This ebook on first aid was uploaded to the Facebook group (see the Files tab). It seems to have been taken from a Canadian site called www.northvet.com. It’s well worth reading when you have a spare moment. (Apologies for the formatting – see the same document in the Facebook group’s Files tab for a pristine version.)
FIRST AID AND EMERGENCY CARE
For Dogs and Cats
Table of Contents
What is First Aid? ……………………………………………….. 6
Bandaging ………………………………………………………….. 10
Bee Stings / Insect Bites…………………………………. 12
Bleeding ……………………………………………………………… 13
Bloat ……………………………………………………………………. 15
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) ………….. 17
Chemical Injuries ……………………………………………… 20
Diarrhoea and Vomiting…………………………………….. 22
Difficult Birth……………………………………………………… 23
Electrocution ……………………………………………………… 24
Eye Injuries ……………………………………………………….. 25
Fainting/Dizziness (Syncope) …………………………. 26
First Aid for Choking ………………………………………… 27
First Aid for Poisoning………………………………………. 28
Fractures / Injuries…………………………………………… 29
How to Move the Injured Pet………………………….. 30
Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke, Heat Prostration)32
Impalement Injuries ………………………………………… 33
Near Drowing…………………………………………………….. 34
Poisoning ……………………………………………………………. 42
Preventing a Health and Safety Crisis ………….. 43
Shock ………………………………………………………………….. 47
Straining …………………………………………………………….. 51
Sunburn ……………………………………………………………… 52
When Your Pet Cannot Breathe……………………… 53
Wounds ………………………………………………………………. 53
Preparing for a medical emergency involving your pet is always best accomplished before
the event takes place. This book is designed to help guide you through the important
decisions about first aid, as well as how and when to transport your pet quickly and safely
to a veterinary hospital or emergency facility.
Keep this book in your home or car as a quick reference during an emergency.
This book is an emergency preparedness ready-reference for dogs and cats. Wise
preventive measures, intelligent use of first aid principles, coupled with recognition of
abnormal symptoms and treatment of disorders, diseases, and problems, lead to effective
A working knowledge of this information will help you eliminate some potentially
dangerous circumstances and help you prepare for emergency situations.
It includes information on what to do and what not to do in specific emergency situations.
The authors encourage careful reading and occasional rereading. We have tried to make
this book easy to understand, avoiding technical terms as often as possible, but defining
them in context when they are necessary.
What is First Aid?
First aid is the immediate care given to a pet who has been injured or is suddenly taken ill.
The immediate care includes:
Primary Survey and Resuscitation
The primary survey is the first impression the first aid provider has of the situation, and
the immediate action that is taken. A well-informed owner will be able to make a quick
assessment of the scene and a quick examination of the victim. Immediate attention is
given to the animal’s level of consciousness, airway patency, breathing, and circulatory
functions (including pulse). Resuscitation is the prompt treatment of life-threatening
Secondary Survey and Definitive First Aid
The secondary survey consists of an examination and assessment of the animals eyes,
ears, nose, neck, chest, abdomen, back, extremities, and rectal temperature and the
procedures to stabilise and protect the animal from further harm.
Many emergencies will require professional help. Knowledge of the proper way to transport the pet to a veterinary medical facility for professional care can prevent further injury, protect the owner from dangerous situations, and allow for timely care.
First Aid Kit
Emergency supplies are a necessity. The following list will help you assemble the
resources you need.
· 1″ and 2″ adhesive tape
· 2″ roll gauze (for muzzle)
· rectal thermometer
· chlorhexidine or povidone iodine (antiseptic)
· Elizabethan collar
· eye wash (saline in a squirt bottle)
· isopropyl alcohol 3% hydrogen peroxide (or syrup of ipecac)
· 2″ and 4″ gauze
· 3″ x 3″ or 4″ x 4″ gauze pads
· scissors – cotton balls and pledgets
· blanket with heat pack
· flat transport surface
· plastic food wrap (e.g., Saran- Wrap)
· petroleum or K-Y jelly
· ice pack
· activated charcoal
· bulb syringe
A complete first aid kit for your pet is a must.
Preparedness Phone Numbers
In a convenient location, make a list of important phone numbers that includes the phone
numbers of the following:
· Your veterinarian
· Your veterinarian’s emergency (after-hours) number
· Your nearest 24-hour veterinary emergency facility
· Your local poison control centre
· National poison control centres
Emergency numbers should be kept near your phone for easy access. Update numbers as
General Directions for First Aid
A wide variety of problems arise that require first aid skills. Decisions and actions vary
according to the circumstances, including:
· Scene of the accident
· Emergency equipment available
· Species, size, age, temperament, and condition of the animal requiring first aid
· Your emotional condition
· Other emotionally stable people available to help you.
First aid begins with a quick but careful survey of the scene. Then quick decisions need to be made, depending on the circumstances.
· Make sure the accident scene is safe before proceeding. Take steps to prevent
further injury to you or your pet.
· Enlist the help of others.
· Call, or have someone call, your veterinarian or the emergency veterinary center.
(Keep those phone numbers handy at all times!) Describe the animal, give a short
description of what happened and what has been done. Give your name and
telephone number. Don’t hang up until the professionals have told you what to do.
· Administer essential first aid. Carefully transport the animal to the veterinary
facility for examination if there is any question as to the seriousness of the injury or
sudden illness. It is highly recommended to telephone first in all but the most life-threatening situations.
When attending a dog that has been injured, it is important that the first aid provider
takes steps to prevent bite wounds inflicted by the animal being treated. Many dogs, even
the family pet, may bite when hurt or frightened. A muzzle is an excellent way to prevent
being bitten while rendering first aid. Commercial muzzles are best, as many of them can
be used without interfering with breathing; the problem is they are not always available
during a crisis.
If a muzzle is not available, the first aid provider must improvise. To make a muzzle, get a
rope, cord or other similar strong material (such as a necktie or a belt). Wrap the cord or
rope two or three times around the muzzle, being careful not to wrap the material too
close to the soft, fleshy part of the nose. The muzzle must be applied to the bony part of
the nose to avoid interfering with breathing. Bring the ends up past the ears and tie the
securely behind the head.
These muzzles cannot be used on dogs who are having difficulty breathing, are
unconscious, or have an injury to the mouth. They’re also not indicated for short nose
breeds (e.g., Chinese Pug, Pekingese, Bulldog).
Some injured dogs may vomit. If the dog appears to become nauseated or begins to retch,
the muzzle should be removed at once.
Primary Survey and Resuscitation
The primary survey is often referred to as the ABC’s of first aid, indicating the following
areas of emphasis:
· “B”reathing & “B”leeding
· “C”ardiovascular (which includes heart function, pulse, and capillary refill time)
In most cases, the pet owner will administer a minimal amount of first aid and then
transport the animal to a veterinary facility. Occasionally it is necessary to continue the
care with some additional procedures, particularly if veterinary help will not be available
for some period of time. Please read the following sections carefully.
“A”irway, “B”reathing, and “C”ardiovascular are covered in the sections on CPR and
The sections on bleeding and bandaging will cover information on controlling bleeding.
First aid for fractures is covered in the section on splints. First aid treatment for poisoning
and choking cases is described in poisoning and choking.
In order to administer first aid to an animal, it may be necessary to remove him (and
yourself) from a road or a highway. Remove your pet from the highway only after making
sure it is safe to retrieve him. Direct traffic if necessary. If the pet appears likely to bite
because of pain or excitement, cover the pet (including the head) with a blanket and/or
muzzle the pet before handling. If there is any evidence of head, neck, or spinal injury
(such as inability to move the rear legs), you should move the animal onto a flat surface
for transport rather than picking him up.
Make sure to secure an accident scene before attempting a rescue.
A localized accumulation of pus, usually caused by an infection introduced from an animal
bite or other penetrating wound. It may appear as a painful swelling or, if it has ruptured,
as a draining wound.
What to Do
· If it has ruptured, clean the wound with soap (not detergent) and water. Rinse well
and pat dry. Repeat several times a day.
· If there is swelling, apply warm, moist compresses for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat 3
or 4 times daily.
· Abscesses should be examined by a veterinarian within 24 hours.
What NOT to Do
· Do not attempt to open the abscess yourself.
· Do not apply medicines, potions, or home remedies unless directed to by a
Abscesses are a frequent problem in cats, especially unneutered males who get into
territorial or breeding disputes.
During these disputes, the pet may receive a bite or a scratch. If the wound becomes
infected, an abscess may form within a day or two. Neutering your male cat will reduce his
“need” to fight. Without the influence of male hormones he will mark out a much smaller
territory and will be less likely to engage in fights over a female.
We use bandages for several reasons: to protect wounds from the environment, protect
the environment from wounds, and to discourage the pet from licking or irritating a
wound. They may be applied as support for strains or sprains and to prevent motion.
Proper application is important.
