How to make a first-aid kit for your pet
For minor ailments and injuries, it’s handy to have a portable first-aid kit for your pets. You can make use of things around the house, which saves money and waste. Keep it in a box and make sure everything is organised and labelled.
First-aid doesn’t replace appropriate veterinary care. It’s important to remember that serious accidents, poisonings, snake bites, tick paralysis or illness will require the care of your regular veterinarian. Although a natural first-aid kit is generally safe and non-toxic, not all natural treatments are safe. One example is tea tree oil, which is a handy antimicrobial, but may be toxic to small dogs and especially to cats. I have indicated in this article where there may be any risk to your pet.
I love teas, and I keep a selection of teabags ready to use in my kit. To prepare the teas, add one cup of just boiled water to one tea bag, and allow the infusion to cool for 20 minutes. You can use dried marigold flowers, fresh ginger, ground fennel seeds or leaf tea, but ensure that you filter any solids using coffee filter paper, especially if using tea to clean wounds or as an eye wash.
Calendula has vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Use a 5-10ml syringe to slowly flush tea into your pet’s mouth to treat stomatitis, gingivitis or oral ulcers. Spray calendula tea in a spritz bottle onto hot itchy skin or to clean minor wounds. Use it as a compress for hotspots or itchy eyes, or to bathe yeasty feet or lip folds. (This is useful if apple-cider vinegar is too irritating). Green tea has antioxidant, astringent, antibacterial and antiviral effects. Both green and black tea can be used as a rinse for acute itchy skin, hotspots and itchy eyes.
Use a 5-10ml syringe to slowly flush tea into your pet’s mouth to treat stomatitis, gingivitis or oral ulcers.
Chamomile has anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, carminative and mild sedative effects. It can be mixed with food or offered as a drink to treat flatulence, mild diarrhoea, colitis or anxiety. Avoid giving it to cats however, due to coumarin content. Dogs who are allergic to members of the daisy family may also become itchy.
Ginger tea is used in people to treat nausea and can also be used topically as an anti-inflammatory. Avoid dosing orally in dogs if they’re vomiting, but you can use it when there is mild nausea, eg if they are licking their lips. (Cats usually won’t tolerate ginger.) Only offer dogs a small amount, eg 1-2ml in frequent sips should suffice. The maximum dose is 1/4 cup for a 10kg dog. If your dog doesn’t like ginger, use a ginger oil rub instead. Mix a few drops of oil with 15ml of almond or jojoba oil, and rub this onto your dog’s belly. Place 1-2 drops on the car air vents to reduce motion sickness.
Fennel tea has traditional use for colic in babies, and is also used in horses and cows. It has carminative, spasmolytic, expectorant and antimicrobial effects, and can be used in dogs for flatulence and mild gut signs. It’s generally safe, but avoid it if you know your pet has severe liver disease. Use 1/4 cup per day for a 10kg dog, divided through the day and mixed into food.
Manuka honey is derived from bees feeding on the Manuka tree and has antibacterial and antioxidant properties. When applied to minor wounds, burns, infections or ulcers, it reduces infection, and provides an environment that supports healing. It’s non-toxic to pets, although you might need to distract them so they don’t lick it off. Clean wounds with sterile saline or Betadine first, then apply the honey. Reapply every 12 to 24 hours (you can clean away residual honey with saline). It’s best not to use table honey, because of the small risk of botulism, so look for medical honey, which has been treated to remove bacteria.
Calendula cream is used to treat itchy and inflamed skin, minor burns and scalds. You can make your own using tea, almond oil and coconut oil, but it’s easier to obtain a good product from a chemist or health food store.
Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory, vulnerary (wound healing) and demulcent (soothing) properties. When I’m home I prefer it fresh from the plant, but for travelling I have a tube of aloe vera gel. To use the leaf, carefully slice out the clear inner gel and leave the outer latex, which contains the laxative anthraquinones. If you purchase gel, ensure it contains at least 11.25mg/ml of acemannan. Use aloe vera on dry itchy skin, insect bites and gingivitis, as well as to treat oral ulcers, minor wounds and skin infections.
