First Aid Kit

Everyone needs a first aid kit. Everyone. Whether you keep the calmest, quietest homebody of a cat or the most hyperactive, accident-prone dog imaginable (like mine), you’ve got to have a first aid kit handy.

Thing is, not everyone agrees on what’s supposed to go inside it. Some kits are super-limited, aimed at treating only the simplest of traumas. Meanwhile, others include anything you might need in an emergency… and the kitchen sink, too.

In my experience, it’s obvious there’s no one-size-fits-all kit for pets. Not unless you want to keep around half a vet hospital’s contents in your home, car, boat, kayak, fanny pack or wherever else an emergency might inconveniently arise. That would defeat the purpose of keeping something “handy” around, right?

There are, however, a few staples everyone should have. Here’s what I recommend for everyone’s most basic first aid kit:

Basic Kit

  • Antibacterial cleanser: A simple soapy disinfectant solution is ideal for cleaning cuts, scrapes and scratches that are too minor to require professional attention. It also helps you remove superficial debris from deep wounds before you have them seen by your veterinarian. Keeping a concentrated version of this stuff to dilute in clean water (in a plastic drinking water bottle, for example) makes it easy to carry around.
  • Gauze sponges: These are great for getting wounds clean ­­— gently — without getting your fingers involved and for applying pressure to bleeding wounds. I keep them in a separate Ziploc bag so they stay clean.
  • Antibacterial gel or spray: Again, a good thing to have around for minor cuts, scrapes, burns and scratches. Personally, I prefer sprays. Gels are just too goopy, and pets tend to lick them off tout de suite. Just be sure to get one that has zero alcohol in it. (Alcohol stings!)

At-Home Kit

But every kit needs a few more additions depending on the setting. For example, here are a few more items for an at-home version of your first aid kit:


  • Cotton-tipped applicators (aka Q-tips) and cotton balls: A great addition to your kit for cleaning minor wounds without getting your dirty fingers in the way. They’re great for cleaning the outside crevices of ears and eyes, too.
  • Styptic powder (or liquid): Let’s say you accidentally over-trim a toenail. Styptic powder (or its liquid version) applied with a cotton-tipped applicator will help stem the seemingly never-ending output of blood from that single toenail.
  • Medications: Depending on your pet’s medical condition, your collection of first aid kit meds will vary. Ask your veterinarian what first aid drugs your pets may benefit from. Here are the usual suspects: pet-specific nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (like carprofen and meloxicam), antihistamines (like diphenhydramine and cetirizine), antidiarrheals (like loperamide HCl) and gastroprotectants (like famotidine and omeprazole).
  • Probiotics: I keep this as a separate category because it’s not really a drug. This is my first line of defense against diarrhea. I administer it at the first sign of a soft stool to help head off even more serious issues. Ask your veterinarian for a probiotic that’s made for pets.
  • Artificial tears: These are an excellent addition to any first aid kit. They’re especially useful for treating mildly irritated eyes, and they do no harm. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a brand. But remember, any squinting or ocular discharge requires a vet visit!
  • Muzzle: I know it sounds odd, but plenty of pets could benefit from at-home muzzles if that’s the only way their owners can attend to their simple first aid needs.

Dog wearing muzzle

Active Outdoor Dog Kit

Then there’s the kit for the really active dog. After putting together a basic kit, consider the following items to help treat the wider range of issues your dog may encounter out of doors.

  • Hydrogen peroxide: Though it’s often overused, every trauma-focused first aid kit could benefit from a small bottle of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to get blood and bacteria off superficial wounds (after a simple cleansing). This one can sting and cause tissue damage in large amounts but may help when used sparingly.
  • Stretchy, self-adhesive bandaging: This stuff is great for covering up wounds so they don’t get dirtier while you’re on your way to the vet’s. Not only does it not stick to pet fur, but it’s also strong enough to double as a tourniquet, if you happen to need one. Combined with gauze sponges, it’ll help stop simple bleeding, too.
  • Antihistamines: These are good to carry around in case your pet is stung by an insect or begins to react adversely to an unknown allergen. Swelling around the face is typically the first sign. Ask your veterinarian for a correct dose recommendation for your individual dog.
  • Prescription meds: In the event your mildly arthritic dog starts limping badly while you’re still miles away from a vet, you might want to keep his prescription pain meds on hand. So, too, might you want to hike or boat with your Addisonian dog’s corticosteroids. In general, however, this is one you really have to ask your vet about.
  • Eye/mouth flush: There’s nothing worse than getting something stuck in your eye or mouth and not being able to get it out. (You’d be surprised at the stuff dogs get their faces into.) That’s why a small bottle of eye flush or a water bottle with a spigot (so you can easily rinse out eyes and mouths) is a great idea for serious activities like long hikes.
But even these three first aid kit iterations may not suit your individual needs. Consider these your foundation supplies and ask your veterinarian to recommend items more specific to your geography, your activities and your pet’s unique medical needs.

OK, so now it’s your turn: What’s in your first aid kit?

More on