Cleaning the Wound
The process of bandaging begins with careful cleaning of the wound. All dried blood, dirt,
and debris should be washed away using mild soap and copious amounts of water. Hair
should be clipped away so that it cannot lie in the wound, and, if possible, the area should
be patted dry.
The first step in proper bandaging is making sure the wound is clean.
The Contact Layer
After cleaning the wound, the contact layer is the first layer applied. Ideally, this layer
· Be sterile and inert.
· Stay in close contact with, but not stick to, the wound.
· Be very absorbent.
· Be free of particles or fibers that might shed into the wound.
· Conform to all shapes. Allow drainage to pass to the next layer without becoming
· Minimize pain.
A Telfa-Pad, available at most pharmacies, comes closest to meeting these requirements.
After cleaning the wound, place the contact layer over the wound. It is desirable to apply
an antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin) to the pad, but this is not absolutely necessary.
Frequent bandage changes are more important.
After cleaning the wound, a clean Telfa-Pad should be applied over the area.
The Absorbent Layer
After the contact layer is in place, apply the second (absorbent) layer to hold the contact
layer snugly, but not tightly, over the wound. This layer is usually a cotton or dacron
material which comes in various widths. Generally, 1-inch rolls are used for small limbs
and the tail, 2-inch rolls are for medium-sized legs, and the 3- and 4-inch rolls are for
large legs and the body. It is important to use the proper size. Materials that are too
narrow often cause a tourniquet effect, especially if the wound causes swelling.
If materials are too wide, they are difficult to apply smoothly. Any wrinkles or ridges may
cause the bandage to become uncomfortable for your pet. Uneven pressure may cause
necrosis (tissue death) of the underlying tissues.
Begin with just enough absorbent layer to hold the contact layer in place. If the wound is
on a leg or the tail, proceed by wrapping from the toes or the tip of the tail towards the
body. If you begin at the top of the leg or the tail, the bandage is more likely to restrict
blood flow and cause swelling, which may cause tissue damage. Apply several layers of
absorbent material, which will soak up the fluid from the wound and increase the patient’s comfort by cushioning the wound.
Make sure the material you use as the absorbent layer is the proper width, and wrap from
the toes or tail tip towards the body.
The Outer Layer
Finally, apply the outer (tertiary) layer, usually made up of porous adhesive tape or elastic
tape (i.e., Elastikon, Vetrap). Wrapped from the toes towards the body, this layer should
also be smooth and snug. Do not pull elastic tapes to their limits, as this will interfere with
circulation and result in bandage failure. The tape should be in contact with the skin (hair)
at the bandage margins, anchoring the bandage so it will not slip.
The outer layer of a bandage should be applied smoothly and snugly, but not tight enough
to cutoff blood circulation.
Bandages should be checked frequently for any signs of swelling discoloration or coolness
of the skin, odor, or saturation of the bandage material. The bandage should be changed
whenever any of the above are noticed or any time it appears to be uncomfortable for the
pet. Wounds that are draining heavily may require bandage changes every 1 or 2 hours.
Bandages over wounds with little or no drainage should be changed every 24 hours.
Bee Stings / Insect Bites
Any insect or spider can cause problems if they bite or sting your pet. A bite or sting
causes swelling, redness, and itching. Certain stings can cause your pet to “faint” (see
section on fainting) or cause an alarming swelling in the face.
What to Do:
· If the stinger can be found, pull it out with tweezers by grasping the stinger itself,
located below the venom sac. If the sting just happened, don’t put pressure on the
venom sac, as that would “inject” more of the venom into the pet.
· Apply cool compresses to the area.
· To help neutralize some of the acidic venom, apply a paste mixture of baking soda
and water to the sting area.
What NOT to Do:
· Do not administer any medications without first contacting your veterinarian. Bear
in mind the veterinarian will likely need to examine your pet before recommending
Pets often suffer blood loss as a result of trauma. If bleeding is severe or continuous, the
animal may lose enough blood to cause shock (loss of as little as 2 teaspoons per pound of
body weight may cause shock). Emergencies may arise that require the owner to control
the bleeding, even if it is just during transport of the animal to the veterinary facility. Pet
owners should know how to stop haemorrhage (bleeding) if their pet is injured.
Techniques to Stop External Bleeding
The following techniques are listed in order of preference.
Gently press a compress (a pad of clean cloth or gauze) over the bleeding absorbing the
blood and allowing it to clot. Do not disturb blood clots after they have formed. If blood
soaks through, do not remove the pad; simply add additional layers of cloth and continue
the direct pressure more evenly. The compress can be bound in place using bandage
material which frees the hands of the first provider for other emergency actions. In the
absence of a compress, a bare hand or finger can be used.
Direct pressure on a wound is the most preferable way to stop bleeding.
If there is a severely bleeding wound on the foot or leg, gently elevate the leg so that the
wound is above the level of the heart.
Elevation uses the force of gravity to help reduce blood pressure in the injured area,
slowing the bleeding. Elevation is most effective in larger animals with longer limbs where
greater distances from wound to heart are possible. Direct pressure with compresses
should also be maintained to maximise the use of elevation.
Elevation of a limb combined with direct pressure is an effective way to stop bleeding.
Pressure on the Supplying Artery
If external bleeding continues following the use of direct pressure and elevation, finger or
thumb pressure over the main artery to the wound is needed. Apply pressure to the
femoral artery in the groin for severe bleeding of a rear leg; to the brachial artery in the
inside part of the upper front leg for bleeding of a front leg; or to the caudal artery at the
base of the tail if the wound is on the tail. Continue application of direct pressure.
Pressure Above and Below the Bleeding Wound This can also be used in conjunction
with direct pressure. Pressure above the wound will help control arterial bleeding. Pressure below the wound will help control bleeding from veins.
Use of a tourniquet is dangerous and it should be used only for a severe, life-threatening
hemorrhage in a limb (leg or tail) not expected to be saved. A wide (2-inch or more) piece
of cloth should be used to wrap around the limb twice and tied into a knot. A short stick or
similar object is then tied into the knot as well. Twist the stick to tighten the tourniquet
until the bleeding stops. Secure the stick in place with another piece of cloth and make a
written note of the time it was applied. Loosen the tourniquet for 15 to 20 seconds every
20 minutes. Remember this is dangerous and will likely result in disability or amputation.
Use of a tourniquet should only be employed as a last-resort, life-saving measure!
Internal bleeding is a life-threatening condition, but it is not obvious like external bleeding.
Any bleeding which is visible is external. Internal bleeding occurs inside the body and will
not be seen. There are, however, external signs of internal bleeding:
· The pet is pale (check the gums or eyelids).
· The pet is cool on the legs, ears, or tail.
· The pet is extremely excited or unusually subdued.
If any of these signs are evident, the pet should be immediately transported to a
veterinary facility for professional help. Remember: internal bleeding is not visible on the
A life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills with air (dilatation) and, or twists
upon itself (volvulus).
What to Do
· Transport to a veterinary hospital or emergency facility immediately. This condition
requires professional assistance in all cases.
What NOT to Do
· Do not attempt to relieve the gas from the stomach.
· Do not give anything by mouth.
It is imperative that this condition be recognized early. Your pet may not have a bloated
appearance. Signs of bloat include:
· drooling of saliva
· frequent retching and attempts to vomit (occasionally victims may be able to
regurgitate a pool of foamy saliva)
· anxiousness, restlessness, and pacing
· depression and shock
Much has been learned about bloat in the past decade. Only a few years ago, a diagnosis
of bloat was almost always a death sentence, as only 25% survived. Today the survival
rate is better than 80%. Part of the reason for this is increased owner awareness. The
earlier the veterinarian gets started with treatment, the better chance there is for survival.
Extremely aggressive medical and surgical intervention early in the course of the disease
has the most dramatic impact on overall treatment success.
Any injury of tissue caused by heat, flame, chemicals, or electricity.
What to Do
· Extinguish all flames.
· For thermal or electrical burns, immediately apply cold water compresses to the
site of the injury, changing them frequently as necessary to keep the site cool and
wet. Continue this for at least 30 minutes.
· For chemical burns, see the chemical injuries section.
· Transport your pet to a veterinary facility as soon as possible.
What NOT to Do
· Do not apply ointments.
· Do not delay seeking veterinary attention.
· Do not attempt to remove burned hair or skin yourself.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is the treatment required to save an animal (or
human) life when he or she has suffered respiratory and/or cardiac arrest. CPR consists of
Rescue breathing and chest compressions
These two techniques combine to keep the lungs supplied with oxygen and keep blood
circulating, carrying oxygen to the other parts of the body.
Basic CPR is CPR performed by trained bystanders at the scene of the arrest.
Advanced CPR is CPR performed by trained teams of professionals.
Basic CPR is the most important, and will be described in this section.
