Thank you all for your warm welcomes and great questions last week. I got quite a few questions about pet first aid: What should we have on board when we travel?
In this week’s column, I will give you the basics, and in future columns, I will address more advanced tips.
Before I give you a list, please take this to heart:
First Aid is meant to address minor problems. Anything more severe than a minor scratch or itch, your treatment should be immediately followed by a visit to the vet. For instance, a puncture wound that looks small on the surface can quickly blossom into a severe abscess and, at worst, cause deadly infection/sepsis. I don’t mean to scare anybody, but I have seen many horrible outcomes when clients decide to treat the dog or cat themselves or wait too long to address symptoms.
Several things that should be in your kit will include your pet’s medical record (including rabies tag), any prescription medications as prescribed by your vet, and a card with vital information – more on that below. Also, making sure your pet is covered with a multipurpose flea/tick/worm/heartworm preventive is crucial for keeping your pet healthy at home and on the road. It should go without saying that keeping your pet up-to-date on vaccines and making sure your contact information is up-to-date at the microchip company is very important.
What are the more common daily risks of traveling with your pet that you may need to address?
- Minor skin conditions and wounds
- Minor eye inflammation, foreign bodies, scratches
- Heat/hydration problems
- Gastrointestinal problems – vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, foreign bodies
- Toxins – human medications, toxic plants, blue-green algae
- Immune responses: skin allergies, anaphylaxis/asthma (respiratory)
The Basic Kit
• Tweezers – for removing thorns, foxtails (grass awns), splinters
• Mosquito hemostats – for removing ticks, broken nails
• Bandage scissors – blunt-tipped
• Flea comb
• Oral syringes – several sizes: 1ml, 5ml, 10ml
• Oral piller
• Digital thermometer – I like the Vicks brand
• Nail clippers with styptic powder
• Electric clippers for mats and shaving around wounds
• E-Collar – to prevent licking and chewing
• Muzzle – quick release. Find one they can breathe out of (open basket muzzle). Dogs will lash out when in pain.
• Towels – With cats, towel wrapping works best.
• Sterile saline flush – for eyes and wounds
• Betadine (Povidone-iodine 5% solution) – for wound cleaning
• Hydrogen peroxide
• Antiseptics – triple antibiotic ointment, antiseptic spray
• Anti-itch cream – hydrocortisone cream, lidocaine cream/spray
• Electrolytes – Pedialyte
• Honey – for hypoglycemia and for wound care
• Sterile water-based lube – for thermometers and wounds
• Ice packs
• Gauze pads
• Cotton-tipped swabs
• Cotton balls
• Anti-allergy – diphenhydramine or another antihistamine
• Antacid – Pepcid (Famotidine) or Omeprazole
• Sterile eye lube – Artificial tears
• Fiber supplement – Metamucil, psyllium powder
• Probiotic – I like Proviable (Chewy.com) or Visbiome (Amazon.com)
• Antiemetic – Cerenia (prescription from your vet) for vomiting
• Apomorphine – to induce vomiting (do not use hydrogen peroxide). You can get this from your vet.
How do I use these?
Understanding how to use these items is important. There are things, if not used correctly, that could harm your pet. The ASPCA has first aid training which can help you feel more comfortable. There are items often included in other lists/kits that I have purposefully left off this basic list. For example, you don’t see tape or roll gauze on the list because if you were to apply this too tightly, your pet could lose a limb due to lack of circulation. I have seen well-intentioned owners in tears because they thought they were helping their pet only to have a foot or leg amputated.
In heat-related conditions, a thermometer is important because heatstroke will raise a pet’s temperature dramatically. If a pet is ill or injured, a high temp could indicate an infection which is a clue for the vet. Taking the temperature of a dog or cat is typically done anally so the sterile lube comes in handy. In a pinch use cooking oil. Also, electrolytes (Pedialyte) in dehydrated, overheated pets can help improve their condition before you get to the vet. Normal temperatures in cats and dogs run about 101 F to 102 F. When it goes above 104, your pet is sick and in danger. In heatstroke, temperatures 107 and above will cause organ failure and death. Cold packs can be used to cool pets down and to reduce swelling from trauma.
The anti-allergy medication diphenhydramine can be used when your pet reacts to something he encountered on walks or inhaled. Cats and dogs have asthma and diphenhydramine will help relieve mild symptoms. More serious breathing problems can be an acute emergency that calls for an immediate trip to the emergency vet.
