Dr. Mary Manspeaker and her pup

Highlights from Scary Things Can Happen: How to Respond in Emergency Situations

What Makes an Emergency?

An emergency is a situation in which your pet needs immediate attention in order to prevent suffering, worsening of disease, or death. Sometimes, an emergency situation is not always obvious.

What are the Most Common Animal Emergencies?


Trauma is a very common reason for pets to end up at an emergency center. Examples of trauma can include motor vehicle accidents, getting stepped on, jumping or falling off surfaces, and animal attacks. The typical clinical signs that occur with trauma include but are not limited to bleeding, seizures, head trauma, broken bones, paralysis, puncture wounds, and difficulty breathing.


Seizures are also very common for unscheduled vet visits.  A seizure typically lasts seconds and involves uncontrollable body movements caused by a neurologic disturbance. Often, the issue is you don’t know how long one will last when they occur, so it’s always good to get your pet to the vet quickly. Usually, when you arrive your pet will not be seizing, but the veterinarian will be able to assess your pet and make recommendations for future prevention.



There are lots of different toxins that are harmful to dogs and cats, such as people food, medications, insecticides, and antifreeze. For example, xylitol is an artificial sweetener added to chewing gum and other foods. It is extremely toxic to pets, so make sure you check your foods. Even products like yogurt can contain xylitol. Check out xylitol free, safe peanut butter for your pup here. Grapes and raisins are toxic, but the toxic dose is unknown, so it’s best to just avoid giving those to pets. Also, garlic and chocolate are toxic and best to completely avoid.

Clinical toxicity can vary greatly. Some of the most common symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. If the substance is highly toxic, it can cause organ failure.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions are common for overnight or weekend emergencies. These include things like insect stings and some drug reactions. Most common symptoms include hives, difficulty breathing, swelling, and redness of the skin. It is not common for a pet to die due to an allergic reaction, but the symptoms are dramatic. Allergic reactions can be delayed, sometimes happening hours or even days later, but most happen quickly.

medical condition


Bloat is a true emergency and occurs when the stomach distends. Certain large breeds are predisposed to bloat, like deep chested dog breeds. Other causes can be stress and overeating or swallowing air. Clinical signs include retching, salivating, distended abdomen, and stomach pain. A pet will not get better without veterinarian intervention.


For cats, vomiting hairballs is normal. You’ll want to recognize whether your cat is vomiting with hair or not. Regurgitating is not vomiting and involves throwing up undigested food. Does your pet always eat grass or is it new behavior? That can be one way to determine underlying issues.


Diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors, including diet, parasites, viral infection, toxins, and organ dysfunction. Clinical signs include loose, runny stool, straining to defecate with no results, and accidents in the house. For less severe cases of diarrhea, pumpkin can help lessen symptoms.

Inability to Stand

A sudden inability to stand can be caused by adrenal disease, ruptured spleen, tick paralysis, vestibular disease, and more. It’s important that older dogs see their veterinarian more frequently so that when something like vestibular disease occurs, it is easier for the veterinarian to diagnose.

Heat Stress

Heat stress is something seen too often. Causes are high environmental temperatures, such as a dog chained outside or kept in a hot car. Pugs and other short nosed breeds are more prone to heat stress. If not caught quickly enough, heat stress can be fatal.

Respiratory Emergencies

Respiratory emergencies can cause unscheduled vet visits. Reverse sneezing is not an emergency. It looks scary but it’s a normal phenomenon. Cats if having trouble breathing will typically be quiet so it’s important to pay close attention to any abnormal behavior.

What to do When Faced With an Emergency?

Stay calm so that you can think clearly.

Be safe. An injured pet may bite or scratch while in pain. Use a towel wrap to secure an injured pet. Always keep this in mind before grabbing an injured or sick pet.

Try to assess the situation. Is your pet having trouble breathing? Is there ongoing blood loss? Does your pet seem in pain? These are questions that your veterinarian will ask.

If you need to move your pet, you can place your pet on a towel to move, similar to a stretcher. You will need two people for this.

It’s good to have your pet’s medical history available if you are going to another vet in an emergency.

Always call the vet ahead of time.