All tissues require a steady source of oxygen. If the source is interrupted for only a few
minutes, irreversible damage may be done. If an arrest occurs, basic CPR must be
initiated at the scene.
Basic CPR: Rescue Breathing
Make Certain the Animal is Actually Arrested and Unconscious
Talk to the animal first. Gently touch and attempt to awaken the pet. You could be
seriously injured should you attempt to perform CPR on a pet who was only sleeping
heavily and was startled awake.
Ensure an Open Airway
Extend the head and neck and pull the tongue forward.
Look in the mouth and remove any saliva or vomitus. If it is too dark to see into the
mouth, sweep your finger deep into the mouth and even into the throat to remove any
vomitus or foreign body. Be aware of a hard, smooth, bone-like structure deep in the
throat. This is likely to be the hyoid apparatus (Adam’s apple). Serious injury could result
if you pull on the hyoid apparatus.
Observe for Effective Breathing
Sometimes an animal will begin to breathe spontaneously when the head is put in the
position discussed above (head and neck extended, tongue pulled forward). Watch for the
rise and fall of the chest while listening closely for sounds of breathing. If no breathing is
evident in 10 seconds, begin rescue breathing.
Begin Rescue Breathing
Rescue breathing is performed by covering the animal’s nose with your mouth and
forcefully blowing your breath into his lungs. In cats and small dogs, you must hold the
corners of the mouth tightly closed while you force the air in.
In larger dogs, the tongue should be pulled forward and the mouth and lips held shut
using both hands cupped around the muzzle. Force the air into the lungs until you see the
chest expand. Take your mouth away when the chest has fully expended. The lungs will
deflate on their own. Air should be forced into the animal’s lungs until you see the chest
Give 3 to 5 Full Breaths
After several breaths are given, stop for a few seconds to recheck for breathing and heart
function. If the pet is still not breathing, continue rescue breathing 20-25 times per minute in cats or small dogs, or 12-20 times per minute in medium or large dogs. Push down on the stomach area every few seconds to help expel the air that may have blown into the stomach. If the stomach is allowed to distend with air, the pressure will make the rescue breathing efforts less effective.
If Breathing is Shallow or Non-existent
and the animal is still unconscious, continue rescue breathing 10 to 15 times per minute
and transport the animal to the nearest veterinary facility.
Basic CPR: Chest Compressions
After Giving 3 to 5 Breaths, Check for a Pulse
If no pulse is detectable, begin chest compressions.
In Small Dogs or Cats
Squeeze the chest using one or both hands around the chest. Depress the rib cage
circumferentially. Do this 100 to 150 times per minute.
In Large Dogs
Compress the chest wall with one or two hands, depending on the size of the dog (and the
size of the rescuer). If the dog is on her side, place the hand(s) on the side of the chest
wall where it is widest. If the dog is on her back, place the hand(s) on the sternum
(breastbone). Depress the rib cage or sternum 1.5 to 4 inches, depending on the dog’s
size. Do this 80 to 120 times per minute.
Coordinate Rescue Breathing and Chest Compressions
Give breaths during the compressions, if possible. If it is not possible to give breaths
during the compressions, give two breaths after every 12 compressions.
When Two or More Rescuers are Working Together
Rescue breathing should be given during every second or third heart compression.
Continue CPR until
· You become exhausted and can’t continue.
· You get the animal transported to a veterinary facility and professionals can take
over. The pulse is palpable or heartbeats are felt and they are strong and regular.
In the vast majority of cases, artificial ventilations will continue to be required for a
period of time, even though heart function has returned. This is due to nervous
system depression secondary to the arrest.
All resuscitated animals should be transported to a veterinary facility for further
examination and care!
The secondary survey is performed once resuscitation measures have been successfully
performed or when it is decided that resuscitation measures are not required. In some
circumstances (because of ongoing resuscitation), the secondary survey is never
completed and the animal is transported directly to the veterinarian or emergency hospital during resuscitation.
A general examination (from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail) should be
performed. Determine and record:
· pulse rate and character
· respiratory rate and character
· mucous membrane color
· capillary refill time
· rectal temperature.
Examine the eyes, ears, nose, neck, mouth (if possible), chest, abdomen, back, pelvis,
legs, and tail. First aid treatment should be performed as necessary during transport to
Taking and recording your pet’s pulse is an important part of the secondary survey.
Injury to tissue caused by contact with harmful chemicals such as lye, acids, and strong
What to Do
· Wash the contaminated area with large volumes of flowing water for at least 15
· In the case of dry chemicals, brush them away carefully, taking special care to
protect your and your pet’s eyes, nose, and mouth.
· If the chemical is in the eye, flush the eye with large volumes of water or saline for
15 minutes. See below for saline recipe)
· Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
What NOT to Do
· Do not apply “neutralizing agents” to the skin or eyes. They can cause a chemical
reaction that produces heat and cause further injury to tissues.
· Do not immerse your pet in “non-flowing” water if a dry chemical has spilled on
him. These dry chemicals are usually activated by water. The water must be
flowing in order to rinse the chemical away.
Pure water can be quite irritating to the eyes and raw skin. It is much more comfortable
for your pet if you use saline: simply dissolve 2 teaspoons of table salt in one quart of
water (metric: 9 grams of salt in 1 liter of water).
Excess loss of water from the body or inappropriate intake of water into the body.
What to Do
· If moderate or severe, seek veterinary attention.
· If mild, give frequent, small amounts of water by mouth.
· Move the pet to a cool (not cold) environment to help reduce panting.
What NOT to Do
· Do not allow the pet to have immediate free access to water or other liquid.
· Do not feed him any dry food.
Dehydration often accompanies vomiting, diarrhoea, hypothermia, fever, no access to
water, and other conditions. It can be detected by several tests:
Mouth: Are the tongue and gums moist or dry? If they are dry, the pet may be
dehydrated. Is the saliva thick or ropy? Normally, saliva is quite watery and hardly
Eyes: Are they normal, or do they sink into the sockets? Sunken or dry eyes may indicate
dehydration, and warrant veterinary attention.
Skin: Do the skin turgor test outlined in the Physical Exam Checklist. If the skin is slow to
return to position, the animal is at least 5% dehydrated. If the skin does not return fully to
its position, the animal is 10% to 12% dehydrated and is likely in critical condition.
Diarrhoea and Vomiting
Diarrhoea is the frequent evacuation of watery stools. Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of
stomach contents through the mouth.
What to Do
· Remove all food and water.
· Check for signs of dehydration.
· If the diarrhoea and/or vomiting continues or the pet acts ill, seek veterinary
attention. Diarrhea and vomiting can quickly lead to serious fluid loss and
electrolyte imbalance, especially in the very young and the very old.
· If no vomiting occurs for 6 to 8 hours, begin to give small amounts of clear liquids
(water, Gatorade, Pedialyte, or other electrolyte solution) frequently. A rule of
thumb is to give 1 teaspoon per pound of body weight every 2 or 3 hours
throughout the day and night.
· Isolate the sick pet from other pets.
What NOT to Do
· Do not medicate your pet without talking to your veterinarian.
· Do not allow the pet to eat or drink anything until there has been no vomiting for 6
to 8 hours.
Vomiting and diarrhoea are associated with a host of problems which are referred to
collectively as gastroenteritis. Some cases are quite severe (e.g., poisoning), and some
are not (e.g., dietary indiscretion). If fever is present, infection may be a cause. Most
infections which cause diarrhea and vomiting are contagious, so it is wise to assume that
other pets might be vulnerable if they are exposed.
If your pet is not feeling well and has vomiting and/or diarrhea, he should see a
At the beginning of labour, the contractions may be infrequent, weak, or incomplete. The
female may continue for up to 3 hours before a veterinary examination is necessary. If the
contractions are frequent, regular, and strong, and no young is produced in 15 to 30
minutes, the pet should be taken to a veterinarian.
What to Do
· If a baby is visible in the birth canal and appears stuck, gently grasp the foot or
feet. With a steady motion gently pull on the baby only when the female is
contracting. If the baby does not come out easily, transport the pet to a
· When the baby is born, it will likely be covered in a membrane. If the mother
doesn’t remove it, tear this membrane and remove it from the head region of the
· If the mother doesn’t remove the umbilical cord (or is being rough with it), tie it
with a piece of string one fourth of an inch from the baby’s abdomen. Then cut the
cord one half of an inch from the abdomen with a sharp scissor. Apply iodine to the
· Keep the babies warm. It is best to leave them with their mother, but sometimes
she doesn’t stay with them. In this instance, put a milk bottle filled with warm
water near the babies. A hot water bottle works, as does a heating pad (set on low
only!) Allow room for the babies to move toward or away from the heat source.
What NOT to Do
· Do not put your fingers in the birth canal as you may cause infection.
· Do not forcibly attempt to remove a baby.
· Do not assist delivery by pulling on the head of a baby.
· Do not lift the baby by the umbilical cord.
