Introduction, Importance and Types of Veterinary Services, and Equipment for Pet First Aid Kit
In this module you will learn:
The benefits that owning a pet brings to our lives, and why they deserve the best care
The history and evolution of veterinary care, the role of the vet, and the services they provide
Registering with a vet, and what owners should do when taking their pet to a veterinary clinic
The types of pet insurance available
The importance of first aid for pets, and what a first aid kit should contain
The appropriate use of hot and cold therapies
1.1 Why pets are special, and why they deserve the best care
Owning a pet is a rich, rewarding experience.
In a world that can often be unkind, pets provide unconditional love, affection, friendship, and companionship. Studies have shown that pet owners tend to be happier and healthier than non-owners, demonstrating the positive impact that they have on our lives.
Pets are often considered to be as much a part of the family as the humans around them. Many people believe that family pets help children to learn responsibility, consideration and empathy at an early age. For some people, particularly the elderly, pets provide an essential source of companionship.
Pets also help us make connections. Dog owners will star chatting in the park about their canine charges; keepers of all kinds of pets will make an instant connection at the ve clinic or pet events. Pet ownership breaks down barriers and opens up new opportunities.
Therapeutically, animals have proven to be invaluable. In both care and medical settings, allowing residents and patients to pet and interact with animals has been shown to reduce stress and provide a psychological boost, improving outcomes. However, with the pleasure of ownership comes the responsibility of caring for them properly. Their happiness, health and well-being lies completely in the hands of their humans. They are unable to speak for themselves, so rely on their owners to protect and care for them.
Each type of animal has its own, individual needs, and owners need to research and understand these before deciding to take on the responsibility. Some people compare pet owners to parents who have to advocate on their children’s behalf when accessing medical care.
This training module explains the importance of good veterinary care, the different services available, and what a first aid kit for your pet should include.
1.2 The importance, history and evolution of veterinary services in pet care
Most simply put, a veterinarian is someone qualified and certified to provide medical care for any type of animal from domestic pets, to farm animals, to wild beasts.
Veterinarians – more commonly shortened to vets, provide expert and compassionate care to ensure the wellbeing of animals, and spend many years in training. From their teenage years, they must choose the subjects they need to study to be able to enter a relevant university course. At university, they study for as long as a doctor does, and work just as hard. There is an argument to be made that while doctors have to learn about just one subject – humans – vets must learn about hundreds. Once qualified, vets practice both routine and emergency treatment, providing each as necessary. The provision of reliable veterinary care is a key component of
keeping our pets happy and healthy.
Animals have been an important source of food and other resources for millennia, so it is not surprising that veterinary care has a long and illustrious history.
The first mention of something approaching veterinary treatment occurs in records from Mesopotamia dating back to around 3,000 BC, although it is almost certain that some kind of animal care was taking place prior to that. Despite its long history, it was not until 1761 that the first official vet college was established in Lyons, France, by Claude Bourgelat. In Britain, the veterinary profession began to develop in a more structured way in 1785. The Odiham Agricultural Society had been founded in 1783 for the gentry and educated farmers who were interested in the development of farming practices. In 1785, the welfare of farm animals was added to their interests. In 1791, the London Veterinary College was established.
Initially, modern veterinary care was primarily focused on the care of horses, particularly those used by the military. Over time, the welfare of livestock became more important, then that of domestic pets, and finally exotic animals.
As with humans, prior to World War 1, anaesthetics were unpredictable, antibiotics were unknown, and sterilisation of instruments and operating theatres was unreliable. Surgical knowledge and skills were limited. In fact, many of the veterinary techniques that are considered routine today had not even been invented.
1.3 The role of the veterinarian
Pets are living creatures and are vulnerable to many diseases and conditions that can also be found in humans.
These conditions include arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and epilepsy. Just like humans, it is important that they receive adequate medical care to prevent suffering and enhance their quality of life.
As a doctor does with their patients, so a vet will examine an animal, diagnose its problem, then prescribe a suitable medication, specifying dosage, and the length of time that it should be administered. Emergency care includes surgical interventions and treatment of broken bones and damaged joints. More routinely, neutering and vaccination against
deadly diseases form part of a vet’s daily job.
Veterinary clinics will carry a range of medicines and drugs which they can dispense, usually immediately, for owners to take home and administer, although in the UK you may also be able to buy the same medication at a pharmacy or online if you have a prescription.
