First Aid Kits for Dogs: 18 Important Items

Article by Devin Kelly, DOGPAK Founder: 

Let me preface this article by saying I am not a veterinarian. The scope of this article is not to offer medial advice nor emergency treatment procedure—something that would be better discussed with your trusted vet. Instead, this article only intends to offer some suggestions for useful items to keep in your K9 first aid kit and explain some of the reasoning behind each item. 

18 Helpful Items in a K9 First Aid Kit:

As we shift into spring and summer seasons here in the Northern Hemisphere, many of us are itching to get back out on the trails with our pups. It’s important to be properly prepared for our adventures, and one crucial item to consider bringing along is a first aid kit specifically designed for your dog and the kinds of injuries or ailments they might encounter on the trail. 
Some items listed are critical items that you should consider packing on every adventure, while others might be better to leave behind in your home’s first aid kit. In considering which items are most important for the trail, you need to consider the hazards, wildlife, local flora, and possible injuries specific to the area you’ll be hiking or camping in, as well as access to emergency facilities. 
Consider things like venomous snake species, critters with sharp teeth and claws, poisonous flora, rocky/sharp terrain (or cliff drops), daily temperatures and weather forecasts, and access to clean water. 
Below are 18 items to include in your K9 first aid kit. We will list the items that are critical for the trail first, and then include some additional items that are good to have on hand as well. If you’re packing light or are close to emergency facilities, you might be able to leave some of the less crucial items back home to save space and weight. 
The prerequisite to using any of these items is to have the foundational first-aid knowledge to use them correctly and responsibly. Properly used, these items and your first-aid education could save your dog’s life. However, improper use could cause further harm to your dog, so be sure to seek a solid foundational understanding of common first-aid practices both for your pup and for people before hitting the backcountry. 

Critical Items to include in a first aid kit for dogs:

1. Antiseptic wipes, Iodine, and/or *Hydrogen Peroxide:

Cuts and open wounds are relatively common injuries on the trail, and they are best handled with immediate disinfecting to mitigate chances of developing an infection. Infections in the backcountry move fast and spread quickly, so be diligent in cleaning any open cut or wound quickly. Antiseptic wipes can help clean both the wound and the area around it, preparing the spot for application of gauze or a bandage if necessary. Iodine is commonly used to sterilize both wounds and equipment, and can even help purify water in the backcountry when used properly. Both can be used to help clean and disinfect your hands after handling a medical emergency. 
Alcohol pads are an effective alternative, but they sting when applied to a cut. This stinging could startle a negative reaction out of your dog, so antiseptic wipes are the go-to choice if they’re available. 
*Hydrogen peroxide can also be used to flush and sterilize a wound, but H2O2 also has another use—one that is a bit controversial and should therefore be discussed with a trusted vet beforehand. Swallowing hydrogen peroxide can induce vomiting in a dog if they ingest something potentially harmful like poisonous plants or excessive amounts of chocolate, however it can be harmful if used improperly. Given the amount of weight and space it takes up, it might be something you choose to leave back home if you’re taking short hikes in familiar areas. But for multi-day adventurers far from facilities, it might be worth the extra weight to bring a bit of H202 along. 

2. Gauze, Non-stick Gauze:

Sterile gauze is critical in dressing wounds. It helps clotting to slow or stop bleeding, it can help pack out an open wound, and it also ads a protective layer between the wound and any bandaging applied over it. Be sure to bring sealed, sterile gauze and gauze pads to avoid contaminating a wound. Non-stick gauze is ideal in most circumstances, and if you have ever had regular gauze removed from a wound after a period of time, you know why. In addition to being painful, removing regular gauze from a wound can also cause further damage. Non-stick gauze helps avoid that problem.

3. Bandaging, specifically Vet Wrap:

Bandaging is essential for covering wounds, protecting them from dirt and debris, and slowing/stopping bleeding. The right kind of bandaging can also help to splint a limb, providing support to a sprained, strained, or broken joint or bone. 
Vet wrap is a kind of semi-elastic, tearable bandaging that sticks to itself, which is especially convenient when working on animals. An important note: avoid elastic bandaging like ace bandages. If the dog is uncomfortable and begins chewing and pulling at the elastic bandage, it will tighten considerably, potentially cutting off blood circulation.

4. Scissors and Razor

A small pair of scissors are a must-have item in any first-aid kit. They can be used to cut bandages, gauze pads, and other items. Ideally, look for a pair of scissors with blunt ends designed specifically for first-aid to avoid accidentally cutting or poking your dog.
A razor can also be helpful in a medical emergency. A razor can be used to shave away the fur around a wound or infected area. Sometimes it is difficult to identify where exactly the injury is, and shaving away some of the fur around the affected area can help you find splinters, bite marks, or other hard-to-see injuries. Clearing the fur from around the wound can also help ensure a more thorough cleaning and dressing. 