· Do not use a heating pad on a high or medium setting.
· Most kitten and puppy births go smoothly, with the mother doing all the work. The
babies contentedly nurse on the mother soon after birth.
In order to avoid injury to yourself, it is imperative that you do not touch the pet until the
electrical source has been turned off or moved.
What to Do
· Unplug the electrical cord or shut off the electricity.
· If this is not possible, use a dry wooden broom or other non-conductive object to
move the pet away from the source of the electricity.
· Check for breathing and pulse. Begin CPR if necessary.
· If the pet is breathing, check its mouth for burns. Apply cool compresses to burns.
· Cover the pet with a blanket to prevent heat loss.
· Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
What NOT to Do
· Do not fail to get the pet examined even though she seems perfectly normal after
being separated from the source of electricity.
· Do not give any medications or liquids unless instructed to by a veterinarian.
Any animal that has suffered electrocution should be taken to a veterinarian, even if there
are no apparent complications. Electrocution is a life-threatening emergency. It may cause abnormal electrical activity of the heart or a build-up of fluid in the lungs which could be fatal hours after the shock.
Any condition that causes your pet to squint or protect his eye; any suspected trauma to
the eye; any abnormal appearance of the eyeball; any time the eyelid cannot cover the
eyeball, these are potential emergencies and veterinary attention should be sought
What to Do
· If the eye has been dislocated from the socket (proptosis) or the lids cannot close
over the eyeball, keep the eyeball moist with contact lens wetting solution, K-Y
jelly, water, or moist compresses. An old home remedy that works is keeping the
eye moist with pure honey.
· If an irritating chemical or other product accidentally gets into the eye, flush it with
running water, or water (or saline) squeezed from a compress or a sponge for a
minimum of 15 minutes. (Saline: dissolve 2 teaspoons of table salt in I quart of
· Always seek veterinary attention immediately. Eyes are quite fragile and just a few
minutes could mean the difference between sight and blindness.
What NOT to Do
· Do not attempt to treat the eyes, or remove a foreign object, yourself.
· Do not try to push a proptosed eyeball back into the socket. This must be done
under anesthesia so as not to cause damage to the eyeball’s interior.
Fainting is the sudden loss of consciousness or a sudden and marked weakness. It may be
associated with anything from low blood sugar to severe heart disease. Bee stings are
frequently a cause of syncope.
What to Do
· Immediately position the pet with the head down and the hind quarters elevated.
· Cover the pet with a blanket to preserve body heat.
· If the pet vomits, make sure he does not inhale any of the vomitus into his lungs.
· Seek veterinary attention.
What NOT to Do
· Do not administer anything by mouth. It can be aspirated into the lungs and cause
· Do not slap the pet or douse him with cold water trying to shock him into
· Do not fail to seek veterinary attention just because the animal recoverd quickly
and seems fine now. Several of the conditions that cause syncope are extremely
Fever is the elevation of body temperature in response to infection or inflammation (Also
What to Do
· Take and record the rectal temperature. If it is above 103 degrees, you should call
your veterinarian. Temperature elevations above 106 degrees are life threatening
and demand immediate attention.
· If the animal’s temperature is over 105 degrees, mix one half water and one half
rubbing alcohol. Sponge this on the pet and direct a fan on the moistened area.
· Apply a cool pack or a alcohol and water compress to the top of the head to help
protect the brain.
· Encourage (but do not force) your pet to drink small, frequent quantities of water.
What NOT to Do
· Be careful not to overtreat! Discontinue cooling once the rectal temperature
reaches 103 degrees.
· Do not give aspirin or other drugs. Many of these drugs are poisonous to pets.
When a pet is lethargic, depressed, shivering a lot, or there is any other reason to suspect
that he is not well (not eating, or is vomiting, coughing, has a running nose), you should
suspect fever. The only way to confirm this is to take the animal’s temperature using a
medical thermometer. Detailed information on taking rectal temperature can be found in
the temperature section of the Physical Exam Checklist.
First Aid for Choking
Choking is interference with breathing caused by foreign material in, or compression on,
the trachea (windpipe).
If the Pet is Unconscious
Perform a Finger Sweep
Open your pet’s mouth and perform a finger sweep by placing your finger along the inside
of the mouth, sliding it down toward the center of the throat over the base of the tongue
and gently “sweeping” toward the center to remove any foreign material. Warning: there
is a structure deep in the throat (the Adam’s Apple) that feels like a smooth bone. Do not
attempt to pull it out!
Begin Rescue Breathing
Rescue breathing is described in the CPR article. If air is not entering the lungs, slap the
pet’s chest wall firmly or perform the Heimlich maneuver by putting the pet on its back,
placing your hands over the abdomen near the bottom of its rib cage, and gently, but
firmly thrusting toward the spine. Perform a finger sweep and begin rescue breathing.
Repeat until the foreign body is clear and the lungs can be inflated. Transport to the
If the Pet is Conscious:
Stay calm and try to keep the pet calm. If the pet is overheated, wrap him in a wet towel,
and transport him to the veterinarian. Perform a finger sweep only if it will not excite the
Frequently, pet owners confuse coughing with choking. Both cause the pet to forcefully
exhale. With choking, the pet has difficulty inhaling. When coughing, the pet can inhale
almost normally. Be careful to distinguish the two: attempting to give first aid to a pet
who is merely coughing can injure the animal.
First Aid for Poisoning
If you suspect that your pet has consumed a substance that is poisonous, look for
evidence (i.e., an open container, a pool of antifreeze, etc.). Call your veterinarian or a
poison control center and be prepared to answer the following questions:
· What product caused the poisoning and how much was ingested?
· When did the poisoning occur?
· What symptoms are your pet exhibiting?
· Can you retrieve a container or label from the poisonous substance to determine
the active ingredient?
Follow the instructions of the veterinarian or the poison control center.
If you cannot get in touch with a veterinarian or a poison control center, then induce
vomiting with the following exceptions:
Do not induce vomiting if:
· the animal is unconscious, semi-conscious, or convulsing,
· there is evidence that the poison was: a strong acid, an alkali (such as bleach), a
petroleum product, a cleaning product, or the substance was ingested more than 3
If your pet ingested one of these substances, or the poison was ingested more than 3
hours ago, it is imperative that you somehow get him to a veterinary facility for treatment.
To induce vomiting:
· Give full strength (3%) hydrogen peroxide by mouth at a dosage of 1 tablespoon
per 15 to 20 pounds of body weight, or syrup of ipecac (follow label directions)
If the pet is going to be transported to a veterinary facility, search for containers of the
poison to take with the animal. Transport the pet immediately: don’t wait until vomiting
commences (if you induced vomiting). Cleaning out your car is a small price to pay for a
successful outcome in a serious poisoning case.
If you have any doubts as to whether a substance is poisonous, call a veterinarian or a
poison control centre.
Antifreeze has a sweet taste that may be tempting to cats and dogs; its ingestion is
Fractures / Injuries
Fracture: a break or crack in a bone.
Closed fracture: fractures in which there is no related external wound.
Open (compound) fracture: fractures associated directly with open wounds (the bone may
be visible through the wound).
Dislocation: an injury to the connective tissues holding a joint in position that results in
displacement of a bone at the joint.
Sprain: an injury to a joint, ligament, or tendon in the region of a joint. It involves partial
tearing or stretching of these structures without dislocation or fracture.
What to Do
· Before treatment, precautions should be taken to prevent biting injury to the first
aid provider. Muzzle and or cover the head of the pet.
· Open fractures should be dressed with a wet dressing applied over the opening and
· If possible, the limb should be immobilized with a splint to prevent further injury.
Use any of the following:
– A mountaineering splint (see section on Real Limb in splints).
– A splint fashioned out newspapers or magazines or coat hangers (see both
sections on Splints ).
– A splint made of sticks of wood supporting the fracture, fixed in place with tape or
– Any splint should extend past at least one joint above and one joint below the
What NOT to Do
· If the splint is difficult to apply or the animal objects, do not attempt splinting.
Carefully transport him to a veterinarian.
· Never attempt to set or reduce a fracture or try to push a protruding bone back
A fracture or dislocation or severe sprain may be suspected when the animal suddenly
appears lame on a leg, or picks up a leg and won’t use it. They may also be suspected
following any major fall or blunt injury. Obvious findings of a bone protruding from a
wound are rare. What is more common is the unusual angulation or deformation of the
fractured area, and swelling. Accurate diagnosis requires the use of x-rays.
An x-ray is the only way to accurately diagnose a fracture.
How to Move the Injured Pet
The first aid provider must not only identify and treat injury or illness, but must also safely
transport the patient to the veterinary facility for treatment. Improper technique when
transporting a patient can result in further injury or complications. Although a book of this type cannot fully prepare the reader for all specific examples, it can provide the following general recommendations.
