Pet Care Essentials from a Veterinary Surgeon

Pet Care Essentials from a Veterinary Surgeon

As a veterinary surgeon with 20 years of veterinary experience, I’ve seen my fair share of emergencies and health issues in pets, ranging from the mild upset stomach and cuts and scrapes to severe cases of intoxication and traumatic injuries. One thing that consistently proves invaluable in managing these situations is a well-prepared pet medicine cabinet to house your pet care essentials. Today, I want to guide you through setting up a comprehensive medicine cabinet that could save your pet’s life or prevent a minor issue from escalating.

Understanding Your Pet’s Needs

The first step in building your pet’s medicine cabinet is to understand the specific needs of your pet. This involves more than just knowing what to keep on hand for emergencies. You should consider your pet’s age, existing health conditions, where you live, and any regular medications they may require. For instance, a bulldog living in Arizona needs to have a plan and supplies that could help with overheating; while pet owners that do not live within 20 minutes of an accessible veterinarian, should 100% have an oral detoxifier at home for their pet in the case the pet is poisoned. 

At the end of this discussion, I discuss various specific health concerns for which you should have additional supplies if your pet is affected by those health concerns. 

Pet Care Essentials: Over-the-Counter Medications and Medicated Topicals

Some over-the-counter medications can be safely used for pets, but always consult your veterinarian first (especially if your pet is on other drugs that in theory could interact with these over the counter mediations). Here are a few staples:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl): Antihistamine, useful for allergic reactions. Dosage is 1 mg/lb of body weight by mouth up to 3 times a day.
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec): Similar to Benadryl, is an antihistamine useful for allergic reactions. Dosage is 1 mg/lb given up to twice a day. 
  • Omeprazole (Prilosec): A stomach acid reducer that is safe and can help dogs that have upset stomach or are not eating. 2-4 mg/lb once a day
  • Eye Flush - For those potential scratches and infections that result in eye squinting. A soothing eye flush that is antimicrobial is ideal. I recommend Dr. Cuddles Eye Flush, as it is safe, gentle and antimicrobial. 
  • Ear Cleanser - Ear cleanser (I recommend antimicrobial) that is gentle and non-desiccating (drying)- I recommend Dr. Cuddles Ear Care+ which has hypochlorous acid as the antimicrobial agent. 
  • Wound Treatment: For minor cuts and scrapes, ensure it’s a pet-safe brand without additional pain relievers. Again, I prefer hypochlorous acid based as we use in our Dr. Cuddles Wound Gel, as it is natural, safe and effective. 

Detoxification and Emergency Treatments

One absolute must-have in your pet’s medicine cabinet is something to save your pet when they eat something they shouldn’t. Think grapes, raisins chocolate, human medications, THC, onions etc. I prefer an oral detoxifier like ReadyRESCUE which is an advanced form of activated charcoal that is compact, clean and dense- ideal for administering at home in an emergency. This product is designed to help with pet intoxication by binding with various toxins, which are then expelled through the stool. It’s a critical first aid tool that can buy you crucial time while you seek veterinary assistance.

Alternatively hydrogen peroxide can be used to induce vomiting. I am not a fan of hydrogen peroxide as it cannot be used in cats, can cause burns in the stomach and esophagus of dogs(Niedzwecki, 2017), and is inconsistently effective, as studies show, it only works to bring up half of the toxin 60% of the time (Khan, 2012). Given the risks of using hydrogen peroxide, in addition to the fact that it does not work all that well, I prefer ReadyRESCUE. 

Prescription Medications

If your pet is on prescription medications, always keep a current supply (2 days worth each). This includes anything they take regularly for chronic conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease, or thyroid issues. This is to allow you a cushion should your pet run out or you lose some medications. I recommend having a backup plan for how to obtain more medications when needed. Remember your vet needs to see your pet a minimum of once a year in order to legally prescribe your pet medications.

