December 28, 2020
How to Build a Small Pet Emergency Kit
by Dianne Cook, LVT
No one likes the thought of facing an emergency situation, but as 2020 has proven, life can be unpredictable. For those of us fortunate enough to share our homes with small pets, it’s essential to be as prepared as possible to address injuries and illnesses, or, in the case of a disaster, evacuate the home quickly and safely. By assembling a complete emergency kit and keeping it in a convenient location, you can make sure your furry friend is on the road to recovery, or safety, as quickly as possible.
Be Prepared for Any Emergency
Emergencies can come in many forms. Broken toenails, gastrointestinal stasis, flooded basements, and hurricanes all represent real, potential emergencies, but all require different measures to ensure your furry friends’ comfort and safety. Because emergencies are naturally tense situations, the last thing you want to do is scramble to try and find something you need. Having an emergency kit that is prepped to handle numerous urgent scenarios is one of the best ways to maintain a sense of control in a scary situation and make sure you have everything you need close at hand.
No Substitute for Veterinary Care
It is important to remember this kit is not a replacement for veterinary care. While a well-stocked emergency kit may help prepare you for numerous scenarios, the items contained within will not replace the expertise of a qualified veterinarian. When serious illness or injury strikes, an emergency kit is best used to support your small pet as you arrange to take them to a trusted veterinarian for treatment as quickly as possible. A few symptoms that warrant an immediate trip to the vet include:
- Large open wounds
- Non-weight bearing on one or more limbs
- Anorexia (not eating)
- Abnormal urinary or bowel changes
- Blue or pale gums
- Labored or open-mouthed breathing
- Seizures or inability to stand or walk without falling over
- Extreme lethargy
- Loss of consciousness
- Known or potential poison/toxin ingestion
How to Assemble Your Emergency Kit
Keep your emergency kit (including carriers) as close to an exit as possible and ensure everyone in the family knows where it is. Many pet parents find a clearly marked backpack or duffle bag is the easiest way to keep important items together and makes the kit easy to carry if you ever need to leave in a rush. The list below outlines some essential items that can assist in numerous emergency situations, but you can always expand upon this list to meet the needs of your specific pets.
- Carrier – A sturdy, easily accessible, species-appropriate carrier is essential in case you need to make an emergency trip to the vet or quickly evacuate your home. The carrier should be large enough for your little one to stand, turn around and lie down. While bonded pairs often do well in the same carrier (if large enough), it is recommended to ensure you have a carrier for each kiddo as stressful situations can increase the risk of your pets quarreling if forced to share a confined space.
- Your Veterinarian’s Contact Info – In case of a substantial medical emergency (like the ones outlined above), it is a good idea to keep the name, phone number, and clinic location of your favorite exotics-savvy veterinarian with your pets’ emergency kit. Because emergencies don’t always happen during business hours, it is also important to have the same information for an after-hours or emergency animal hospital in your area.
- Evacuation or Disaster Plan – Keep an evacuation or disaster plan with your kit and go over it frequently with all members of the household. It is essential all members of the household are on the same page if evacuation is ever necessary to ensure everyone, including household pets, gets to safety as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- LED Flashlight – Since power can go out for extended periods of time during natural disasters, keeping a bright, long-life flashlight and extra batteries in your pet’s emergency kit will ensure you can always see to check in on your little one. Flashlights also come in handy if you should ever need to look get a closer look in your pet’s ears or mouth or examine a wound.
- Food, Hay, and Bottled Water – Keep a 5-7-day supply of fresh food in an airtight, waterproof container, and, if you have small herbivores, one or two 15 oz bags of hay. You should also keep at least a full week’s worth of bottled water specifically for your pets. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters or evacuations, you may consider having even more food/hay and water on hand as supply chains are often disrupted during disasters. Food and hay supplies should be rotated every 2 months to ensure they remain fresh.
- Food and Water Dishes – Keep clean dishes and water bottles with your emergency kit at all times. If using ceramic or glass, make sure to wrap and pack them carefully to avoid breakage.
- Critical Care and Feeding Syringes – Critical Care comes in three varieties: Herbivore, Carnivore, and Omnivore making it an important product to keep in any small pet emergency kit. These unique, specialized products provide premium recovery nutrition for small pets with poor nutritional status. Given this product is often syringe fed, it is important to keep a few clean, properly working feeding syringes with the kit. To learn more about administering Critical Care, read the following article: Critical Care Tips and Tricks.