Handle the Pet as Little as Possible
Try to make the pet comfortable by encouraging him to lie down and stay. Smaller dogs
and cats can most effectively be transported in commercially available carriers or in a
cardboard box with a lid.
Handle the Pet Gently
Rough handling may cause further internal bleeding, more damage to the soft tissues
around a fracture, and many other complications.
Lie the Pet on its Side
If the pet seems to resent this or has more difficulty breathing on its side, it may indicate
the pet has an injury to the chest or lungs. In this case, it is better to leave the pet in a
It is best in many cases to actually tie or tape the pet to aflat surface. This is imperative
when handling the unconscious patient or the patient with a suspected back injury.
Do Not Put Pressure on the Stomach
This is most important for the pet who is having difficulty breathing, has been vomiting, or has pain in the abdomen.
Use a Backboard
If the pet seems paralyzed or unable to get up, a spinal injury is suspect and the pet must
be firmly immobilized to prevent further damage to the nerves. Get a firm, flat support (an
ironing board, a piece of plywood, a collapsed cardboard box, a table leaf — think of one in
your house before you need it). Grasp the skin over the back of the neck and over the
small of the back and gently slide the pet on to the support. Try to keep the back and neck
straight. Tie or tape the pet to the support.
Position the Head
If the pet is unconscious, position the head in normal alignment with the body. It should
not flex abnormally downward nor extend excessively upward. Improper flexing or
extending can cause decreased blood drainage from the brain and cause serious damage.
If the pet has vomited or appears likely to vomit, put the head down below the level of the
heart. This will allow the vomitus to run out of the mouth and not down into the windpipe
and the lungs. Be aware that pets with severe head injuries are likely to vomit, even while
they are unconscious.
Cover the Patient with a Blanket
Covering an injured pet has a calming effect. More importantly, it prevents heat loss. A
blanket can also be used as a transport device if there is no sign of back injury. In this
case, the animal can be gently lifted with the blanket. Gently slide the pet into the center
of the blanket. Roll the edges of the blanket to provide a better grip. Gently lift the blanket
and the pet into the transport vehicle. This is usually a two-person procedure.
Know the Route to the Veterinary Facility
Get precise directions and drive directly to the facility. This will result in the fastest
delivery of the pet for professional care.
Driving out of control or in a panic may result in delays (while the officer writes a ticket) or
injuries if you are involved in an accident.
Emergency situations require prompt and safe transport of the sick or injured pet. If done
properly, this will give your pet a better chance for recovery. If delayed or done carelessly,
the outcome may be less favorable. As with most first aid principles, prior planning and
awareness of proper techniques will prevent many problems.
First Aid: A Final Note
Most veterinary hospitals are not open around the clock. Some may provide emergency
service (meaning someone will meet you there if you call first). If you do not call first, you
may arrive to find that a doctor is not available. To avoid wasting time in a crisis, ask your
veterinarian ahead of time about emergency services available, and learn the shortest
route to your veterinarian and to the 24-hour emergency facility, if one is available in your
Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke, Heat Prostration)
The elevation of body temperature above normal. It is sometimes indicative of a fever, but
it can also be associated with severe conditions such as heat stroke or heat prostration.
Any time the body temperature is higher than 106 degrees, a true emergency exists.
What to Do
· Remove the pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred.
· Move the pet to the shade and direct a fan on him.
· If possible, determine rectal temperature and record.
· Begin to cool the body by wetting with cool (not cold) water on the trunk and legs.
It is helpful to use rubbing alcohol on the skin of the stomach and allow the fan to
· Transport to a veterinary facility.
What NOT to Do
· Do not use cold water or ice for cooling.
· Do not overcool the pet.
· Do not attempt to force water orally.
· Do not leave the pet unattended for any length of time.
In the summertime, other than fever, the most frequent cause of hyperthermia is heat
prostration or heat stroke. Most of these cases can be avoided by following the advice in
the Preventing a Health and Safety Crisis section. Keep in mind that prolonged seizures,
eclampsia (milk fever), poisonings, and many other conditions may cause hyperthermia.
Also, the bracycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (Pekingese, Chinese Pug, Lhasa Apso, Boston
Terrier, etc.) may suffer from ineffectual panter syndrome (see the difficulty breathing
section), which results in an increased body temperature that can be fatal.
The most common sign of heat prostration or heat stroke is vigorous panting. The pet is
likely to be lying on its side, unable to stand, although some are restless and agitated.
There may be a thick, ropy saliva in the mouth, or froth coming from the mouth and/or
nose. Often the pet seems to be rigid, extending its head, neck, and limbs. The mucous
membranes are often red but may be pale or “muddy.” The pet may show signs of shock.
Rapidly cooling the pet is extremely important. While ice or cold water may seem logical,
its use is not advised. Cooling the innermost structures of the body will actually be
delayed, as ice or cold water will cause superficial blood vessels to shrink, effectively
forming an insulating layer of tissue to hold the heat inside. Tap water is more suitable for
Severe hyperthermia is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body. Simply
lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that
often accompany this disorder. A pet suffering from hyperthermia should be seen by a
veterinarian as soon as possible.
Impalement injuries involve a foreign body stuck in an animal. Common examples in small animals include pets shot with arrows or crossbow bolts. Dogs frequently carry sticks in their mouths and suffer impalements when an end of the stick jams into the ground. Pets
have fallen from multiple story buildings and become impaled on car radio antennas. A
veterinarian should be seen as soon as possible.
What to Do
· Calm and blanket the pet.
· Attempt to immobilize both the foreign body and the pet. Severe and continuing
damage is done whenever the foreign body is allowed to flail about the inside of the
· If the foreign body is in the chest, listen for sounds of air sucking around the
wounds. If it appears that there is an open wound in the chest, cover the wound
(and the foreign body, if necessary) with plastic wrap. Apply petroleum jelly or
antibiotic ointment before the plastic to help seal the wound.
· If the foreign body can easily be cut, shorten it, leaving only 3 to 6 inches sticking
out of the pet.
What NOT to Do
· Never try to remove the foreign body yourself. In the case of a car antenna, cut the
antenna from the car and take the pet to a veterinary facility.
Suffocation by drowning is caused by the filling of the lungs with water or other fluid.
What to Do
· Remove the pet from the water.
· Place him on his side with his head and neck extended. It’s preferable to have the
head slightly lower than the body.
· Pull the tongue forward and expel any water from the lungs and stomach by gently
pushing on the chest wall and stomach.
· Begin CPR as required.
· Cover the pet to avoid further heat loss.
· Seek veterinary help as soon as possible.
What NOT to Do
· Do not fail to seek veterinary help just because your resuscitation is successful and
your pet seems to be recovering. Numerous secondary complications (i.e.,
electrolyte imbalance, pneumonia, secondary drowning) can occur.
· Do not leave the pet unattended as he may be confused and wander back to the
Almost all cats and dogs instinctively know how to swim. Unfortunately, they also
instinctively swim to the nearest edge of a pool to get out. This is usually not the right
decision. Most animals are unable to get out of a swimming pool at the edge. They must
swim to a step. If your pet has access to a swimming pool, you must teach him where the
steps are. If you do not and he falls in, he will swim to the nearest edge and attempt to
get out until he either accidentally arrives at a step, or tires and drowns.
If your pet has access to a swimming pool, you must teach him where the steps are
A nosebleed is bleeding or haemorrhage from the nose.
What to Do
· Notice if the blood is coming from one nostril (note which one) or both nostrils.
· If the pet is sneezing, note how often.
· Attempt to keep the pet calm. Encourage the pet to lie down and relax.
· Place an ice pack (covered by one or more layers of cloth) or compress to the side
of the nose.
· If the nose is bleeding profusely or the bleeding lasts more than 10 minutes, seek
What NOT to Do
· Do not put anything up the nose. This will likely cause the pet to sneeze. Sneezing
will dislodge a clot if one has formed and the bleeding will resume.
A bloody nose in a cat or dog may be associated with foreign bodies (foxtail awns are
common), polyps, infections, poisoning, bleeding disorders, or even cancer. It is a sign
whose significance should not be underestimated.
Paralysis is the inability to voluntarily move a part or parts of the body. The paralyzed part
(legs, neck, etc.) may be rigid or stiff or, more commonly, relaxed and flaccid.
What to Do
· Calm the pet. If necessary, cover with a blanket.
· Muzzle the pet if there is any danger of being bitten.
· Transport the pet using one of the techniques described.
What NOT to do:
· Do not assume the pet won’t bite.
· Do not encourage the pet to move about.
· Do not medicate the pet unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
The inability to walk can develop suddenly (with or without history of injury) in dogs due
to the rupture of an intervertebral disc, especially in certain breeds like the Dachshund.
Paralysis of this type should be considered a life-threatening emergency and your
veterinarian or an emergency facility should be consulted immediately.