When medication is prescribed, it is the responsibility of the owner to ensure that it is administered as per the given instructions. Sometimes pets may have adverse reactions, in the same way that humans can. Pet owners should monitor their pets whenever they give medication and report any issues to their vet immediately.
As with humans, some conditions, such as diabetes and epilepsy, cannot be cured, but they can be managed over the long term. Vets will undertake tests and monitor the animal’s health over a period of time to ensure ongoing quality of life. Tests may include blood samples, or analysis of faeces or urine, which provide important information relating to the health and management of the condition.
While many vets tend to work in general practice, some choose to specialise in certain areas. In serious cases of illness or injury, pets may be referred to a relevant expert for more specialist treatment. In these modern times, animals may be fitted with pacemakers, artificial limbs, or receive chemotherapy or other radical treatments, in the same way that humans do.
A vet’s job also includes routine, preventative care. They administer vaccinations against diseases such as distemper, which are often fatal. If owners wish to take their animals abroad, they will give the rabies vaccine. Vets also provide advice on issues such as diet and weight management, worming and flea treatment, and how to avoid injury when playing with
Overall, the main functions of a veterinary clinic can be summarised as follows:
- Providing general advice and information
- Prescribing suitable medication and treatment
- Emergency surgery
- Dressing wounds
- Setting fractures
- Providing palliative care and euthanasia
Some vets choose to undertake further training to focus on working with particular types of animals, such as:
- Avian (birds)
- Equine (horses
- Exotic companion animals (smaller mammals such as ferrets, mice, rats and other small pets)
- Reptile and amphibian
- Food animals, with perhaps further specialisation into poultry, beef cattle, dairy cattle, or pigs)
- Zoo animals
Other vets choose to focus on particular types of illness or injury, and their treatment. These include:
- Animal psychology and behavioural issues
- Dermatology (skin complaints)
- Cardiology (heart)
- Neurology (nervous system)
- Oncology (cancer)
- Ophthalmology (eyes)
- Orthopaedics (the skeletal system)
- Radiology (x-rays, ultrasounds, MRI, CAT scans etc.)
- Rehabilitation and physical therapy
- Toxicology ( the treatment of animals exposed to poisons or toxic substances)
1.4 How to register your pet with a vet
You should register with a vet as soon as possible after acquiring a pet. This will make it easier to access health care and treatment for your pet when the need arises. If you decide to remain with one clinic, they will maintain records of your pet’s visits, vaccinations, and medical history, and so get to know your animal.
All vets must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), and it is illegal for anyone not registered with them to provide treatment to an animal.
You can confirm that a vet is legally allowed to practice by checking the RCVS website. Many people prefer to ask friends and family for recommendations before registering with a clinic, as they want to ensure that their pet will be comfortable and treated well.
The registration process is simple and straightforward. It usually requires the owner to complete a form with the name, age, species, breed, gender, etc of their pet. The clinic will also need the owner’s contact details, such as name, address and telephone number.
1.5 Making vet visits less stressful for your pet
It is extremely important that owners ensure that their pets receive their vaccinations, and have regular check-ups to ensure that they are healthy.
However, the strangeness of a veterinary clinic can cause your pet to feel stressed and unhappy. The smells, sights, and nervousness of other animals, can lead to your pet exhibiting an anxiety they would not normally. While they may not understand where they are, they are aware that it is unusual.
Over time, they may come to associate the clinic with unpleasant experiences – no-one likes being vaccinated or having their temperature taken, whether human or animal – and so be reluctant to enter the premises.
For cat owners it can be even trickier. Cats are rarely taken anywhere in their travel box that they associate with pleasant times, so they may run away, hide, or even scratch and claw to avoid being put in it.
Depending on the type of pet that you have, the following tips will help to reduce your animal’s stress when visiting the vet’s clinic:
- Try to exercise your pet before going, and encourage them to toilet. The exercise will use up nervous energy, and stressed animals are more likely to urinate or defecate inappropriately.
- Stroke and pat your pet regularly, and speak to it gently and reassuringly. If the your pet is small enough, consider using a carrier to keep it away from other animals in the waiting room, who may be bad tempered or aggressive.
- Take along a favourite toy, or something that has your scent on it, to reassure them that you are there.
- During examination, stay close to your pet, and speak to them calmly and reassuringly. Although vets and nurses are trained to deal with frightened and nervous patients, this will help them as well as your pet.
- If your dog refuses to enter the clinic, walk it around, past the entrance a couple of times, until it is comfortable enough to enter.
