First Aid, Common Problems and Solutions


Human first aid kits have most of what you need for small animals

Contents needed for small animals: Antiseptic such as Betadine, sterile gauze pads for cleaning, sterile padded bandage squares (disposible diapers, sanitary pads make good substitutes), triple antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin), gauze roll, stretch bandage such as Ace or Vetwrap (there are many brand names, human is Coban), dog boot (to fit your dog), Benadryl



Tesla_bandaged_legNot all wounds need suturing but most will heal quicker with it. Do not use wound ointments or antiseptics if suturing is a possibility, just cover or flush with saline. Wounds on the body can be covered with a clean shirt or sweatshirt with front or back legs through the arm holes and tape to secure the hem around the body. Bleeding is best controlled by pressure- direct pressure with hands or by a padded bandage. Make sure you use plenty of padding to get direct pressure but that pressure should be relieved within an hour if it blocks blood flow to a limb or foot. Swelling of a foot below a bandage indicates that it is too tight. Consult a veterinarian within two hours of the causing of a wound to find out if a wound should be sutured. Some wounds may be sutured much later but will require more cleaning and tissue removal.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Causes of GI upset include eating something they shouldn’t have (“dietary indiscretion”), food poisoning, bacteria, viruses, stress and sometimes “who knows”. If the patient is active, wants to drink water and otherwise feels fine the first response is to avoid food for 12 to 24 hours and, if vomiting, control water intake with small amounts every half hour to hour. With diarrhea give free access to fluids. You need a veterinarian if the patient cannot drink for more than 4 to 6 hours, if there is noticeable inactivity or pain, if there is blood in vomit or if conditions do not resolve within 24 hours.

“Hot Spots” (moist inflamed skin lesions)

For a variety of reasons including allergies, fleas, minor skin injuries and infections, dogs will sometimes get local areas of redness, hair loss, oozing, itching and pain. If these are treated quickly they can be kept small and minor but otherwise can get quite large and painful. Immediately trimming away hair, cleaning with antibacterial soap or antiseptic such as povidone iodine (“Betadine” and others), drying carefully and applying an antibiotic spray can be useful. You need a veterinarian if lesions do not dry up noticeably within 24 to 48 hours, if they are very painful, if the lesions keep getting larger despite treatment or if there are multiple or large areas involved.

Ear infections

Dogs with bad ear odor, redness of interior of ear flap (pinna) and/or canal, swelling, pain/discomfort or a discharge (dark brown, black, grey or looks like pus) are suffering from one of a number of ear infections or similar inflammatory ear conditions. Underlying causes can be allergies, foreign bodies like cheat grass seeds or a variety of accidental infections. You need a veterinarian if the symptoms persist longer than a day or two, if pain is moderate to severe or if symptoms worsen over time.

Chronic ear infections are commonly related initially to allergies. These can be of any type including food, pollen and molds. Switching food can be of some help in some cases but should be done in a careful planned manner. Generally switch to a higher digestibility food (usually higher priced) that uses only one type of meat that is of a different type than what is now being fed. Often this means switching from meat meal, beef etc. to chicken, fish, bison or one of many others that the dog has not been fed before (what we call a novel protein). Also, you should be using a different carbohydrate (switch from corn or wheat to rice or potato). The majority of dogs maintain good health on standard diets but allergies to many different types of food can develop (we have had dogs allergic to green peas, carrots, chicken and brewer’s yeast, for example). Any food change should be done gradually over 5 to 7 days and may take 4 to 8 weeks to see noticeable results. Other ways to control exposure to allergens include weekly baths, rinsing after being outside and changing bedding. You should see a veterinarian if mild problems become worse or if you see no response to the current treatment within 4 to 8 weeks. (See sections on nutrition and supplements)


Cat abscesses

These are almost always the result of a cat bite (as opposed to dog or wild animal). Many times the initial puncture wound is difficult to find thought feeling for the small scab in the hair is often the best way. Two to three days after the bite there can be heat and swelling followed by hair loss over the site and eventually a small to large area of skin necroses (or “dies off”) and pus can drain out, often accompanied by blood. Some abscesses quickly open and drain followed by normal healing with or without treatment. Others progress in size, cause more severe pain and lead to lack of appetite, dehydration and occasionally severe illness. If a small abscess has already broken and drained before you even knew something was wrong, it will often heal normally. All others should receive veterinary attention for possible lancing, antibiotics and supportive care.

If you note a bite that has just occurred veterinary care and antibiotics can often prevent an abscess.

IF YOU RECEIVE A BITE YOURSELF GET IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION. Cat bites have often led to blood poisoning, surgery and loss of function of fingers and hands.

Ear problems

In cats, ear mites are the source of the majority of ear problems. Less common causes are ear polyps and ceruminous otitis. Ear mites usually spread from other cats and can occasionally cause bites on people leaving small red spots, often when people sleep with cats that have ear mites. Many treatments are effective for ear mites if use persistently for 3 to 4 weeks. An exception is ivermectin or Acarexx which often can be effective in one dose. You need a veterinarian if you get poor response to over-the-counter treatments, moderate to severe pain (head tilt, ear down or flinching to touch) or if problem is getting worse.

EQUINE CONDITIONS AND RESPONSES – Click on this link to see a Power Point Presentation on Equine First Aid.


“Fluffed Up” Bird, “Sick” Bird and Bird at bottom of cage

Birds get “fluffed up” when they are cold or if an illness makes them feel cold. Birds are excellent at covering up disease problems until they become so ill they cannot cover up any more. At this point they need veterinary attention. If it is not possible to get veterinary care a minimum approach is to increase environmental temperature to 85 to 95 degrees F. This involves a small heated room, a heat lamp no less than 18 inches above or a heating pad beneath a cage with a cloth cover over the cage. (BEWARE OF FIRE AND BURN HAZARDS–DO NOT LEAVE UNATTENDED). Supplementing fluid through syringe or dropper is possible but can be stressful and it is difficult to get enough.