Make sure you secure your pet when driving.

Keep a first aid kit on hand at all times. These items will come in handy in an emergency. Make sure you have Benadryl 25 mg tablets. Also, items like Wondercide Skin Tonic, Vetericyn Eye Wash, and Vetericyn Antimicrobial Gel are important additions to any first aid kit.

Try to secure an emergency fund, because emergency services are expensive. Look into buying pet insurance. Some, but not all services are reimbursed. Typically, you have to pay in full and then the pet insurance company reimburses you afterward. The average cost of emergency treatment is around $3,000 so try to make sure you have that available if possible.

Dr. Manspeaker’s Responses to Unanswered Questions from Class

How important is it for your dog to see a vet during their pregnancy and how many puppies does a mom typically have with a first litter?

It is important for a mom to see a vet during pregnancy because you want to make sure she is at a healthy weight at all times and does not need deworming. As far as the number of pups, it depends on the type of dog. Typically, small breed dogs have fewer puppies than large breed dogs. Your veterinarian can do x-rays or ultrasounds to give you an estimate of how many.

Do you have any experience using Adaptil and Compsure for anxious pets?

Yes, they both work well and are a great starting point to reducing anxiety.

What is the best location for taking a cat’s temperature with a laser thermometer?

The inside of the ear where there is no hair or on the belly would be best. Laser thermometers are not as accurate as rectal thermometers, so you may want to compare the two.

Can you recommend any advice for separation anxiety for my dog? 

Separation anxiety can be managed with behavior modification and environmental enrichment, but it can also be severe enough where the pet needs meds to control the anxiety. I suggest documenting the behavior and discussing with your vet. It may be a good first step to start with behavioral modification and environmental enrichment.




dog rests on concrete stairs

Effects of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs


By Katy Fogt, DVM

Summertime means vacation, sunshine, and beach trips, but it also means high temperatures. When the temperature begins to climb, heat exhaustion (or more commonly known as heat stroke) can be seen in dogs and humans alike and is a medical emergency. However, unlike humans, dogs lack the ability to sweat when they overheat. Our furry friends rely on other methods to cool down, such as: conduction via laying on a cool surface, convection (air blowing over their skin), and evaporation by panting. Heat stroke in dogs occurs when they can no longer get rid of that heat efficiently and their body becomes overwhelmed.

Normal body temperature in dogs ranges from 99.5-102.5°F; however, in dogs with moderate heat stroke, temperatures get as high as 104-106°F. Severe heat stroke is classified by temperatures over 106°F. High core temperatures experienced by dogs with heat stroke cause multiple organs to fail and ultimately death, if not treated. The side effects of heat stroke vary greatly — depending on how overheated the dog became, as well as, how long the dog has been overheated.

Risk factors

All animals can suffer from heat stroke; however, some cats and dogs are more at risk.   These risk factors include dogs and cats who are:

  • Very young or very old
  • Obese
  • Brachycephalic

These dogs include Bulldogs, Boxers, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, and other smashed nose breeds. Cat breeds include Persian, Himalayan, British Shorthair, and Scottish Fold.

  • Have existing medical conditions

Such as collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, Myasthenia Gravis, and Addison’s

  • History of a previous heat illness
  • Thick or dark hair coats

Signs and Symptoms:

In most cases, animals will have some combination of:

  • Rapid panting and heart rate
  • Bright red gums and tongue
  • Poor pulses
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Weakness and depression
  • Dehydration
  • Hypovolemic shock

Hypovolemic shock occurs when there is a decrease in the dog’s total blood volume due to blood loss internally or externally. Signs of hypovolemic shock are pale gums, weakened but faster heart rate or pulse, and cold feet and ears.

  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).

DIC is a disease that affects the ability of blood to clot. Initially small clots form throughout the body, which uses up all the clotting factors; resulting in the uncontrollable bleeding of the dog. Signs of DIC include nosebleeds, bruising, small red dots on the skin (hemorrhages).

  • Acute renal failure (ARF)

Acute renal failure is a sudden failure of the kidneys to remove toxins from the body. Signs of ARF include increased thirst and urination, lethargy, decreased appetite, and vomiting.

