shelter-health-poison-control/how-make-pet-first-aid-kit