pet first aid
Black and White headshot of IndeVets Employee Natalie
Words by:
Natalia Santos — Associate IndeVet

We all have it. There’s that one crammed cabinet in your house filled with miscellaneous first aid supplies ranging from band-aids to expired Neosporin®.

Ever think about making one for your cat or dog? I’m here to provide you with some tips and tricks on how to make a credible at-home First Aid kit for your furry companion. Here’s what to include:


There are several commercially available over-the-counter probiotics that can help palliate diarrhea until you are able to bring your pet to the veterinarian. A few that I familiar with are Proviable® (Nutramaxx), FortiFlora® (Purina), and RXBiotic® (RXVitamins.)

Keep in mind that a probiotic that works well for your neighbor’s cat may not be as effective for your pet since every gastrointestinal tract is unique.

If your pet is experiencing GI upset (vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite) please consult your veterinarian for the next steps. Inform the veterinary team of the name and brand of the probiotic you have on hand and ask for permission to start this until an appointment can be made.

Nail trimmers and styptic powder

There is a lot of personal preference for nail trimmers. I am privy to the large, orange handle Miller’s Forge nail trimmers for small-giant breed dogs. For toy breed dogs and cats, it may be easier to use the scissor-style or guillotine trimmers.

No matter how experienced you are, it’s a good idea to keep Kwik Stop® (ARC Laboratories) handy in case you trim a nail too short. This is a styptic powder that will help stop the bleeding and help form a clot at the tip of the nail. If your pet is still bleeding despite application of this product, please bring him/her to the veterinarian to see if further action is needed.

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Ear cleaner and cotton squares

Simply put, are two categories of ear cleaners: drying agents or medicated. Drying agents with active ingredients such as a Salicylic acid are in Epiotic® (Virbac) or EpiKlean® (Dechra) are great for those Labrador Retrievers who love the water. Alternatively, there are formulations with dilute amounts of anti-fungal or antibiotic products in some ear cleaners as well.

I have a lot of trust with the Dechra pharmaceuticals product line (Triz EDTA + Keto®, Malaket + TrizEDTA®) for cats and dogs with history of chronic ear infections. It is important to wipe out the debris with cotton squares or swabs since Q-tips can damage the ear canal.

Do not instill anything in the ear if there is any severe redness or pain, head tilt, abnormal eye movement, or incoordination since this can indicate more advanced ear disease.


Out of all the categories listed, this topic scares me the most. There are commercially available shampoos — often in pet stores — that may have dangerous ingredients in them! Avoid products that have any essential oils (tea tree oil, lavender, eucalyptus, lemongrass, etc.) since this can be an irritant, or worse, cause neurologic symptoms or gastrointestinal upset.

These signs are usually seen with higher concentrations of these products, but I would generally avoid since there are much safer, veterinary-trusted products. The Douxo® line (Ceva) and Dechra line has several prescription safe shampoos formulated for your dog or cat’s skin.

Specifically, for Gio the 5-year-old cocker spaniel that has dry skin may benefit from Douxo S3 Seb® (Ceva) formulated to help remove the scale. Or there’s Taffy, the 4-month-old Golden Retriever puppy that loves to roll in the mud would benefit from a gentle shampoo such as Dermallay® (Dechra) that is oatmeal based. Please consult your veterinarian what is best for your dog or cat.

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Tick spoon/tick removal

If you live in the Northeast United States, you are likely familiar with this product since there are tons of ticks in this region. These handy products are shaped like spoons or small forks that detach the pesky tick head out of the patient.

Place the tick in the groove of the instrument, move counter wise, and with gentle traction, the entire tick can be removed. You are welcome to remove the tick and bring it to the veterinarian for identification, but usually our recommendation is to put the pet on an FDA- approved oral or topical flea, tick, heartworm, and intestinal parasite prevention to prevent this from happening again.

We usually don’t “send out ticks” and rather screen for tick borne disease a couple of months after the tick bite.

Chlorhexidine based products

Chlorhexidine is an anti-septic with great anti-microbial properties. It can be placed on irritated skin, a broken nail, or even a sore bottom. This is a must for wrinkly-faced breed such as the French bulldog or pug. Feel free to gently wipe facial folds, tail folds, and in between the toes to keep the bacterial load low in these high moisture areas.

If you have a dog who is wiggly for facial hygiene, hold off on treating the face since it can damage the eyes on contact. Reach for a 2-4% Chlorhexidine based products such as Triz Chlor® (Virbac,) Mal a ket® (Virbac,) Douxo S3 Pyo® (Ceva,) Cerasoothe CHX + KET® (Ceraven.) These products may come in several formulations such as soaked wipes, mousse, or even shampoo.

Do not hesitate to tell your veterinarian that you have a chlorhexidine-based product at home since this may cut costs at your next veterinary visit if your furry friend has a skin infection!

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Dog night light

I have a clip-on light that I clip to my dog’s collar when we go out for walks late at night or early in the morning. Many are available at your local pet store or You won’t regret it!

Toothbrush and toothpaste

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has compiled a list of credible toothpastes, water additives and diets that are proven to help prevent dental disease in pets. Check out this extensive list at for more details.

Many of these toothpastes are savory meat flavors which may not be tolerated well by all pets. Alternatively, C.E.T.® Enzymatic Toothpaste (Virbac) has Vanilla-mint flavor that may be best for cats/dogs with food intolerances/allergies. Find a toothbrush that works best for you whether it is the finger toothbrush or wide toothbrush with bristles.

Disclaimers and takeaway thoughts

  • This is not an advertisement for the products listed above- just simply anecdotal!
  • Use caution on any topical products with essential oils since they can be toxic to your pet.
  • Chlorhexidine-based products can be used to keep irritated skin comfortable until you can have it evaluated by your veterinarian.
  • Any topical product can cause potential irritation. If this occurs while applying any of these products, discontinue and wash the product off the pet immediately.
  • Dental health is very important — try and brush you cat or dog’s teeth once daily from a product from the VOHC list or Virbac product line.
  • Not all human prescription over-the-counter medications are created equal. Tylenol® (Acetaminophen), Advil® (Ibuprofen), Pepto-Bismol® (Bismuth subsalicylate) should NEVER be given to pets. There may be an occasion that your veterinarian may give you specific instructions to purchase an over-the counter prescription medication such as Diphenhydramine to alleviate an insect bite, but please do not reach for this unless under the discretion of your veterinarian.
  • Many of the specific product lines listed above are referenced because I’ve had personal experience with them. There is likely great generic- equivalent products available at your veterinarian’s office.
  • DO NOT use expired prescription medications from pets or other pets. If they are controlled medications, contact your town to see where they can be safely discarded.

In closing

It’s always best to be prepared for any situation. Creating a first-aid kid takes time now but can be invaluable when you need it.

Dr. Santos practices small animal medicine in New Jersey. Her interests include physical rehabilitation, clinical pathology, client communication, and internal medicine.

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