Long-term effects could include:

  • Permanent damage to the kidneys, heart, and liver
  • Residual neurological deficits

What should you do if you suspect a problem?

If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke:

  1. Immediately remove him/her from the hot area
  2. Take your dogs temperature rectally with a thermometer
  3. Place your pet under a fan (you can also cover your dog with cool wet towels; however, giving your dog a bath in cool water is not recommended as it can prevent heat loss)
  4. If his/her temperature is 103°F or higher, your pet should see his/her veterinarian as soon as possible to evaluate for dehydration and other complications. DO NOT put your pet in a plastic crate in your car to get him or her to the vet. Airflow is critical at this point. Your veterinarian will lower your pet’s temperature, give intravenous fluids if dehydrated, and monitor for shock, kidney failure, clotting disorders, and other complications. In order to properly monitor the complications of heat stroke, your veterinarian may take a blood sample and urine sample.

Long-term Care

Some dogs may not have any long-term illness; however, dogs with severe heat stroke may require a special diet or medications because of permanent organ damage. Additionally, dogs that get heat stroke once are more likely to get heat stroke again; therefore, prevention is very important for pet parents.


Because of the significant side effects associated with heat stroke in dogs and the poor prognosis, the best thing we can do as pet parents is prevent heat stroke from ever occurring in the first place.

There are many things you can do at home to prevent heath stroke including:

  • Keep your animal indoors if possible
  • Your pet should never be left in your car for any length of time
  • Provide cooling contraptions such as a wet towel for him or her to lie on.
  • Take walks in the morning or late evening
  • Provide cool treats (such as ice cubes)
  • Take your pet to swim in a pool or pond during the hot days
  • Provide your dogs with access to water at all times
  • Offer shaded areas when dogs are outside
  • Avoid areas where heat is reflected, such as asphalt or cemented areas


1) Bosak, J.K. (2004). Heat Stroke in a Great Pyrenees dog. Can Vet J. (45). 513-515.

2) Flournoy, W.S.; Macintire, D.K.; Wohl, J.S. (2003). Heat stroke in Dogs: Clinical Signs, Treatment, Prognosis, and Prevention. Compendium, (25, 6). 422-431.

3) Brashear, M. (n.d.) Heat stroke in dogs. DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, Portland, OR.

4) Bruchim, Y.; Klement, E.; Saragusty, J.; Finkeilstein, E.; Kass, P.; Aroch, I. (2006). Heat Stroke in Dogs: A Retrospective Study of 54 Cases (1999-2004) and Analysis of Risk Factors for Death. J Vet Intern Med, (20). 38-46.

5) Bruchin, Y.; Loeb, E.; Saragusty, J.; Aroch, I. (2009). Pathological Findings in Dogs with Fatal Heat stroke. J Comp Path, (140). 97-104.

dog sitting in the street alone

Can My Pet Be Identified and Returned Home To Me?

It’s every pet parent’s worst nightmare: To arrive home after a long day at work and let the dogs into the backyard only to realize ten minutes later that the meter reader left the back gate open. Now the dogs are having a blast exploring the neighborhood, but they have a ten-minute head start when we finally start looking.

This is a scary scenario, but it’s a little less scary if we can answer YES to these questions: Are my dogs’ tags still on their collars and readable? Do they even wear collars? Did I update that micro-chipping information when I moved? If someone finds my dogs, would they be able to return them to me?

It’s very important for us to make sure our pets are always wearing proper identification because we never know when an emergency situation will arise. Next week, April 17-23rd is National Pet ID Week and this is the perfect opportunity for all of us to make sure our pets can be identified and returned to us in these all too common situations. Here are a few of my favorite ways to ID our dogs and cats.

ID Tags

An ID tag is our first line of defense when our pet goes missing. It is the first thing a Good Samaritan will look for if they find our lost pet, and it is super easy for them to just be able to make a phone call and plan to meet up with us to return our lost dog or cat.

ID tags are necessary even for indoor cats and dogs. Accidents happen: gates are left open, cats slip out the front door, and dogs may become disoriented after a car wreck on the way to the vet and bolt.