When taking your pet to the vet’s, there are a number of things you should do both to assist the vet, and to ensure that your pet gets the right treatment.
- Always ensure that your pet is kept on their lead. Even if your pet is friendly and sociable, the stress of attending the vet’s may cause other animals to be unusually aggressive. Using a lead helps keep your pet safe and under control.
- Owners should be physically present for appointments and procedures, other than operations. This will reassure your pet, and help you to understand what treatment your pet has received. If your pet appears to be seriously ill, it helps if all those who will need to make decisions about treatment going forward attend.
- If your pet can be aggressive, make sure that your vet is aware before they examine the animal. Although vets and their assistants are trained to handle aggressive animals, knowing in advance allows them to make appropriate arrangements. If necessary, take a protective muzzle with you.
- Pet owners should provide as much information as they can relating to the pet’s appetite, thirst, energy level (weakness), and sleeping habits, as well as symptoms such as coughing, vomiting, loose bowel movements, etc. If your pet is experiencing seizures, knowing the dates and times is important. This information will assist the vet in making an accurate diagnosis and prescribing the right treatment.
- While your regular vet clinic should have the records, it is best to inform them about any current medication or treatment your pet is receiving, including the name and dosage.
- To assist the vet and help ensure your pet gets the right treatment, owners should be honest about the circumstances that have led to the visit. If your pet has eaten something it shouldn’t, or you have accidentally injured its tail, for example, try to overcome and shame or embarrassment. The vet will understand that it was unintentional, and you are doing the right thing seeking treatment.
- If the vet uses terminology or jargon the owner doesn’t understand, they should ask for clarification, as misinterpretation can lead to the pet not receiving the right treatment at home. Owners should not be embarrassed to admit that they don’t understand – they are not the expert, and it is the vet’s responsibility to ensure that the owner is clear about their diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Find out what the follow-up will be. If your pet is declared fit and well, ask if there is anything they will want to check at their next annual health check. If your pet is ill and has been prescribed treatment, a vet will often want to see them once the course of medication has been finished, so ask if they want you to make another appointment, and when.
Vet treatment can be costly. It is always wise to ask for an estimate of the cost of treatment, particularly if it is a serious problem, or will require ongoing treatment. Many owners take out insurance when they first acquire their pet to help cover vet bills. This is explained in the next section.
1.6 Pet insurance – how it works
Pet insurance is equivalent to medical insurance for humans. Responsible pet owners want to make sure that they are able to provide their pets with the best possible health care, when they need it. There is no way to predict when an animal may fall ill, injure itself, or be involved in an accident, and vets’ bills can easily run into hundreds – or even thousands – of pounds.
While pet insurance can seem like an additional and unnecessary expense, especially if your pet is young, it should be considered a wise investment, that will ensure that your pet receives quality treatment and care at the best
veterinary clinics, without having to worry about the costs.
There are different types of pet insurance available in the UK: these include:
- Accident only – this is the cheapest option available and, as the name indicates, only covers treatment required as the result of an accident. Some may also cover emergency illnesses, but will cost more.
- Time limited – this covers costs up to a maximum amount per condition, and will pay out only for treatment received during a specified period, usually twelve months. After that, no further treatment for that condition will be covered, and the condition will be excluded from future policies. This is one of the cheaper options.
- Lifetime cover – this covers a specified amount of vets’ fees, which renews each year as long as the owner renews the policy. The cost of the policy is likely to increase each year, as your pet ages and is more likely to require treatment, and will also take into account treatment your pet has received. This is the most expensive insurance.
The cost of insurance will depend on a number of factors:
- The age of the pet, and any pre-existing conditions. The younger the pet when the policy is taken out, the lower the premiums will be, even as the pet ages.
- The type of animal, and whether your pet is a pedigree breed.
- The type and number of health problems that the specific species or breed commonly experiences.
- The maximum amount the policy will pay out.
- The excess the owner is willing to pay.
- What treatments are covered.
In the UK, a standard maximum annual coverage amount is often between £5,000 and £6,000, although it can be higher.
Comprehensive pet insurance policies in the UK can include the following:
- Kennel or cattery fees if the pet has to be hospitalised for more than four days in a row.
- Coverage for holistic, alternative treatments including physiotherapy, acupuncture, etc. if recommended by the vet.
- Coverage for behavioural problems (such as aggression or trauma) when administered by a qualified professional.
- Emergency treatment if travelling abroad with your pet.
- Third party liability, if someone is injured by your pet.