IMPORTANT: Benadryl is a brand that produces many products. The only ingredient in Benadryl ALLERGY is diphenhydramine, and diphenhydramine (or another antihistamine given to you by your vet) is the only allergy medication you should give your pet. Other products may contain drugs toxic to your pet. Acetaminophen is extremely toxic and should never be given to pets. NEVER GIVE A HUMAN PRODUCT TO YOUR PET WITHOUT EXPLICIT INSTRUCTIONS FROM YOUR VET. It is the most common toxicity seen in animal ER clinics.
Clean minor wounds with Betadine diluted with sterile saline. Sometimes clipping the fur around the wound helps keep it clean. Before you clip, use the sterile water-based lube to cover the wound so hair doesn’t contaminate it – another use for the lube. There are many antiseptic sprays out there and they can be useful for minor wound healing. Dogs are notorious for getting hot spots and, depending on what is causing it, these cleaning techniques can help. If the dog itches, the hydrocortisone or lidocaine cream can help relieve the symptoms until he gets seen by your vet.
Pets get travel diarrhea and constipation just like we do. I have listed some medications and supplements to help prevent GI upset and to relieve symptoms once they begin. I like using probiotics as a preventive supplement and fiber can come in handy. If signs don’t resolve, a trip to the vet is warranted.
Lastly, what if your dog (or maybe your cat) eats something she shouldn’t have – human medication, a huge bar of dark chocolate, part of a Sago palm, a lily? Call the poison control hotline at the SPCA: 888-426-4435 to find out if your pet ate something dangerous and what you should do. Here is a link to their list of toxic plants which is very helpful: SPCA Toxic Plants. The consultant may ask you to induce vomiting in your pet if you can’t get to an emergency clinic right away. If your dog (or cat) is prone to eating things, ask your vet for several doses of Apomorphine to put in your kit. This is a safer alternative to giving your dog hydrogen peroxide, which can cause serious systemic problems. You should follow up the vomiting with a trip to the ER clinic or to your vet. Depending on how long ago the offending item was ingested, your dog may have absorbed a significant amount of whatever. Please note that some toxic things, such as motor oil, are dangerous if vomited by your pet; please consult your vet or the ASPCA hotline and follow the expert’s advice.
I will discuss ingested foreign bodies and other medical emergencies in another column. I had a dog named Mango. Well, Mango ate a lot of non-edible things. Oh, the stories I could tell!
The Dreaded Lily
Here is my advice for cat guardians: NEVER HAVE ANY FORM OF LILY IN YOUR HOUSE OR RV. Even the pollen, if ingested by your cat, can cause acute kidney (renal) failure and death. I am not kidding.
Important Information to have handy
Here is information you should write on a card and laminate and carry with you in case of emergency at all times:
- Vet name, phone/text numbers, address. Include an after-hours number If your vet has one.
- One of the 24/7 Animal Poison Control helplines. I’ve listed the SPCA number above.
- Pet Information
- Age, Name, Male/Female, Spayed/Neutered
- Microchip number. Include the phone number for the microchip company.
- Medical conditions including the names, doses and timing of all medications your pet is on.
- Any known allergies or drug sensitivities
- Gastropexy (yes/no) – If your dog has been treated surgically for bloat, he has had a gastropexy.
- Blood type (if known) and any previous blood transfusions
My advice in this column is intended to inform you of issues and answer common questions you may have. It does not replace the medical care and advice of your veterinarian. I did not provide doses for the drugs in the above list. I would like you to review this list with your vet to make sure she/he is on board and can give you valuable advice on how to use your kit.
Keeping your pet healthy
I received a few questions last week that were specific to medical conditions of readers’ pets. It must be frustrating when I don’t give you medical advice on how to deal with it and instead tell you to call your vet. I understand. I empathize. However, I cannot legally, or ethically, give you medical advice since I have not examined your pet. Diagnostics are important tools to figure out what is going on and how to treat it. Often, a trip to the vet or the ER is the only way to accomplish what is best for your pet. At some point I will discuss pet insurance, which I encourage everyone to consider. Pet insurance can help when an emergency occurs.
I assure you that I only want what is best for you and your furry and feathered love ones while you travel on the road in the great adventure of RVing.
Ask Dr. Karel, the Pet Vet!
Fido feeling under the weather? Fifi been having some tummy troubles? Worried about ticks? What’s better, wet food or dry food? Wondering how to clip your pet’s nails? Ask veterinarian Dr. Karel Carnohan your questions. Please include a description of your pet’s issue or a question you’re curious about. Upload a photo of your pet if you choose. Dr. Karel will do her best to answer your questions.
Check out the recent RVtravel.com articles on RVing with pets: