First Aid & Emergencies Part 1: The At-Home Assessment

April is National Pet First Aid Awareness Month. We’ve all likely had the experience of having a sick or injured pet and wondering whether emergency treatment is needed or if it is something that can wait until your primary veterinarian is open in the morning.

The first step in knowing if there is a problem is knowing what is normal for your pet. This is why we recommend regularly performing an at-home health assessment:

  • My pet is behaving normally, active and in good spirits
  • My pet’s appetite is normal with no difficulty in chewing or swallowing
  • My pet breathes normally, without straining or effort
  • My pet urinates in the usual amounts and frequency, with no pain or difficulty when eliminating
  • My pet has normal appearing bowel movements, with no pain or difficulty when eliminating
  • My pet walks without stiffness, pain or difficulty
  • My pet’s feet look healthy and its nails are short
  • My pet’s coat is full, glossy and in good condition
  • My pet’s skin is free from dry flakes and not greasy
  • My pet has no fleas, ticks, lice or mites
  • My pet’s ears are clean and odor free
  • My pet’s eyes are bright, clear and free of matter
  • My pet’s nose is moist and free from discharge
  • My pet’s teeth are clean and his breath is not foul-smelling
  • My pet’s gums are glistening and pink
  • When I run my hands over my pet’s entire body, there are no lumps or bumps

While the answers to the above might not all be yes, especially in an elderly pet, or one with pre-existing conditions, if there’s a change from your pet’s norm then this is potential cause for concern. So, again, knowing what’s normal is key!   

Normal vital signs for cats & dogs:

Dogs and cats have a higher temperature than we do — normal is 99.5-102.5 F.  Because of this, they will usually feel “warm” to us, but this does not necessarily mean that they have a fever.   

The normal resting respiratory rate of a dog and cat should be less than 35.  Again, it is helpful to know what is normal for your pet, especially if they have underlying cardiac disease

The normal resting heart rate is a bit more difficult to assess and can be quite variable among cats and dogs.  

  • Large-breed dog (>50#) – 60-100 beats per minute (bmp)
  • Medium-breed dog (25-50#) – 80-120 bpm
  • Small-breed dog (<25#) – 80-140 bpm
  • Cat – 120-160bpm

In two weeks we’ll discuss what may constitute a pet emergency, and some key tips to keep in mind in those cases.

In the meantime, here are a few great online resources:

Please check out Clarendon Animal Care’s Calendar of Upcoming Events, including a Yappy Hour to benefit our local shelter, the AWLA Walk for the Animals, and Taste of Arlington!