Paralysis can also be associated with traumatic episodes such as falls, being struck by a
motor vehicle, or fights with other animals. When paralysis is associated with trauma,
fractures or instability of the spine should be suspected. It is extremely important to
immobilize the spine before and during transportation. This is covered in the Transport
Physical Exam Checklist for Pets
To identify an illness or abnormal situation, you must be able to recognize what is normal
for your pet. You know your pet better than anyone else and will have to decide when an
abnormal situation warrants professional help. Sometimes the condition is so serious it
leaves no doubt. Frequently, the changes are subtle and it is important that they are
recognized. Early recognition of a serious problem can save your pet’s life.
The following pages teach you how to examine your pet and determine what is normal.
The primary suggestion is to give your animal a “mini” physical exam occasionally when
there is nothing wrong so you get used to what is normal for your net. Record the normal
values using the guide at the end of this section.
Hands-on Physical Exam
Before starting a hands-on exam, stand back and look at your pet for a few minutes. The
posture, activity level, and general appearance can tell you a lot.
Now start the physical exam, making sure to look at the following areas. Consult a
veterinarian if an abnormal condition exists.
A hands-on physical exam in the comfort of your own home is the best way to learn what
is normal for your pet.
Normal: Moist and clean
· Dry or cracked
· Nasal Discharge
· Bleeding: A moist, clean nose is a sign of a healthy dog or cat.
· Bright, moist, and clear.
· Centered between the eyelid.
· Pupils equal in size.
· Whites of the eye should not appear colored and should have only a few visible
· Pupils shrink equally when bright light is shined into either eye.
· Pupils enlarge equally when the eyes are held closed or the room darkened.
· Dull, sunken eyes. Eyes that appear dry. Thick discharge from eyes.
· One or both eyes not centered.
· Pupils unequal in size.
· Abnormal colors that indicate problems are yellow (jaundice), brownish (‘muddy’),
or red (bloodshot).
· Pupils fail to respond or respond differently when bright light is shined into either
· Pupils fail to respond or respond differently to the dark
Pay close attention to the colour of the whites of your pet’s eyes, as well as his pupils’
response to changes in light
· Skin smooth and without wounds.
· Clean and dry.
· Almost odor-free.
· Typical carriage for breed.
· Wounds or scabs on skin. Lumps or bumps on skin. Any sign of rash.
· Crust, moisture, or other discharge in ear canal.
· Any strong odor from the ear.
· Atypical carriage for breed; for example, a droopy ear in a breed with normally
Your pet’s ears should be clean and odour-free.
· Teeth are clean and white.
· Gums are uniformly pink.
· Tartar accumulation around the base of the teeth.
· The gums are red, pale, inflamed, or sore in appearance.
Press on the gum tissue with your finger or thumb and release quickly. Watch the color
return to the gums. This checks the capillary refill time (CRT) and is a crude assessment of
how well the heart and circulatory system are working.
· The colour returns to the gums in 1 or 2 seconds (normal CRT).
· The CRT is extremely rapid (less than 1 second) or slow (more than 2 seconds).
Gums should be pink — teeth should be clean and white.
Neck, Chest, and Breathing
· It is difficult to hear the pet breathe at all except when he is panting.
· The chest wall moves easily to and fro during respiration.
· Most of the act of breathing is performed by the chest wall. The abdominal wall
· Any unusual noise heard while the pet is breathing could indicate a problem,
especially if the noise is new for the pet.
· There is noticeable effort by the pet to move the chest wall.
· The abdomen is actively involved in the act of inhaling and exhaling.
Gently feel the chest and neck for any lumps, bumps, masses, or mats of hair which may
be indicative of a problem.
· The pet does not change respiratory pattern while being palpated.
· Palpation of the chest or neck seems to cause pain or discomfort. Any lump or
mass you feel in your pet’s neck or chest may be indicative of a problem.
Palpate the abdomen. Start just behind the ribs and gently press your hands into the
abdomen, feeling for abnormalities. If your pet has just eaten, there may be a palpable
enlargement in the left part of the abdomen just under the ribs. Proceed toward the rear
of the pet, passing your hands gently over the abdomen.
· No lumps, bumps, or masses.
· No discomfort on palpation.
· No distension of the abdominal wall.
· Any lump, bump, or mass may be abnormal.
· Palpation causes groaning or difficulty breathing. Any evidence or indication of pain
is a serious finding.
· The abdomen feels hard or tense and it appears distended.
Any pain felt during an abdominal palpation could be a problem. Consult your veterinarian.
Skin Turgor Test
The test most often used to determine whether an animal is well hydrated (has enough
fluid in its system) is the skin turgor test. To perform this, pull the skin over the chest or
back into a tent and release it quickly (avoid the skin of the neck as it’s often too thick for
this Test). Observe the skin as it returns to its resting position.
· The skin snaps back into position so fast that the eye almost can’t detect it.
· The skin returns slowly or remains slightly tented. This is a sign of possible
dehydration (see the dehydration section). The simple skin turgor test can tell you
a lot about your cat’s or dog’s hydration.
Pulse and Heart
Learn to locate the pulse on your pet before acrisis. The best place on a cat or dog is the
femoral artery in the groin area. Place your fingers around the front of the hind leg and
move upward until the back of your hand meets the abdominal wall Move your fingertips
back and forth on the inside of the thigh until you feel the pulsing sensation as the blood
rushes through the artery. Count the number of pulses in 15 seconds and multiply by 4.
This will give you the pulse rate in beats per minute (BPM).
· Cats: 150 to 200 bpm (A relaxed cat may have a slower pulse.)
· Small dogs: 70 to 110 bpm.
· Medium dogs: 70 to 110 bpm.
· Large/giant dogs: 60 to 90 bpm.(A relaxed dog may have a slower pulse. Know
what is normal for your dog before a crisis.)
· Pulse is easily palpated , strong, and regular.
· Too rapid or too slow.
· Pulse is weak, irregular, or hard to locate.
Feel the heart beat with one hand while feeling the pulse with the other.
· The heart and pulse are synchronized — for each heart beat there is a pulse.
· There is not always a match between the heartbeat and the pulse. This is a serious
Learn how to properly take your pet’s pulse.
Taking your pet’s temperature is an easy and important procedure and can be done with a
glass mercury or a digital thermometer. Digital thermometers are easier to read and can
be purchased at a pharmacy for under $10.
Rectal temperatures are more accurate than axillary (between the front leg and the body)
temperatures. Lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly. Gently and slowly insert
the thermometer into the rectum about 1 or 2 inches. If it does not slide in easily, do not
force it. Leave it in for 2 minutes, then read and record the temperature.
· Temperature is between 101° and 102.5°.
· The thermometer is almost clean when removed.
· Temperature is below 100° or above 103°.
· There is evidence of blood, diarrhea, or black, tarry stool on the thermometer.
It may be easier to take your cat’s temperature if you have someone to help you.
Normals: A Final Note
Know the normals for your pet. Record the results of your pets home examination using
the outline on the following page. Watch your pet closely so you know when something is
wrong. Become familiar with these normals before a crisis so you can recognize an
Normals for my Pets
My pet ______________________ has the following normal values:
Normal Weight: ______________________ pounds
Resting Heart Rate (Pulse): ______________________ beats per minute
Resting Respiratory Rate: ______________________ breaths per minute
Rectal Temperature: ______________________ degrees Fahrenheit
Normal Gum Color: ______________________
Normal Whites of the Eyes: ______________________
A condition that results from the ingestion, inhalation, absorption, injection, or application
of a substance that causes structural damage or functional disturbance of the tissues of
What to Do
· Try to get in touch with a veterinarian or a poison control center, and follow their
· If you can’t get in touch with either and the poisoning occurred within the last 3
hours, induce vomiting unless your pet has ingested a petroleum product, a
cleaning solution, or a strong acid or alkali.
· If the product is a petroleum product, cleaning solution, strong acid, or strong
alkali, or was ingested more than 3 hours ago, you must get your pet to a
veterinarian as soon as possible.
· If the pet vomits, save a sample of the vomitus for later inspection by the
· For accidental application of a chemical to your pet’s skin, see chemical injuries.
What NOT to Do
· Do not give any liquid (other than the hydrogen peroxide or syrup of ipecac if
inducing vomiting): they may move the poison into the body sooner.
· Do not attempt to induce vomiting in seizuring, confused, or comatose pets.
Preventing a Health and Safety Crisis
Nutrition and Feeding
Good nutrition is essential for a healthy pet. Nutrients in pet foods should provide what is
needed for metabolic body processes and should help fight off disease.
Proper feeding habits with nutritious food on a regular schedule can prevent:
· Nutritional deficiencies
· Irritation or malfunction of the digestive system
Improper feeding habits can cause or contribute to:
· Dental disease
· Heart disease
· Liver disease
· Inflammation and/or bleeding in the intestines
Many animals die each year from such diseases. Avoid table scraps, high fat foods, and
foods that cause choking. Your pets should be offered foods developed for them or
recommended by your veterinarian.