- The cost of cremation.
- The cost of replacing your pet, if it is particularly valuable.
1.7 Being prepared for pet first aid
Every pet owner should be aware of the importance of emergency first aid treatment, should their pets require it.
Just as with humans, first aid refers to the immediate assistance rendered to an animal in the event of an accident, injury or illness, and can make a significant difference to the ultimate outcome. A rapid response can mean the difference between temporary and permanent disability, or even life and
There is no predicting what emergency might arise, but, in the event that it does, owners must be able to react quickly and appropriately to assist their pet. Having the right knowledge, skills, and tools in place will both help to prevent panic and minimise harm, until the animal can receive professional
Although animals are, at first glance, very different from humans, the truth is that how first aid is applied is not very different. Having a suitable first aid kit at home is a precaution that any responsible pet owner should take.
1.8 Pet first aid kit
A pet first aid kit should include the following:
- An appropriate book on first aid. There are a number available, both in bookshops and from online shops such as Amazon. Keep one with the first aid kit.
- A list of emergency telephone numbers. As well as that of your vet, it should also have the number of your closest veterinary clinic (if it is not your regular
- vet), and the number of the Animal Poison Line, preferably in a waterproof cover. The number of the Animal Poison Line is 01202 509 000 (be aware that calls cost from £20). Before calling try to have the following information:
- Pet’s breed, age, weight, gender
- What the drug or toxin was
- What form the exposure took, e.g. eaten, inhaled, on their skin
- The amount of toxin and when it happened
- If this is the first time it has happened, or when it happened before
- Copies of important medical records, such as proof of vaccination, a current photo and any registration documents relating to your pet. Keep this in a
- waterproof pouch.
- A spare lead. In emergencies you may not be thinking clearly, so this will save valuable time trying to locate their usual one.
- Hypoallergenic, disposable gloves, for better protection.
- Clean cloths.
- Cotton buds. These are useful for cleaning around delicate areas, such as eyes, outer ears, and nostrils, or for cleaning wrinkles. They can also be used to gently apply ointments and lotions, and to clean between paw pads.
- A pair of sharp/blunt medical scissors. These have sharp blades but rounded ends for cutting away bandages and dressings without risking cutting the animal’s skin or fur.
- Eye droppers or medicine syringe.
- Safety razor or grooming clippers.
- Stainless steel tweezers, for extracting thorns or splinters from paws or noses, or bones from throats.
- Choose ones with a good grip and fine ends.
- Needle nose pliers.
- Magnifying glass, to make it easier to locate and treat small wounds, or remove thorns and splinters.
- Wooden tongue depressors, to make it easier to remove items lodged in the throat.
- A digital thermometer.
- A small plastic card, for example, an old credit card, for scraping away stingers.
- A small flashlight and spare batteries.
- A whistle.
- Foil blanket. Also known as a space or Mylar blanket, these are made of metalised polyester film, and are used to maintain body warmth. Shock can cause the temperature to drop, as can blood loss. Likewise, if an animal is outside in cold or wet conditions. These can easily be purchased online or from camping stores.
- A muzzle to prevent your pet from licking off medicine or ointment. However, a muzzle should never be used if an animal is coughing, vomiting, or experiencing breathing difficulties.
Bandages and pads:
- Self-adhesive/self-cling bandages. These offer several advantages over normal bandages: they don’t require pinning or tying; won’t slip; don’t stick to the fur; and provide support without becoming too restrictive.
- Sterile, wrapped gauze pads in a range of sizes (they are generally available in 2”x2”, 3”x3”, and 4”x4”). These have a range of uses: to absorb blood and fluids; to apply antiseptics; and to protect the wound from germs and infection. A 2” wide gauze roll is also useful.
- Sterile, wrapped, non-adherent pads. Gauze can stick to open wounds, while these do not. They can be used in the same way, and allow air to circulate and the wound to breathe.
- Elasticated bandages, such as Tensor. These provide support to strained or sprained limbs and joints, and are secured with small, toothed clips, which you should also ensure you have available. Two five yard rolls of 2” wide bandage is recommended.
- Sterile abdominal pads. These are larger, highly absorbent pads which absorb fluids into a cellulose centre, wicking them away to prevent pooling. These are ideal for larger wounds.
- Triangular bandage, with hemmed edges, also known as cravats. These are useful for holding absorbent pads in place on larger wounds, or where it needs to reach a long way, for example, around the neck or trunk of the animal. They can also be used to treat head wounds.