We should also remember to check our pets’ ID tags regularly to make sure they are still legible and that they’re updated with our current information. In fact, I just had to make my Annie a new tag because hers was too scratched to read my phone number.

If we move or get a new phone number, then we need to make sure we update our pet’s ID tag, also. We can even consider putting a second phone number, one of a friend or family member, on the ID tag as well in case we cannot be reached for some reason when our pet is found.

Shop ID tags with Hollywood Feed at any of our locations. Pet ID tags are the quickest way for lost pets to be identified and returned home. For this reason, Hollywood Feed will donate an ID tag to a local shelter for every tag purchased in their stores. This means that once a shelter dog is adopted, he will always be able to find his way back to his forever home.

Well-Fitting Collar

If we have an ID tag on our dog or cat, but their collar is too loose and comes off, then the tag won’t serve its purpose. We should make sure that our dogs and cats’ collars fit them well (but not too tightly).

We can also write in permanent marker or have our phone number embroidered on the collar itself. This will provide extra protection in case the ID tag comes off of our pet’s collar.

We should also check our pet’s collar for frays and tears regularly. Damaged collars are more likely to break. (Cats should always wear break-away collars for safety.)


microchip scan of pet, dog, with gloved hands

Another great way for us to keep up with our pets is by getting them micro-chipped. This is quick and painless and can be done at our vet’s office or at micro-chipping clinics and events that are held regularly.

If our pet becomes lost and the ID tag is missing from his collar, then a Good Samaritan can easily take him to almost any shelter or vet to have the microchip scanned. Then the information that you used to register the microchip can be found easily.

This is why it’s so important for us to keep our phone number and address up to date on each pet’s microchip, or else the microchip will be useless! I like to set a reminder on my calendar to check the information once a year.


I don’t have any experience with this, but we can now get our pets tattooed on their ear, stomach, or inner thigh with a number that can then be matched up to our information in a database! That’s pretty neat, and with a tattoo (as with a microchip) there will be no ID tag or collar to fall off our dog and go missing.

Again, making sure we keep the information in the database up to date is the most important part, otherwise, there is no point in having the tattoo done.

Be Prepared

Keep a good, up-to-date photo of your pet on your phone or computer. This will come in handy if you need to make lost signs for your neighborhood, post a photo on Pet Finder and other similar sites, and circulate your pet’s picture and last seen site on social media.

Keep a list of local shelters and vet offices and their phone numbers. You can call around to see if your pet has been turned in, and to ask them to keep their eyes open for your pet.

Do you know what to do if you find a lost pet? If you want to be that Good Samaritan that returns lost pets to their families, then read up on what you need to know here!

I think that best practices are for each of our pets to have two forms of identification at the very least. An ID tag and a microchip are what I use for all of my pets, but the more forms of ID the better. I would make sure to have an easily visible form of ID like a tag and then a form of ID that cannot go missing, like a tattoo or microchip. Read more here about how to prevent losing a pet.

Now that we know what we need to do to keep our pets safe and to make sure they can be returned to us, let’s check our dogs’ collars, get our cat that new ID tag and finally make that micro-chipping appointment!

border collie puppy with first aid kit

Prepared for Emergencies? Keep Your Pets Safe Today.

Any number of emergencies can occur at any minute, from a car wreck to a natural disaster, to a house fire. It is always the best policy to be prepared in these situations, and that means considering what your pets need to survive an emergency as well. Since September is National Disaster Preparedness Month, you should take this time to review your family’s emergency plan and make sure that your pets are included as well!

In the event of an emergency, you must consider that you could be gone from your home for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. You could also potentially face a permanent evacuation, which happened to many families and their pets during Hurricane Katrina. Other types of emergencies or disasters may trap you at home for an unknown length of time. In any of these cases, find out how to be prepared:

1. Identify Pets

We all know how important it is to make sure our pets have a well-fitting collar, ID tag, and are microchipped, but I’m going to repeat it. You should make sure that these things are always on your dog or cat and always up to date. The chances of your pet becoming lost and scared in an emergency are higher than in normal circumstances, so take these steps to make sure that your pet can be returned to you if he is found! Check out this blog about preventing lost pets and this one about what to do if you find one!

You should also put a sticker on your front door so emergency workers know that there are pets in the house. This sticker should have the number and types of pets you have inside your home and their emergency contact numbers. If you must evacuate your home, take your pets with you and write “EVACUATED” on your front door sticker.

You should also keep recent photos of your pets, which should be pretty easy these days will smart phones.

2. Emergency Contact List

In the case of an emergency, having a contact list already prepared will make your plan much more effective and less stressful. Your list should include: your regular vet; an emergency or 24/7 vet in your area and in your predetermined evacuation destination; kennels, shelters and dog sitters in your area and evacuation destination that will help house pets in an emergency; hotels that are pet-friendly; and friends and family who can help with your pets if needed.

Give your house key to a trusted someone who lives nearby in case they need to evacuate your pets if you can’t get to them.

Remember, if it isn’t safe at home and you must evacuate, then that means your pets should go with you because it’s not safe for them either!

3. Grab and Go Bag

If the disaster you are facing causes you to evacuate your house, such as for flooding or wildfires-then you need to be prepared with a bag packed for your family and for your pets. This bag should stay in your garage or near your door so you can grab it and go quickly. You also need to make sure that your grab and go bag is always up to date with current medical information, phone numbers, and addresses. All food and medicine you have in the grab and go bag should be rotated regularly to prevent spoiling.

Your pet’s bag should include: a first aid kit, a week or more of food and bottled water for every pet, water and food bowls, leashes, a traveling crate, a litter pan and litter, medications, a flashlight, a blanket and pillowcase (to transport angry cats with claws), a can opener, trash bags, and paper towels. You can also include some toys and chews. Check out this blog on pet first-aid, and this one on pet CPR so you can be prepared!

You should also have a predetermined destination in case of evacuation. Get this bag packed and your evacuation destination figured out this month. You will feel a sense of relief and preparedness when it’s done, I promise!

4. Quarantine Preparation

There may be circumstances or emergencies when you are stuck inside your house for an unknown length of time as well. I have recently seen cities on lock-down in the news when dangerous criminals were on a rampage. You could also end up snowed in or quarantined due to some very contagious disease.


There are some special considerations for being stuck at home. If you should not be going outside for some reason (a contaminant, for instance), then your pets shouldn’t either! You may want to keep some potty training pads at your house for this scenario. In this case, your grab and go bag will still come in very handy! You should have food, water, and first aid materials inside and it should be in your house, packed and ready to go.

There may also be circumstances when you are stuck at home and may lose access to city water. If you think this is at risk of occurring, then fill all of the bathtubs, sinks, and large containers in your home with water immediately so you have a reservoir to fall back on.

In case of a tornado, you should bring your pets into the bathroom or basement with you as well to keep them safe!

What have you done to prepare your pets for an emergency?  Let me know in the comment section below!

black and tan dachshund next to first aid kit, white background

How to Save Your Pet’s Life with CPR

You will NOT be expecting it when your pet suddenly starts choking or stops breathing for no reason. Even though this can be an unexpected and scary situation, knowing how to perform CPR on your dog or cat may mean that you could save his life in an emergency. I have been certified to perform CPR on humans many times over, but I have never been officially trained on how to perform it on my pets. For this reason, I was greatly excited to attend the CPR training by Dr. Laura Bahorich, VMD, with Memphis Veterinary Specialists (MVS). Dr. Bahorich has been working in ER medicine at MVS for 9 years and she showed Hollywood Feed employees some very important life-saving techniques. She is pictured in this post with her CPR dummy and I pulled the other pictures from her presentation!

What is CPR?

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, is a life-saving measure that can be performed on both humans and animals when a cardiopulmonary arrest has occurred. The object of CPR is to manually provide blood flow and oxygen to the brain and other organs when the body cannot do this on its own. It turns out that we pet lovers who end up having to perform CPR at home are actually more successful than doctors in veterinary clinics (for a number of reasons)-but this definitely means that we should all be prepared and know what we are doing!

Some of the main reasons you may have to perform CPR on your dog or cat include: choking, vomiting, arrhythmia, anemia, trauma, and problems related to anesthesia. You may be able to tell that your dog or cat is going into cardiopulmonary arrest if he collapses, loses consciousness, becomes non-responsive, has a change in breathing, blood pressure, pulse or heart rate, or if you notice fixed or dilated pupils, blue gums or tongue, or low body temperature.

The ABC’s of CPR

CPR consists of two main components for non-medical professionals at home: chest compressions and rescue breathing. You can remember the proper order of steps for CPR by remembering to follow the ABC’s.

A is for Airway.

First, examine your pet’s airway for blockages. Make sure your pet is lying on his side, preferably the right, with his neck extended so that his airway is long and clear. Pull his tongue out of his mouth and then stick your hand in your pet’s mouth and throat, and sweep out any foreign objects or saliva. Be careful not to push a foreign object blocking your pet’s airway further inside.

B is for Breathing.

After you have cleared your pet’s airway, make sure that he is not breathing on his own (watch for rise and fall in the chest for a few seconds only). Your pet may be able to breathe on his own again if you have cleared a blockage. If he is still not breathing, then perform mouth to snout rescue breaths by closing your pet’s mouth with your hand and then blowing into your pet’s nose, watching his lungs expand as you do so. Give a second breath after you have seen your pet’s lungs expand and deflate. You should give one breath every six seconds, or 10 breaths per minute. Make sure you are counting! Too many breaths can be harmful. Give two full breaths before you move on to the next step-chest compressions.

C is for Circulation.

Next, you should check for your pet’s heart beat or pulse. If you cannot find one, you will have to circulate blood throughout your pet’s body in place of his heart. This is where chest compressions come in. Make sure your dog or cat is lying on his (preferably right) side on a firm surface. After you give the first two rescue breath, you will perform 30 compressions and then you will repeat the 2 breaths and 30 compressions. Try doing this to the tune of Stayin’ Alive-it will help you keep the beat and help to keep you positive and focused on the goal of CPR!

For most medium to large dogs, chest compressions will look similar to those for humans. Place one hand over the other, hold your arms straight with your shoulders over elbows over wrists and make 30-50% compressions over the heart or widest portion of the chest. With a barrel chested dog, you will want to place the dog on his back and do compressions over the sternum. With cats and small dogs, you will use two hands to cup their chest and perform compressions by squeezing your hands closed.

It’s best if you have a partner to perform CPR with, but it can be done by oneself if necessary. If you have a partner, you will want to trade off doing chest compressions because this can be the more strenuous part of CPR.

When Should I Stop CPR?

You will continue to perform CPR until one of the following things occurs: You become too physically exhausted to perform CPR anymore, a medical professional or other qualified CPR performer takes over, until you find a strong and regular heartbeat or pulse in your pet, or if you have performed CPR for ten minutes with no signs of life.

If your dog does become responsive after you perform CPR, watch his breathing and heart rate very closely and get him to your veterinarian right away so that he can be stabilized and examined for causes of the cardiopulmonary arrest.

A pet who has just been resuscitated is more likely to stop breathing again, and rescue breaths may need to be performed even after you detect a heartbeat in your pet and you stop chest compressions.

***This blog is not a substitute for veterinary care!

woman hugs senior chocolate lab

5 Quick Tips for Checking Your Dog’s Vital Signs

The time to learn how to take your dog’s vital signs is before you’re faced with an emergency. It’s very beneficial as a pet owner to be familiar with your dog’s heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature in case your pet is ever in distress. Learning how and periodically checking and recording normal vital signs is useful not only for some practice doing it, but you’ll also be able to use the numbers as a baseline of what is “normal” for your pet in case of an accident or illness.

Important Things to Note

  • Practice at home when you and your dog are relaxed so you know what to do when you have a concern.
  • If you’re having difficulty learning how to check vital signs on your own, ask your veterinarian to show you how the next time you take your dog in for a wellness exam. Working with your dog’s veterinarian is the best way to keep your pet healthy, and the basis of that relationship is regular wellness checks.
  • Being a well-informed and educated pet parent is important in helping prevent or catch potentially serious health issues early on.

