I encourage all pet owners to be prepared when it comes to responding to emergencies. Most of the time our pets are healthy and happy, but when disaster strikes, it is necessary to know the basics. With a little preparation and know-how your actions can mean the difference between life and death for your cat or dog. Common emergencies encountered at home include fever, trauma (such as hit-by-a-car), and toxin exposure (such as chocolate or poisonous plant ingestion).
Check out the Situation
When an emergency arises or if you think that your pet might be ill, it is essential to take a deep breath and proceed calmly. The more calm you are, the better you will be able to think. Also, remember to be safe. In any situation, especially one outdoors, be sure to move yourself and your pet to a safe location before assessing and calling the vet. If your pet is hit by a car, move him or her to a safe distance from the road and take care to not get bitten, using a t-shirt or towel as a ‘stretcher.’
It is important to also figure out what is going on. Key things to note: What happened? Is your pet suddenly weak or has been feeling ‘off’ for a few days? Any vomiting, diarrhea? Coughing? Toxin exposure? This information, called a ‘history’ is very important to the veterinarian who will treat your pet.
They say that when you learn to read you must start with the ABCs. Emergency First Aid training starts the same way. In this case, the ABCs stand for Airway, Breathing and Circulation.
Look inside of the mouth, especially if your pet is drooling heavily or is coughing. Is the airway open or obstructed? Sometimes chews such as rawhides can get lodged in the back of the throat, causing a choke. Many owners are able to remove the piece of rawhide at home before seeking medical assistance. Always take care to not get bitten! If you suspect a choke, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Take a deep breath and take a look: Is your pet breathing? How fast or how slowly?
Does the breathing seem normal or labored?
Some helpful data to commit to memory:
- Normal Respiration (breathing) rate
- 10-30 breaths per minute is average ‘normal’ for dogs and cats
- Panting = up to 200 breaths per minute
- Panting can be a sign of pain or respiratory distress
- Panting is never normal in cats!
Is there a pulse or heartbeat present? The easiest way to check your pet’s heart rate is when they are lying on their right side. Feel along the ribcage a couple of inches behind the elbow. This is where the heart is closest to the chest wall and if you press down gently with your fingers between the ribs, you can feel a heartbeat. If you are having trouble locating it on your pet, have your veterinarian show you where to check at your next visit. It is important to note how fast the heart is beating per minute and ask, is the heart rate normal?
- Normal heart rates
- Puppy under 1 year of age: 120-160 beats per minute
- Adult under 30 pounds: 100-140 beats per minute
- Greater than 30 pounds: 60-120 beats per minute
- 140-220 beats per minute
Other good information to have before contacting your veterinarian includes your pet’s rectal temperature. Pets with a fever or hyperthermia may be extremely lethargic. Fevers are natural processes but can be dangerous if they get too high or remain for too long. A rectal temperature is necessary on all pets, even though they won’t like it! Always take care when getting a rectal temperature and employ the help of someone else to prevent bites or scratches. The normal temperature range for dogs and cats is 100-102.5 F (37.7-39.1 C). If your pet’s temperature is below 99 F (37.2 C) or above 104 F (40 C), this is an emergency, please take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Once you have quickly checked your pet’s ABCs, call the veterinarian. It is best to have someone help you during times of crisis, so phone a friend or enlist a family member to help. Having basic knowledge will help you determine what is normal and abnormal and when to act. Your pet’s health depends on it and a little bit of know-how can go a long way and can potentially save a life.