Provide Plenty of Clean Water
All animals, especially the very young and the very old, are susceptible to dehydration and
kidney disease if deprived of water, quickly leading to serious complications.
Nutritious food and clean, fresh water are important to your pet’s health!
Avoid Vigorous Exercise After Meals
Vigorous exercise after meals can lead to a life-threatening condition called bloat, which
affects all breeds of dogs, but large, deep-cheated dogs are affected more frequently. With
early and aggressive medical and surgical treatment, 80% or more of these patients
survive this horrible disease.
Unsafe situations may occur in your pet’s surroundings, even with animals who are
confined to the house or an outside run. A responsible pet owner should always have
control of their pet and their pet’s environment. Injury or death after being hit by a car or
being attacked by another animal can be prevented if your pet is properly controlled. Your
pet may be shot or injured if allowed to wander unrestricted. Controlling your pet and
providing a safe home can eliminate several dangerous situations.
Animals have more problems in hot environments than in cold. Pets can suffer heat
prostration and die in a short period of time, even minutes, under severe conditions. Good
ventilation is vital. Animals cool themselves by panting, which becomes inefficient in
extreme heat, poor ventilation, or when dehydration causes a lack of moisture on the
tongue. If it is absolutely necessary to leave your pet in the car, even for a short time,
keep the windows partially open. In the summer, the car’s interior can quickly rise to over
150°, and your pet’s body temperature may rise to 110° or more, causing irreversible
brain damage and/or death within minutes.
Your pets need room to move around safely to get exercise. Provide an area with
adequate room, shelter, and bedding that can be cleaned. Lots of space to exercise, some
toys, and clean, comfortable bedding are some simple things that can add years to
your pet’s life.
Confinement created by a chain tied to a post or a cable can result in death by suffocation
if the chain becomes too tightly wrapped around the post or around your pet’s neck.
Remember to have ID on your animal; people will usually return your pet if your phone
number is provided. Also, if your animal is injured and transported to a veterinarian by
someone else, the doctor can reach you for medical decisions.
Proper identification tags will help you recover your pet if he wanders off.
Electric cords should be inaccessible to pets, especially puppies and kittens, who tend to
chew on anything. A bite through the insulation can result in a serious burn, fluid
accumulation in the lungs, or death (see electrocution).
Dangling electric cords are an irresistible (but dangerous) temptation to a playful kitten or
puppy. Make sure all cords are inaccessible!
Many common household items can cause your pet to choke:
· Needles & Thread
· Small toys
These items should be kept away from pets, as ingestion may cause foreign body
blockages or injuries to the esophagus, stomach or small intestine.Make sure that small
household items are kept in a place where your pets can’t reach!
Accidental poisonings can be tragic. Guard against ingestion of:
· Garden Supplies: such as insecticides, fertilizers, and snail bait.
· Poisonous Plants: Many plants in their live or dried forms are toxic. Even food items
like dried onions can cause problems in pets. Discuss potential problems with your
veterinarian or check with the nursery or a more complete reference before buying
· Coins: Some coins contain zinc, which can cause vomiting, anaemia, and even
death if ingested.
· Chocolate: As little as one ounce of unsweetened (Baker’s) chocolate may poison a
small dog. Milk chocolate isn’t as toxic, and if ingested in reasonable quantities
there is no cause for alarm. Many dogs, however, ingest unreasonable quantities
and may be poisoned.
· Antifreeze: Antifreeze has a sweet taste to dogs and cats, and they may lick it off
the ground. As little as one teaspoonful (easily available from a radiator boil over)
can lead to irreversible kidney damage and death in a small dog or cat.
· Medications: Some medications that are safe for us are not safe for pets: Tylenol
(acetaminophen) is deadly poison to cats; No-Doz may cause convulsions in both
cats and dogs; Solarcaine may cause anemia in cats; Advil (ibuprofen) may cause
kidney damage or gastric ulcers in dogs.
Ask a professional before administering drugs of any kind to your pet.
Animals must be contained while riding in a car or truck. Cats jump out of cars quickly. Put
them in well-ventilated pet boxes. Dogs can be trained to a seat belt. We recommend that
dogs not ride in the back of trucks. In some states it is illegal for a dog to ride in the back
of a pick-up truck without tethers. Besides the risk of injury from a fall, the dog may be
killed in traffic. Even properly tethered dogs have little protection in the event of an
If your dog must travel in the back of a pick-up, then he should be securely tethered in.
Regular Veterinary Check-Ups
Regular veterinary examinations will help avoid some preventable disease problems and
permit early detection of others, thus facilitating treatment. Your pet should be seen by
your veterinarian at least once a year. During the check-up regular vaccinations are given
and the animal is given a physical exam, a dental check-up, and teeth cleaning.
Your pet’s annual/ physical is vital to her continued good health.
Many dangerous infectious diseases can be prevented or lessened in severity with a proper
vaccination program. No vaccine is 100% effective, but regular vaccinations are the most
effective way to prevent such diseases. Approved vaccines are available for the following
· Parvoviral Enteritis
· Coronoviral Enteritis
· Hepatitis Leptospirosis
· Lyme Disease
· Caliciviral Pneumonitis
· Feline Leukemia Virus
· Feline Infectious Peritonitis
With so many formerly deadly diseases now preventable by vaccination, you owe it to your
dog or cat to make sure she is up on her booster shots. Consult your veterinarian for the
vaccines needed in your area and a proper vaccination schedule.
Dental problems that go untreated not only cause problems in the teeth and gums, but
their effects may extend to other areas of the body.
· Infections from decaying teeth may spread directly to the sinus cavities or the
· Bacteria from dental infections and/or plaque accumulation may spread to the
heart, liver, kidneys, or other organs.
Good oral hygiene and regular veterinary examination and treatment can eliminate dental
Dental health and good overall health go hand in hand.
Prevention: A Final Note
Seek professional veterinary help immediately if your pet suffers an accident or illness.
Getting help early prevents complications and more suffering. Waiting can only result in
undue worry, serious deterioration of conditions, and make recovery more difficult.
What is Shock?
In 1872 S.D. Gross defined shock as “a manifestation of a rude unhinging of the
machinery of life.” A recent veterinary textbook defines shock as “the clinical state
resulting from an inadequate supply of oxygen to the tissues or an inability of the tissues
to properly use oxygen.” Many attempts have been made to define shock, but because it is
such a complex disorder, no single definition has been successful.
Shock and the Cardiovascular System
To gain a basic understanding of shock, one must first have an understanding of the
normal cardiovascular system of dogs and cats. Envision the cardiovascular system as the
closed circuit diagrammed on the following page, consisting of a pump (the heart) and a
series of stretchable tubes (blood vessels). The system is filled to capacity with a fluid
(blood) which circulates through the tubes delivering fuel (oxygen and other metabolic
substances) and picking up trash (carbon dioxide and other metabolic waste). In order to
be efficient, the pump must be able to deliver a proper amount of the fluid and there must
be enough fluid to completely fill and stretch the system of tubes. An insult to any part of
this system that results in lower fuel delivery, excess fuel burning, and/or excess waste
accumulation may result in a condition analogous to shock.
An animal who has been hit by a car is in danger of suffering life-threatening shock.
Shock will ultimately lead to involvement of the entire cardiovascular system and, if left
unchecked, will result in the death of the pet. For example, if a pet has been hit by a car
and sustains injuries that cause blood loss, there will be a deficiency in the fluid that
carries fuel. The pump (heart) operates on this fuel. Since an inadequate fuel supply is
being delivered to the pump, it begins to fail. As the pump fails, it is unable to circulate
the fluid that is present, so even less fluid is delivered. Without adequate fuel, the blood
vessels become inelastic and are less efficient in fluid movement — again, less fuel.
Eventually, these events will result in total collapse of the cardiovascular system and the
death of the pet.
Causes of Shock
The most common causes of shock in our pets is trauma: e.g., fights with other animals,
being struck by a car, and gunshots. Other causes include poisoning, insect stings, fluid
loss from vomiting and/or diarrhoea, infections, burns, and lack of oxygen caused by heart
failure or obstruction of airways (pneumonia or choking, for example). Regardless of the
cause, shock is life-threatening. Immediate identification is crucial.
The Circulatory System
Oxygenated blood leaves the heart through the left ventricle (A), and circulates to the
body (F) through the arterial system where its precious oxygen is distributed. The
deoxygenated blood then travels to the right atrium (C) and the right ventricle (D) of the
heart, where it is pumped to the lungs (E) to pick up more oxygen. The newly oxygenated
blood returns to the heart via the left atrium (F), travels to the left ventricle, and the
circulatory cycle begins all over again.
Signs of Shock
Early Stages of Shock
· Bright red gums.
· Very rapid capillary refill time.