- Medications – Make sure to include any prescription medications your pets may be taking. If you know a big storm is coming, or if you live in an area prone to inclement weather, ask your veterinarian about filling your pet’s script early so you know you’ll always have some on hand. You should also speak with your veterinarian regarding additional over-the-counter medications (and appropriate dosages) they may suggest adding to your emergency kit based on your pets’ personal medical histories.
- Towels or Blankets – Keeping a few towels and small blankets in your emergency kit has numerous benefits. Having a towel close at hand will make it easy to hold your pet securely while administering care. Towels and blankets can also serve as temporary bedding in the bottom of the carrier to keep pets as comfortable and warm as possible during transport. Finally, putting a towel or blanket down on a surface before examining your pet or administering first aid is a great way to keep messes contained and easy to clean.
- Thermometer and Water-Based Lubricant – Temperature maintenance is more important than many pet parents realize. Ill or stressed animals can quickly become hypothermic (too cold) or hyperthermic (too hot), which can have a substantial, negative impact on their health and prognosis. Taking a rectal temperature and recording it at home can be valuable information for your veterinarian. Monitoring your little one’s temp as they convalesce is also an easy way to ensure they maintain a safe and optimal temperature. Make sure to use a water-based lubricant for your pet’s comfort, and thoroughly disinfect the thermometer after every use.
- Heat Source – Keeping a heating pad with your emergency kit is the best way to combat a low body temperature, but it is crucial to use the heating element carefully and purposefully. Small mammals have notoriously thin skin and can easily suffer thermal burns if heating pads (or other heat sources) are used inappropriately. Only use the heating pad on the lowest setting possible and cover with a double layer of towels or blankets to ensure your little one can warm up without the risk of getting burnt. Also, make sure the heat source is positioned in such a way that your animal can move away if necessary. Check your pet’s temp frequently while they have access to a heat source and remove it promptly when your pet’s temp returns to normal.
- Hand Sanitizer and Gloves – Cuts and open wounds are one of the top reasons pet parents reach for their pet-specific emergency kit. Keeping a small container of hand sanitizer and a small box of disposable medical gloves will help keep things sanitary if you need to address a messy medical issue at home. Though gloves allow pet parents to best examine wounds without risking additional contamination, remember that large, open wounds should always be treated by a knowledgeable veterinarian. It is also important to note that hand sanitizer is not appropriate for use on wounds and gloves should be disposed of after every use.
- Saline Solution – For minor cuts and abrasions, cleanliness is an essential part of proper treatment. Using a saline solution is a great way to irrigate an open wound and give you a better idea of how serious the injury is. Any open wound runs the risk of infections due to environmental bacteria, so it is important to seek proper treatment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may also suggest some over-the-counter wound care products you can keep in your emergency for these types of situations.
- Bandage Material – Though there are numerous options for bandage material, the most commonly used tend to be sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape, and stretchy, self-adhering bandages. A well-stocked bandage stash will also contain blunt-tip (or round-tip) bandage scissors, cotton balls, cotton-tipped applicators, and tweezers. Because it is incredibly easy to put a bandage on too tightly (or too loose), a trip to the vet is generally warranted any time a bandage needs to be placed. Your veterinarian can then advise you on how often the bandage should be changed, and the best bandaging techniques for optimal healing.
- Nail Trimmers and Styptic Powder – Nail trimmers not only come in handy for routine nail maintenance but often serve a purpose during minor emergencies. Torn toenails are a relatively common injury amongst small pets and can often be addressed at home as long as the nail’s quick hasn’t been damaged or exposed. If you’ve trimmed your pet’s nails a little too close and they start to bleed, or if your little one has broken a toenail close to the quick, dipping the nail in styptic powder (sold at most pet stores) will help stop the bleeding. It is important to note that styptic powder should only be used on bleeding toenails – it is not appropriate for wounds anywhere else on the body.
Assembling a complete emergency kit for your small pet may take a little time and forethought, but when emergencies arise, knowing you have everything you need to keep your little one safe and healthy is truly a peace of mind. While the items listed above are a great starting point, make time to speak with your veterinarian and add any items or products they suggest to best meet your pets’ specific needs. Though no pet parent ever wants to have to use their emergency kits, when the time comes, you’ll be happy it’s there.
Learn More About Pet Care
Downloadable Daily Care Checklist for Your Small Pet
Curbside Veterinary Care for Small Mammals
Wellness Exam Checklist