A tub of vitamin E cream is handy as a moisturiser for dry itchy skin or as a base for a homemade herbal creams. Add 25-50ml of prepared tea to 50g of vitamin E cream, and keep refrigerated, because there’s no preservative. I also keep a small tube of pawpaw ointment to soothe inflamed skin, and use as a protective barrier for skin fold irritation (often seen under axillae or “armpits”, the genital area, and under tails).
Arnica is popular as a treatment for acute bruising. Oral use of the plant is not recommended for pets, except for the homeopathic form. I also like using a homeopathic cream. Apply a thin smear to affected areas several times daily and distract your pet for 10 minutes. Don’t use too much pressure, because it’s best not to massage an acute bruise. Use for minor limb sprains.
Organic apple-cider vinegar will balance the pH of your pet’s skin, which helps to manage yeast infections, but it can sting if undiluted or applied to inflamed skin or open wounds. Dilute to at least 30 per cent with water, and spray in a spritz bottle on your dog’s feet or skin. You can also wipe some on the outside of your dog’s ear, but check with your vet first before using it inside the ear. Wash off after 10 minutes to prevent irritation.
Give a few drops of Rescue Remedy (prepared in spring water rather than alcohol) every few minutes at times of acute trauma, or three to four times daily for stress associated with travel or holidays. Pets may find glass droppers stressful, so rub the drops on their gums or the inside of their ears.
It’s useful to have a few homeopathic remedies on hand to use for minor traumas, which should be used in addition to other treatments. Use the low potencies (30x 6c 12c). For acute symptoms, dose every 15 minutes until symptoms improve.
Apis mel: for insect bites or stings where there is redness and swelling. May be applied directly to the sting
Nux vomica: for carsickness
Arnica: for bruising or pain
Ruta grav: for sprains and strains, or low-grade cruciate injuries
Hepar sulph: for infected wounds
Hot packs/cold packs
Use frozen peas in zip lock bags, or warm water in disposable gloves as cold/hot packs. Ensure the pack is neither too hot nor cold (rest it on the inside of your wrist for a few seconds to make sure). I wrap the packs in a flannel and ensure my pets can move away if they need to. Cold therapy reduces swelling and pain from acute, minor musculoskeletal injuries like sprains or strains, as well as pain from overexercise. Apply the wrapped cold pack for 15-20 minutes at a time. Avoid cold therapy in pets with reduced nerve sensation, circulatory problems or those who are cold. Avoid also if they have any metal orthopaedic implants.
Heat therapy improves circulation and relaxes muscles, reducing pain from chronic injuries. Use in older pets with low-back or hip pain to help get them moving in the morning, or to relax muscles before massage. Apply for 15-20 minutes. Avoid using for acute injuries or inflammation, over infected wounds, bleeding or bruising or over tumours, as well as for circulatory or nerve problems.
I keep a pot of Yunnan Baiyao in my kit to use topically for minor bleeding, eg torn nails or cut ears. The powder is tricky to handle. Try to heap a small amount onto a cotton bud and apply directly to the bleeding area, before applying a dressing. Yunnan Baiyao is a traditional Chinese remedy, and consists of a combination of herbs. The main active ingredient is notoginseng, which supports the function of platelets in homeostasis.
It’s safe to be taken internally, and is a remedy we use in practice for bleeding tumours or nosebleeds, but I would recommend seeking the advice of your veterinarian before giving it orally to your pet. It’s readily available from many Chinese supermarkets, but there may be some variation in quality control, so perhaps speak to a vet familiar with traditional Chinese medicine before purchase.
Neem oil is used primarily as a tick, flea and mozzie repellent, but also has antibacterial, antifungal, insecticidal, anthelminthic, vulnerary and astringent effects. There are prepared sprays for dogs and cats, which can be sprayed on hot spots, minor wounds and ulcers. (However most cats really hate sprays.)
Tea tree oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, but is potentially toxic to small dogs and I never use it in cats. Prepared tea tree oil products containing 1-2 per cent tea tree oil should be safe to use in dogs. It may be a skin irritant, and should be patch tested first. Shake well every time you use and spray on affected areas. Use on hotspots, or to treat yeasty paws after cleaning with tea.