Vital Signs and How to Check Them

Heart Rate:


  • There are two ways in which you can try to determine pulse without a stethoscope: (The heart rate will be the same both places, so do whichever is easier for you and your dog.)
  • Lay pet on side (preferably on right side, but either is fine)
    • Place hand over pet’s chest just behind the shoulder blade to feel for the pulse.
    • Place your fingers in the inner portion of your dogs hind leg right up against the body wall to feel for the femoral artery and check pulse.
  •  The heart rate will be the same both places, so do whichever is easier for you and your dog
  • Count the heartbeats per minute (i.e., count beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4)
  • Normal heart rate (in beats per minute) is:
    • Cats: 140 – 220
    • Dogs: 60-100 in big dogs, 100-160 in small breeds
    • Small dogs, puppies, and dogs that are out of shape will have faster heartbeats while large dogs and those in good physical condition will have slower rates.
  • Because normal varies so much, it’s difficult to assess abnormal without a baseline, so take your dog’s heart rate a few times and make notes. If you’re concerned about what you’re finding, discuss your results with your veterinarian.


Oral temperature readings will be falsely low and placing something in your pet’s mouth can anger or irritate them. Ear thermometers and forehead skin strips are not accurate with pets. Use a digital thermometer to take your pets rectal temperature.

  • Lubricate the end of a rectal thermometer with a water-soluble lubricating jelly or petroleum jelly
    (K-Y jelly or Vaseline yellow petroleum jelly) and gently insert in the rectum
  • This process is a lot easier with help: Have someone hold your dog’s muzzle gently and praise them for good behavior. Slowly insert the device about one or two inches into your dog’s rectum, but don’t force it.
  • Wait the time recommended by the thermometer, remove it and read results For digital thermometer: leave in until it beeps and check and record the temperature. For non-digital thermometer: wait 2 minutes after inserting before checking temperature.
  • Normal temperature (in Fahrenheit) is:
    • Dogs: 100.5° – 102.5°
    • Cats: 100.5° – 102.5°
  • Call your veterinarian if temperature is below 98 or over 103, or if you see evidence of blood, diarrhea, or a black, tarry stool on the thermometer.

Respiratory Rate:

  • Your pet should be laying quietly in a relaxed position
  • Watch the chest rise and fall
  • Count the number of breaths for one minute
  • Normal resting respiratory rate (breaths per minute) is:
    • Dogs: 10 – 40 (May be higher if panting)
    • Cats: 20 – 40
  • If your dog is panting frantically and is glassy-eyed, don’t count anything except the minutes it will take you to get to a veterinarian. Your dog is in critical condition from overheating.
  • If while breathing the abdomen is expanding instead of the chest on inhalation your pet is not breathing normally. Irregularities such as low or fast respiratory rate, loud gasping sounds, shallow breathing, breathing with mouth open, or the abdomen expanding instead of the chest on inhalation, should all be treated as an emergency. If any of these abnormalities are observed seek veterinary care as quickly as possible.
  • Cats typically do not pant unless they are in a stressful situation (going to the vet, frightened, in hot weather). They should not pant for more than a few minutes at a time. If panting persists and the animal cannot return to normal breathing, treat as an emergency.

Mucus Membranes/Hydration Status:

  • Your pet’s mucous membranes are the inner cheeks and gums
  • Pull back pet’s upper lips and examine her gums
  • Normal mucous membranes are a healthy pink and moist.
  • Brick red or brown, pale light pink, white, or blue colors of the mucous membranes are colors indicative of an emergency (shock, loss of blood, or anemia) and you should seek care immediately.
  • Dry, sticky or tacky-feeling gums can signal dehydration, also potentially serious.
  • Some dogs have black pigment in their mouths/gums that is normal. In this case, assess the color of the tongue.

Skin Tent:

The skin tent test also tests your pet’s hydration status.

  • Gently pinch the skin behind and between pet’s shoulder blades, and lift up, (as in a tent), and immediately release.
  • If the skin snaps back against the body in less than 1 second, your pet is properly hydrated. If it takes longer than 2 seconds for the skin to snap back against the body, your pet may be dehydrated.