Pet Care Essentials: Gastrointestinal Support

Pets often get into things that are not necessarily toxic, but maybe don’t agree with them,  resulting in upset stomachs or worse. Diarrhea is not ideal in any household and having some things on hand to help with that always makes sense. Key items include:

  • Probiotics: These can help maintain intestinal health. I recommend Visbiome to help restore normal gut health. 
  • Pumpkin: Plain canned pumpkin (not pie filling) is great for digestive irregularities (ie diarrhea or constipation oddly). The fiber in the pumpkin helps to move things along, or soak up extra fluid to make diarrhea less messy.
  • Antidiarrheal medications: Immodium AD is a reasonable OTC to have on hand for some animals. It is important to know that it cannot be given to cats and Collies (white feet don’t treat) as it can have significant side effects. If used for 1-2 doses for diarrhea it is sage in the dog otherwise. Dosage is 0.5 mg per 10 lbs given up to twice a day.

Pain Relief

Never give human pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin to pets without a veterinarian's direct approval. Ibuprofen is very bad for their kidneys, and aspirin has a low therapeutic index meaning, there is a low margin for safety (and should never be used in cats). Instead, ask your vet about stocking prescription pain medication such as Rimadyl that is safe for your pet in case of acute pain or injury.

First Aid Supplies

In addition to medications, your pet care essentials medicine cabinet should include basic first aid supplies:

  • Telfa Pad, or non adherent dressing/wound pads
  • Cotton roll for covering and protecting wounds (and keeping the non adherent dressing on the wound). 
  • Roll Gauze, to help keep the cotton intact (the linked option is the best on the market and what I use in hospital). 
  • Non-stick, cohesive bandage material (sticks to itself) to use as a breathable protecting layer. 
  • Various medical tape to help maintain a bandage.
  • Digital thermometer: To check your pet’s temperature. Remember, the normal body temperature for dogs and cats ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a digital thermometer rectally, or you can use an ear thermometer or infrared thermometer. If going with the later options (non-butt), I recommend checking your pets temp, when they are not sick, as these non-invasive ways of measuring can be off a couple degrees one way or another- so it is important to know what normal is for your pet with that temperature device.
  • Scissors and tweezers: For cutting bandages or removing splinters. A good pair of bandage scissors are key. Don’t skimp here or you will not be happy with yourself when you need them in a crunch. I like these or these.
  • Nail trimmer: Because why not, and because sometimes, when an animal rips a nail off, clipping the excess off, can help them be more comfortable. 
  • Elizabethan Collar: Now that you are a bandaging expert, it is important to keep your pet from licking or chewing at their wound. We don’t need their help. Although some feel that saliva of the dog is helpful for healing…it isn’t and it is full of bacteria which are not helpful for healing. 

It is important to remember that when bandaging, we walk a fine line between bandages not falling off and bandages cutting off the circulation. Finding the sweet spot takes practice for the best veterinary professional. This means that these home bandages should be temporary and you should make sure that they are not causing sores or swelling that could be significantly worse than what you are trying to protect and clean

Flea, Tick, and Parasite Control

Always have an effective flea and tick prevention method on hand (ideally a monthly). If you are in an endemic area or have a population of resistant fleas or ticks, consider a tick collar or ask your veterinarian to prescribe some capstar for you to have on hand for your pet (Capstar is an oral pill that kills fleas and ticks immediately).  Always use heartworm prevention to guard against heartworms and gastrointestinal parasites. 

Contact Information

Keep a list of important phone numbers: your vet, the nearest emergency vet clinic, and a poison control center that handles pet cases. If you are out of town, always tell the person that is pet sitting your animals what to do in case of emergency. I recommend discussing a maximum amount of money that can be spent if there is a life threatening emergency and you are unable to be contacted. 

Storage and Maintenance

Store all medications and supplies in a cool, dry place out of reach of pets and children- Near your human medicine cabinet would make sense. Regularly check expiration dates and replace any expired medications.