Lavender oil has carminative and anxiolytic effects. Use in an oil diffuser around the house to reduce anxiety in dogs and cats, however the ensure area is well ventilated and that your pet can move away. One drop applied to the car vent may reduce stress of car trips. Try mixing 1-4 drops in 15ml of a carrier oil to use for a calming massage in dogs. I never use essential oils on cats.
Slippery elm bark powder may reduce diarrhoea or constipation, and can also soothe discomfort from anal gland abscesses. Add one teaspoon to one cup of cold water, and then mix 1/8 cup of this (for a 10kg dog) in food up to three times daily. Slippery elm may reduce drug absorption, so avoid giving with medications.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, and assist the return to gut health after stress, sickness or medications. There are good quality veterinary products available, but in the short term, you can use human products. Most are refrigerated to extend their life. Dose empirically, eg a 30kg dog can have an adult dose equivalent. I generally continue dosing for a few weeks after symptoms subside.
Neem oil is used primarily as a tick, flea and mozzie repellent, but also has antibacterial, antifungal, insecticidal, anthelminthic, vulnerary and astringent effects.
A sachet of electrolytes is handy to replenish hydration and salts after acute gastroenteritis. Vets can supply this, and you prepare and store it according to directions. Coconut water may be a short-term substitute. (It is higher in potassium, and lower in sodium and sugar than electrolyte solutions.) Don’t try to give fluids to animals that are actively vomiting.
Activated charcoal in slurry form has been used in veterinary medicine to reduce absorption of accidentally ingested toxins but this should only be under veterinary supervision. Activated charcoal tablets can be used to treat minor flatulence in dogs. This is a one-off treatment, and not a daily tablet. Charcoal may reduce the absorption of important medications. Be aware that your pet’s stool will be black.
If your pet is vomiting or has diarrhoea, persist beyond one day. If your pet seems unwell, please have them assessed by your vet.
Hotspots and other skin infections
You can treat small superficial hotspots at home, but they can spread quickly and often require veterinary attention.Carefully cut away crusted hair to expose the moist skin. If you have dog clippers, you can clip hair around the wound. Apply a black or chamomile tea compress to the wound for a few minutes several times a day to astringe and dry it. Follow with medical honey, aloe vera or calendula cream. You may need to cover the wound, and use an Elizabethan collar to prevent further scratching.
Cat bites and minor skin wounds
Small cat bite abscesses, as long as your cat seems well, may respond to first-aid at home. If the abscess hasn’t ruptured, apply a hot tea compress four times daily for 5-10 minutes. Do not attempt to lance it. Once open, gently flush the pus and dead tissue from the wound using sterile saline or dilute Detadine and a small syringe. If the wound doesn’t heal in a few days, or if it heals then recurs, take your cat to the vet. Other superficial wounds can be cleaned similarly, then apply calendula cream or medical honey. Always wash your hands after treating infected wounds.
You can treat first-degree burns (these only affect the top layer of skin with redness and minor pain). Apply a sterile, cool saline compresses to the red area for up to 30 minutes. Then dress with aloe vera gel.
For mild conjunctivitis, use a warm black or calendula tea compress four times daily. Soak cotton balls in tea, and gently squeeze the compress over your pet’s eye, ensuring no solids go in. Any condition affecting the eye surface or any trauma will require a vet check.
Insect bites can result in swelling, redness and itching. If your pet appears to be having a severe allergic reaction, contact your vet. If you can see the sting, try to remove it using the edge of a credit card so you don’t squeeze the sac. These are painful, and you might need to gently restrain your pet. Use a cold compresses on the area and give Apis mel every few minutes. Once the pain has settled, apply aloe vera gel or calendula cream.
Minor soft tissue injuries
You can treat minor sprains and strains with rest. Apply a cold pack for 10-15 minutes to reduce swelling or bruising, and then use the arnica ointment (but avoid this on broken skin). If pain or swelling persist for more than 48 hours, take your pet to the vet.
While there may be many other useful remedies to include in your natural first-aid kit, these are the treatments I use the most.