5. Tick Removal Kit (Tweezers, Q-tips, Sealed Bags, Disinfectant)

Ticks are all too common on the trail, and in my qualitative estimation, it seems like they’ve become even more common in the last decade. They infest a wide geographical portion of the world, so chances are, they are a risk where ever you’ll be hiking. 
Tick removal is a bit of an art that requires some finesse and experience. There are a few effective ways to remove ticks—among them are using tweezers, Q-tips, or a tick removal device. How to remove ticks is beyond the scope of this article, so be sure to research that process beforehand. 
Regardless of whether or not you use tweezers to remove ticks, I would recommend keeping a pair in your K9 first-aid kit anyway, as they have myriad other uses. For example, Foxtail grass awns can be dangerous for dogs, and tweezers can help you reach them if they begin to work their way into the dogs' orifices.  
Once a tick is removed, you can opt to put it in a sealed bag if you want to have it checked for tick-born diseases like Lyme. Then, you’ll want to disinfect the area and your hands. If you prefer, you can also pack a pair of rubber gloves in your first aid kit. 

6. Benadryl/Anti-histamine Medication (Diphenhydramine HCL)

This medication can be an effective and safe treatment for allergies, insect bites, or snake bites. However, dosages can vary and depend on the health and size of your dog, so it is important to discuss its use with your veterinarian before hand. 
As an antihistamine, it can help alleviate symptoms of allergies or allergic reactions to insect bites or something ingested. Certain venomous snake bites also induce serious swelling (Ask Thunder about his rattlesnake incident) and can incite an allergic reaction which might be alleviated to some extent with the use of Benadryl (Diphenhydramine HCL). This medication can cause drowsiness, so take that into consideration when using. 

7. Medical Tape and/or Duct Tape:

Tape has a number of uses in the backcountry and is a critical addition to any first aid or survival kit. Tape can help secure a bandage and keep pressure on a wound until it can be redressed properly. It is also helpful in securing a splint to help stabilize a joint or bone, and more secure than vet wrap for this purpose. 
*Quick tip: Duct tape is also a great fire starter if you’re in a pinch. 

8. Emergency Contact Information: 

It is critical to bring the proper emergency contact information with you on hikes, camping trips, and other adventures. Calling the right numbers in case of emergency could save your dog’s life. Be sure to properly research the area you’ll be adventuring in, and part of that research is to determine which emergency numbers to call if something happens. These should be written or printed on a physical note and protected in a sealed bag. It is a good idea to save that information in your phone as well, but do not rely on your phone for that information. Phone batteries die and sometimes phones have no service. In addition, in the event someone else needs to help your dog, having that information included in the first aid kit could make all the difference. It takes virtually no extra space nor weight to include the note in your pup’s first aid kit.

Other Important Items for Your K9 First Aid Kit:

The above listed items I consider crucial on any hike where we are away from the house or without reasonable access to help. These items together will still pack small and light, and can be easily carried either by you or your dog. 
Personally, I like to pack my K9 first aid kit in my dog’s backpack so he is carrying it with him at all times. This offers a few advantages: it is easily and immediately accessible, I know right where it is and don’t have to fumble through my own pack searching for it, and it helps to keep my own pack more organized.

Our DOGPAK Moab Lite hiking harness and daypack for dogs is designed specifically for your dog to carry a few essential items on a hike, like a K9 first aid kit, our collapsible bowls, a leash, a GPS tracker, a light, some snacks, waste bags, crushed kibble, and possibly some water depending on availability. Bulkier items like his coat or sleeping bag can be rolled up and packed as a top pack across his shoulders, which helps distribute the weight and bulk better, interfering less with his movements and making it less likely to get hung-up in the brush. 
It was meticulously built using the latest tech in ultralight and waterproof outdoor gear materials and deliberately designed to minimize interfering with the dogs’ natural gaits, leaving their elbows free and focusing weight over the dogs’ shoulders where they are strongest. As a result, it is easier on your dogs’ joints. You can take a look here: 
The following items are helpful to store in a K9 first aid kit, but less crucial on everyday hikes. If you are heading on a multi-day trip in the backcountry, or thru-hiking a famous trail, you might consider bringing some of these extra items along too. 

9. Instant Ice Pack: 

Ice packs can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation in case of injury. They pack up relatively small, and might be a good idea to bring along if you intend to be out for a long time or know you will not have facilities nearby. 