Specific Pre-existing Health Scenarios that Pet Owners Can Prepare For

For pet owners, being prepared for specific health emergencies related to their dog's pre-existing conditions is crucial. Here are 10 health issues and how owners can prepare for emergencies that may arise from these conditions:

Epilepsy/Seizure Disorders

Preparation: Keep rectal diazepam (valium) or other veterinarian-prescribed anticonvulsants on hand to manage seizure episodes- some of these can be administered via rectum if your pet is actually seizing- gross but effective. Know the protocol for administering the medication during a seizure.


Preparation: Have glucose or Karo syrup available to counteract insulin overdose or hypoglycemic events. Regularly monitor blood sugar levels with a home glucose monitoring kit.

Brachycephalic Syndrome (in breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs, Frenchies)**

Preparation: Always have cooling aids such as alcohol pads (to apply on pads of feet), fans, and wet towels ready to prevent and manage overheating. Ensure access to air-conditioned spaces if possible.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Preparation: Maintain a supply of subcutaneous fluids and know how to administer them if your vet has recommended this for your dog’s condition. This can help manage episodes of dehydration

Heart Disease

Preparation: Keep any prescribed heart medications readily available (such as lasix). Know the signs of congestive heart failure, such as coughing and difficulty breathing, and have oxygen available if recommended by your veterinarian.

Allergic Reactions

Preparation: Have antihistamines like Diphenhydramine or Cetirizine (Benadryl or Zyrtec) on hand, as prescribed by your vet, to manage reactions. 

Significant Arthritis

Preparation: Stock pain relief medications and anti-inflammatory drugs as prescribed by your veterinarian to manage sudden flare-ups. Warm compresses and orthopedic bedding can also provide comfort.

Pressure Sores
or significant mobility issues that can result in pressure sores

Preparation: Orthopedic bedding, as well as bandaging material, in addition to antiseptic like Dr. Cuddles wound gel. Consider specific padding and materials that can protect areas that are particularly prone to pressure sores, like elbows, ankles, shoulders, hips and sit bones (Ischia). 

Dogs at risk for Bloat (Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus)
large or giant breed dogs

Preparation: This is a sudden, life-threatening condition, especially in large, deep-chested breeds. Know the symptoms (distended abdomen, distress, non-productive vomiting) and have emergency veterinary contact information readily accessible, as well as a plan for immediate surgery (as this is a surgical emergency).

Asthma, laryngeal paralysis, collapsing trachea

Preparation: If your dog has known respiratory issues, having an inhaler, sedatives, steroids or other medications (recommended by your veterinarian) is crucial. Respiratory emergencies are unforgiving in that only a short period of time of not being able to move air into lungs can be life threatening.

Each of these preparations requires proper training and guidance from your veterinarian to ensure safe and effective management. Always discuss your emergency preparedness plan with your vet and have regular check-ups to adjust as your dog's health condition changes.


A well-stocked medicine cabinet full of pet care essentials is a must for any pet household, acting as your first line of defense in many emergency situations or simply when managing minor health issues at home. Always discuss any new medications or treatments with your veterinarian to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your pet’s specific health needs- especially if your pet is on chronic medication or has chronic health conditions. Remember, timely intervention can make all the difference in the world, when it comes to helping your pet in an emergency. 


Niedzwecki, A. H., Book, B. P., Lewis, K. M., Estep, J. S., & Hagan, J. (2017). Effects of oral 3% hydrogen peroxide used as an emetic on the gastroduodenal mucosa of healthy dogs. Journal of veterinary emergency and critical care, 27(2), 178-184.

Khan, S. A., Mclean, M. K., Slater, M., Hansen, S., & Zawistowski, S. (2012). Effectiveness and adverse effects of the use of apomorphine and 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to induce emesis in dogs. Journal of the American veterinary medical association, 241(9), 1179-1184.
Previous post Next post