- Assorted bandages, in a range of sizes. Boxes containing multiple sizes can be purchased.
- Medical, adhesive, hypoallergenic tape. This can be useful for holding gauze bandage or splints in place.
Cleansing and lubrication:
- Alcohol-free antiseptic wipes, lotion, spray or powder. Benzalkonium chloride wipes are particularly useful, and you should consider keeping a good quantity in your first aid kit. They can also be used to sterilise yourhands.
- Antibiotic ointment.
- Saline solution, which is useful for rinsing and soothing irritated nasal passages (particularly in case of allergies), or washing eyes.
- Hydrocortisone cream. This reduces itchiness and irritation. It can also be used for allergies or infection. However, it should be used sparingly, and you must ensure that your pet does not try to lick it off. It is best to seek veterinary advice before using it, and any ongoing issue should be investigated to diagnose the underlying problem.
- A water based, sterile lubricant, which can be used to moisten skin.
- Petroleum jelly.
- Instant, self-activating hot and cold packs. Their usage is covered in detail later.
- For dogs, buffered aspirin. This helps treat inflammation, pain and lameness, and promotes mobility. It is recommended for relieving arthritic pain, surgical discomfort, or joint disease. However, it is always best to consult your vet before administering it, and it should never be used with cats.
- Insect sting relief pads.
- Styptic powder can stem bleeding from paws or nails. However, it can sting, so it is best to hold your pet, or ask someone else to, while you apply it, and consider taking precautions such as using a muzzle, or holding a cat’s paws, to prevent them causing injury should they react badly to the sensation.
- Epsom salts diluted in water can be used to relieve dry or irritated feet, or soften splinters to make them easier to remove.
- A bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. This can be used to induce vomiting in case of ingestion of poison, but should be used with care and great caution. It should not be used to clean wounds.
1.9 Hot and cold treatment packs for your pet
Hot and cold packs are particularly useful for pets who are recovering from injury or surgery, are going through rehabilitation treatment, or who have ongoing conditions.
They are a simple, effective treatment that owners can administer at home to ease their pet’s discomfort, and aid recovery.
As with any treatment, is always best to seek expert advice before administering treatment, to ensure that you are applying it correctly.
Heat therapy and heat packs
Heat therapy can help reduce muscle and joint pain, and spasm; improve nerve conduction (i.e. treat numbness), and improve the elasticity of fibrous tissue, to increase mobility. It can also help to improve blood flow, and lower blood pressure. If your dog is undergoing physiotherapy or other physical rehabilitation, applying heat packs beforehand can help your pet relax.
When applying heat, care should be taken that it is not too hot. The pack should be wrapped in a towel or cloth rather than applied directly to the skin or fur.
In addition to shop-bought heat packs, homemade ones can be made through heating a wet towel in a microwave, or dipping one in warm water. Ideally, the heat pad should be applied for 10-15 minutes.
Ice therapy and cold packs
Cold pack therapy (also known as cryotherapy), is known to reduce inflammation, swelling and spasm, which reduces pain. Applying cold causes the blood flow to the area to decrease, restricting the amount of fluid that can collect in the area and cause discomfort.
It is recommended by vets for certain soft tissue injuries, and conditions such as osteoarthritis.
However, in some cases, cold can hinder the healing process, so veterinary advice should be sought before commencing treatment.
As well as commercially-available ice packs, another option is to combine one part rubbing alcohol with two parts, before freezing. More traditional options, such as packs of frozen peas or vegetables can be used for ice therapy can be utilised, but these thaw much more quickly and are less likely
to penetrate into the deeper soft tissues.
Some freezer packs may not be suitable as they do not fit the contours of the animal’s body, and so do not effectively treat the problem. Others can contain chemicals which could prove harmful should they be ingested or come into direct contact with the skin. For this reason, homemade ice packs can be safer.
The pack should always be wrapped in a cloth to prevent it touching the skin directly. Direct contact with the skin can cause ice burn, and owners should ensure that they check for signs of irritation every five minutes during ice treatment.
If it is being applied to a wound or an area that has been stitched, applying sterile pad or an antiseptic ointment helps to prevent infection that may be triggered by moisture from the pack.
For best effect, the pack should be applied to the entire area of inflammation
For knee problems, it should be applied to the front, back, and sides of the joint. Normally, ice packs should be used for no more than twenty minutes, but if the animal has a particularly thick coat, it will take longer for the cold to penetrate.