10. Thermometer:

A thermometer can help you get a better picture of what might be ailing your dog. If you notice your dog seems off or is showing signs of discomfort, a thermometer can help determine whether they have a fever.

Additionally, both hyper- and hypothermia are risks we can encounter in the backcountry. Hot days and dehydration can lead to heat stroke. Rain, snow, or cold ponds, lakes, and rivers can eventually lead to hypothermia (a reduction in body temperature) if not properly addressed. A thermometer can be used to diagnose these states, and you can take proper action. The thermometer should be inserted into the rectum for an accurate temperature reading and lubricated before hand. 

11. Sterile Saline Solution: 

Saline solution is great for flushing wounds for dressing or redressing. It can help clean a wound and the area around it to prevent infection. The primary advantage of saline solution over iodine or other disinfecting agents is that it is cheap and can be used generously to really flush a wound properly. 

12. Medical Grade Skin Adhesive/Glue:

Since sutures are beyond the scope of this article, one alternative for smaller cuts or wounds is medical skin glue that can be used to seal a wound either until it heals or until you have a chance to get into a proper medical facility. There are a number of choices out there, and your veterinarian might be able to recommend a preferred option. 

13. Aluminum Spray:

Aluminum spray is a common way to seal open wounds on an animal. It comes in an aerosol can and sprays a silver powdered/liquid aluminum concoction that is a safe and effective way to seal wounds in areas that cannot be stitched or on animals that are sensitive to receiving vet care. It is very common in the horse world where many horses will kick or strike when receiving medical care due to the pain or surprise of it. As a professional horse trainer and farmer for 12 years, I have used it many times on many of my animals. 

14. Musher’s Secret or Similar: 

Musher’s Secret is a protective gel/paste that is applied to the dogs’ pads for added protection and to help prevent them from drying out and cracking. It can also help prevent snow from collecting and clumping on the dogs’ fur between their toes. Originally developed for mushers to use on their sled dogs in the snow, it has become a popular treatment for dogs with dry and sensitive pads and for people hiking over rocky or snowy terrain. If your hike includes this kind of terrain, it might be something to include in your dog’s first aid kit on the trail. 

15. Antibiotics: 

Antibiotics are potentially life-saving in the right application, however choosing the correct antibiotic for the condition and depending on your dog’s medical history is something best left to a professional veterinarian. Over prescribing and over-use of antibiotics can and has led to certain strains of bacteria developing resistance to certain antibiotics, so use responsibly.
Still, the right antibiotic is exceptionally effective in combatting certain infections or illnesses. On long backcountry trips or thru-hikes, it might be worth including some common antibiotics in your trail kit. Otherwise, these can be left at home or in the safe-keeping of your local vet’s office. 

16. Rubber Gloves:

Rubber gloves are always a good idea to have on hand for medical emergencies. They not only help keep your hands clean, they also help prevent you spreading bacteria to your dog’s wound while dressing it. There is a whole world of microbes thriving in the dirt under your fingernails, and treating wounds without gloves or with dirty hands is a common cause of spreading infection. Rubber gloves pack small and are virtually weightless, so it might be a good idea to include at least one pair in your trail hiking kit. 

17. Muzzle:

A muzzle can be an important or even crucial item to have on hand in the event of an emergency depending on your dog’s temperament. It is not necessary for every dog, but consider that even dogs who are not normally aggressive might try to lash out if they are in enough pain and are feeling fearful or anxious. Receiving medical treatment, especially for a painful injury, could be enough distress to your dog to make them behave abnormally, which could include snapping or biting due to fear. A muzzle can help keep medical staff or yourself safe. 

18. *Snake Bite (Venom Removal) Kit:

I wanted to mention snake bite kits in this article because they are an item some people might consider packing. Most sources I have come across indicate that they are not effective in the way they claim to be. This seems to be the common consensus, and so I personally do not carry one. 
However, several years ago, Thunder was bitten by a rattlesnake. It was a terrifying experience because I didn’t know exactly what to do aside from rush him to the vet. We were in the desert though, and the vet was an hour away. By the time we arrived, Thunders neck had swollen to the size of a volleyball and he was in excruciating pain. I wondered whether a snake bite (venom-removal) kit might have mitigated some of that. I do not know the answer, but most recent sources seem to indicate that they are no help. However, if you are curious, consider talking to your vet about the efficacy of those venom-removal kits. 
The above information should help you create a pretty robust first aid kit for your pup. You can customize it for your various adventures depending on terrain, climate, wildlife, and the kinds of injuries that might be most common. I hope you find this information helpful, and I wish you all many happy adventures this spring and summer. Remember that the best medical treatment is prevention, so be smart and be sure to prepare yourself so you are ready in the event of an emergency. 

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