· The pet may be either excited or subdued.
· Rapid heart rate.
· Pulse not difficult to find.
Middle Stages of Shock
· Gums appear pale or “muddy”.
· Abnormally long capillary refill time.
· The heart rate is frequently above normal.
· The pulse weakens and may be difficult to locate.
· The pet will most likely be subdued, depressed and weak.
· Respiration often shallow and rapid (but may be normal).
· Rectal temperature often below normal (may be normal or even elevated).
Late Stages of Shock
· Gums extremely pale or show a bluish discoloration, and are often “blotchy” in
· Capillary refill time is longer (sometimes longer than 3 to 4 seconds).
· Heart rate is probably elevated and irregular, but may be normal or below normal
as heart muscle begins to fail.
· The pulse will be very weak and difficult or impossible to locate.
· Respiration may be slow or rapid, shallow or deep.
· The eyes may take on a glazed appearance and appear not to focus normally.
· Mental condition deteriorates from depression to stupor to coma.
· Rectal temperature will be below normal, often critically so.
Treatment of Shock: What to Do
Successful treatment of a patient in shock involves prompt recognition of the signs,
immediate initiation of first aid procedures, and safe and rapid transport to the veterinary
facility for definitive treatment.
First aid procedures include:
· Providing adequate breathing (see CPR).
· Stopping blood loss (see bleeding).
· Immobilizing the pet.
· Protecting obvious fractures from further injury (see splints).
· Preventing loss of body heat by covering the patient with one or more blankets.
· Immediately transporting the patient to a veterinary facility for definitive treatment
of shock and other injuries and illnesses (see transport).
Treatment of Shock: What Not to Do
Well-meaning pet owners often use first aid procedures that may seem helpful, but, in
fact, may prove dangerous to the animal.
· Do not allow the injured pet to move about on his own. Walking about or any
unnecessary movement (especially allowing the pet to jump in or out of the
transport vehicle) may increase internal bleeding. Unnecessary use of muscles
“burns fuel,” which can be fatal to a patient in shock.
· Do not apply a heating pad to a sick or injured patient. He may suffer a severe
burn. In addition, application of heat will cause the vessels of the skin to dilate.
These dilated vessels require more blood to fill them and decrease the efficiency of
the already failing cardiovascular system, resulting in worsening of the shock
· Do not pour water (or anything else) into the animal’s mouth. Animals in shock are
weak and may inhale anything given by mouth into the lungs, causing a serious
· Do not administer any medications (including aspirin or other pain relievers) unless
instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
· Do not assume the pet is not in shock after an accident. Early, mild stages of shock
are difficult to recognize, and the pet may deteriorate rapidly if not treated.
· Do not hesitate seeking veterinary assistance. Many injuries and illnesses that
cause shock may cause irreparable damage in minutes. Any hesitation could mean
the difference between a pet making a full recovery and a pet that cannot be
When your pet is “struck” by a snake, it is best to assume it is a poisonous bite.
What to Do
· Immobilize the part of the animal that has been bitten by the snake. Try to keep it
at or below the level of the heart.
· Keep the pet calm and immobile; carry if necessary.
· Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
· Try to retrieve the snake if it can be done without risk. It is sometimes helpful to
identify the type of snake.
What NOT to Do
· Do not cut over the fang marks.
· Do not manipulate the bitten area any more than needed.
· Do not allow the pet to move about freely.
· Do not ice pack or tourniquet the area.
· Do not administer any medications except on a veterinarian’s advice.
· Do not use electric shock on the area.
Snakebite is a complex problem. The severity and type of damage done by venom
depends on the type of snake involved.
Some snakes have venom that causes severe shock and rapid death. Others have most of
their effect on the muscles. Some venom is very concentrated and some require large
quantities before damage is done.
The first goal in snakebite treatment is to keep the venom from circulating in large
quantity throughout the body. However, keeping all the venom in the area of a bite (as
with ice packs or tourniquets) may cause severe muscle damage. Antivenom administered
at the hospital is the most direct and helpful treatment for your pet.
If your pet is bitten by a snake, assume the bite is poisonous and seek veterinary
Straining is a frequent and sometimes exaggerated effort to have a bowel movement or to
What to Do
· Transport the pet to a veterinary facility for examination and diagnosis.
What NOT to Do
· Do not delay getting the pet examined.
· Do not administer medications unless instructed to by a veterinarian.
It is often difficult to tell if the pet is having trouble urinating or defecating. Most owners
feel their pet is constipated when they notice him straining. Straining produced by
constipation may be identical to straining produced by diarrhea. Therefore, treatment of
an assumed cause of straining may be the opposite of what is actually needed.
In cats, straining is often indicative of urinary tract infection. Cats sometimes develop a
condition called FUS (feline urological syndrome) or LUTD (lower urinary tract disease) in
which tiny crystals develop in their urine. When there are too many crystals, the
crystals can plug the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder) and prevent
the bladder from emptying. The bladder becomes distended and the pet strains to relieve
himself. Without help, this pet may be in critical condition within 24 hours. Dogs may also
have obstructed urinary tracts.
Many other conditions can cause straining in cats and dogs: an enlarged prostate gland;
irritated bowels; cancer of the bladder or bowel; intestinal or bladder polyps; and more.
This is why the simple act of straining should not be assumed to have a simple solution.
Sunburn is damage to the tissues caused by exposure to the sun’s rays.
What to Do
· Prevention is much better than treatment. Keep your pets out of direct sunlight.
· If your pet must be in the sun, apply sunblock containing PABA only.
· If your pet has burned, apply liberal quantities of an aloe vera preparation.
What NOT to Do
· Do not apply any other form of medication without first discussing it with Your
Animals are usually covered by hair, fur, or pigmented skin that protects them from the
harmful rays of the sun. Any circumstance that removes this natural protection may allow
the pet to receive enough radiation to burn.
If your pet has a shaved or non-pigmented area, you may apply a sunblock that contains
PABA as the active ingredient. Some sunblocks contain other drugs that may be harmful if
Small areas of skin which are unprotected may be permanently tattooed with a dark ink;
temporary coverage can be supplied by using a black magic marker or laundry marker to
colour the area.
When Your Pet Cannot Breathe
Difficulty breathing is also called dyspnea.
Respiratory distress is recognized by increased effort to breathe; noisy breathing; cyanosis
(a bluish tinge to the lips and mucous membranes); and an inability to inhale or exhale.
What to Do
· Keep the pet calm.
· Suction the mouth free of any fluid that interferes with breathing.
· If the pet has choked on a foreign body, perform the Heimlich maneuver and/or a
finger sweep (see choking).
· Perform rescue breathing if necessary (see rescue breathing in the First Aid for
· If the pet is overheated, wrap him in a wet towel.
· Seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible.
What NOT to Do
· Do not upset the pet.
· Do not perform rescue breathing on a conscious pet.
· Do not give anything by mouth.
Dyspnea, or difficulty breathing, is a serious sign. Causes include heart failure, severe
asthma (yes, dogs and cats do get asthma), allergic reactions, bronchitis, pneumonia,
paralysis or obstruction of the trachea, poisoning, and many other conditions. It is
imperative to get the pet examined to determine the cause.
A special condition called ineffectual panter syndrome warrants mention for dog owners
who live in warm climates. It affects brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (e.g., English
Bulldog, Pekingese, Chinese Pug). Because of the short nose, the soft palate can interfere
with breathing. On hot days or in hot environmental conditions these dogs try to cool by
panting vigorously and the soft palate interferes even more. This cycle continues until the
dog is severely dyspneic and overheated. Cooling these dogs is imperative. Wrap them in
a wet towel and move them to a cool environment. This syndrome is managable only by
protecting these breeds from heat or by surgically reconstructing the soft palate.
A wound is any break in the continuity of the tissues of the body, either external or
What to Do
· Stop the bleeding (see the bleeding section).
· Do not attempt to clean the wound unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
· Protect the wound from contamination by applying a water- or saline-soaked
compress. Do not remove it until instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
· Immobilize the wound to prevent further damage.
· Provide shock care if necessary.
· Obtain professional veterinary care. Transport the animal with the affected area
· Stop the bleeding. Clean and bandage the wound as instructed in bandaging
What NOT to Do
· Do not apply materials (other than those mentioned) to the wound unless
specifically instructed to by your veterinarian.
Many other types of emergencies can, and do, occur. If you have questions concerning
symptoms your pet is exhibiting, seek advice from a veterinarian.
Emergency centres (where after-hours care is provided), and critical care centres (where
24-hour care is provided) are becoming more prevalent. It is recommended that you know
the location and hours of operation of the closest facility.
There may not be time for you to call first in some very critical emergencies, but in most
cases a phone call to the emergency facility is a good idea.
If there are any questions concerning your pet’s health, call your veterinarian or the
emergency facility. They can make you aware of some of the possibilities.