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by Dr. Fiona Lee, DV

Having a great veterinarian available to provide the best care for your pet is the first step to keeping your dog or cat healthy. Knowing basic pet first aid for non-serious injuries and illnesses is the second. In this article, we’ll explore general first aid for pets and outline what you can tackle at home and when you should visit your veterinarian for medical assistance.

Treating a Pet’s Cut

Cuts and lacerations are inevitable if you have an active lifestyle with your dog or your cat that has an adventurous spirit. Many cuts can be managed at home with a general first aid kit. Your pet first aid kit should include antiseptic spray or ointment, hydrogen peroxide for cleaning wounds, gauze, cotton balls, bandage material, adhesive tape, a pair of tweezers and a pair of scissors.

What to Include in Your Pet First Aid Kit
Antiseptic spray or ointment
Hydrogen peroxide
Cotton balls
Bandage material
Adhesive bandage tape

Never use over the counter oral pain-relieving medications in dogs. Many are toxic to them!

Most minor pet cuts can be treated the same way you would treat your own. Stopping any bleeding is a critical first step. There are certain body parts with more blood vessels than others. For example, ears and lips can bleed more than you think. For small cuts, gentle pressure on the wound with a clean cloth can stop most bleeding.

Emergency Care for Pets

Any time you have trouble stopping the flow of blood, immediate veterinary attention is warranted. If your pet appears to be losing a large amount of blood, don’t attempt to treat it yourself! Gently, but firmly, wrap the bleeding area and take your pet to a veterinarian immediately. If a laceration involves an artery (you can determine this by seeing if the flow of blood ‘spurts’ or pulses with the heart beat) you should seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

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Cleaning a Pet’s Cut

After bleeding has been controlled, the wound should be disinfected. Hydrogen peroxide is a great general disinfectant for cleaning fresh wounds. However, it shouldn’t be used chronically as the wound is healing since it can damage the new forming skin cells. If you don’t have hydrogen peroxide, clean water from a water bottle or other source can work in a pinch too.

Neosporin Pet Safety

Using an antiseptic spray or ointment topically on the wound can help prevent infection. Triple antibiotic ointment is very safe and effective to help stop a bacterial infection. While it is not ideal if your dog licks it off (it won’t have a chance to do its job), it isn’t harmful if swallowed in small quantities.

Bandaging a Pet’s Cut

Covering your pet’s wound is helpful to prevent licking and to keep the wound clean. You may need to place an e-collar (cone of shame) on your pet to prevent them from ripping the bandage off and excessively licking the area.

If your dog is well behaved, you might consider trimming some of the fur around the cut so that you can keep it clean and apply over the counter topical medications. Always be wary of injuring the surrounding skin while you are doing this!

Be very careful not to place a bandage too tightly. Monitoring your pet’s toes for swelling after bandage placement is important. A bandage should be changed at least once or twice daily to ensure it stays clean and dry.

When to Take Your Pet to the Vet for a Cut

Reasons to see a veterinarian include deep cuts that extend the full thickness of your pet’s skin or when underlying tissue is exposed. These wounds typically require stitches to expedite healing. Any pet wound that continues to bleed despite pressure and bandaging needs to be evaluated.

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Treating Pet Bite Wounds

Bite wounds generally require prescription antibiotics from a veterinarian. Many are puncture wounds and almost always develop infections. They typically are more painful than a laceration and pain medication is often needed.

Pet Infection

Another reason to see a veterinarian would be if over the subsequent days you see signs of infection, such as redness surrounding the cut, discharge, pain or abnormal swelling. One of the most common causes for delayed wound healing is the presence of infection. Starting the appropriate antibiotic regimen will aid in the healing process and should be overseen by a veterinarian.

Treating Insect Bites and Stings

Insect bites on your pet can often be treated the same as you would treat your own. Topical anti-itch creams like hydrocortisone are safe to use on mosquito bites and even bee stings. Icing insect bites and stings when they happen can help decrease inflammation and itchiness.

In general, antihistamines are very safe for dogs. Benadryl, either topically or orally, can be used to help with insect bites and stings. A good rule of thumb is that your dog’s weight in pounds, translated to milligrams of Benadryl, is a correct dose. For example, a 50-pound dog would need 50mg of Benadryl1.

If the sting is accompanied by facial swelling, or other signs of allergic reaction like vomiting, veterinary care would be warranted. Flat faced dog and cat breeds can be at an increased risk for breathing problems as a result of facial swelling.

Breeds at Increased Risk