Capillary Refill Time (CRT):

  • Pull back pet’s upper lip and find the gum line above their teeth. The gums should be pink.
  • Gently press with your finger or thumb on the gum and release. The gum will blanche and turn white.
  • The pink color of the gum should return within 2 seconds.

Other helpful indicators in establishing emergency situations include:

  • Bruising around the gums, and other areas of skin, such as the inner ears and abdomen areas, can indicate:
    • severe anemia
    • blood loss
    • coagulation dysfunction
    • other critical situations
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the mucous membranes or skin, which can indicate kidney or liver problems

While it may be a little difficult to determine these values your first try, with a little practice you can become very proficient at checking your dog’s vital signs. Every animal is different, and every animal will have a different “normal.” Keeping the measurements taken from your pet when they are healthy and comfortably resting can be useful to serve as a baseline when determining if something is going wrong. Learning these easy to master skills is a great first step to becoming a more educated pet parent and can help catch potentially serious health issues early on.

Contributing Writer:

Spencer Mills
Mississippi State University
College of Veterinary Medicine
Class of 2016

bernese mountain dog next to first aid kit with ice pack on head

Pet First Aid Necessities

Imagine playing at the dog park with your furry best friend when all of the sudden he collapses and doesn’t appear to be breathing…Would you know what to do? Many people wouldn’t have any idea, except to try to make it to the vet before it’s too late. Take the time to make sure you know what to do if your dog or cat comes into any harm, make sure you have all emergency phone numbers posted in your home and saved in your phone, and put together a basic first aid kit for your pet.

Always make sure that you are careful of your own safety when you are helping your injured animals. You will want to consider using a muzzle for many injuries because your pet may be scared or disoriented and attempt to bite you.

Some of the most common issues that pets run into are:

POISONING: Signs of your pet being poisoned can include drooling or foaming at the mouth, seizures, strange behavior or mental state, and bleeding internally or externally. Some common causes of pet poisonings are cleaning products, fertilizers, plants, chemicals, antifreeze, xylitol, pest poisons, medications, and some common foods (see my previous blog on poison prevention for more information). Read the product label for anything that your pet has gotten into and follow the instructions for human poisoning (i.e. wash your pet with soap and water at exposed area, or flush eyes with water, depending on the instructions) and collect any vomit to take to your vet.

CHOKING: Symptoms of choking include difficulty breathing or pawing at face/mouth, choking noises, and blue lips/tongue. Your pet may bite out of fear while choking, so be careful and keep your face out of danger. Try to spot a foreign object in your pet’s mouth or throat and try to pull it out, but do not push it further in. If you can’t get the object out quickly, rush straight to your vet-there is no time to lose. You can also attempt a pet Heimlich maneuver by lying your pet on his side and applying firm quick pressure to the side of your pet’s rib cage with both hands to cause air to sharply push out of the lungs and dislodge the object blocking the airway. You can also pick your pet up and hold him upside down with his back to you, clasp your hands just below his rib cage and thrust sharply four or five times.

NOT BREATHING: Have someone call a vet while you attempt pet CPR. Pull your pet’s tongue out of his mouth to open his airway and check for any foreign objects (see above). Hold your pet’s mouth closed and put your mouth over his nose and complete rescue breaths until you see his chest rising. Do this every 5 seconds. After this, you can start chest compressions. Lay your pet on his right side on the ground so you can access the heart on the lower left, behind the elbow of the front left leg. Press down firmly about 1 inch for medium dogs, more for larger dogs, and less for smaller dogs. For cats, compress the chest by squeezing it between your thumb and fingers with your thumb on the left side of their chest. Do the compressions 80-120 times for larger animals and 100-150 times for smaller animals. Alternate between the rescue breathing and chest compressions. Continue this until your pet starts breathing on his own or you reach the vet and they can take over.

SEIZURE: Try not to restrain your pet and keep hands away from his mouth. Time the seizure. Afterward, keep him warm and quiet until you are able to talk to your vet.

CUTS/BLEEDING: Apply pressure to bleeding site with gauze or a towel for three minutes at a time until blood starts to clot. If blood does not clot quickly, you can apply a tourniquet and get your pet to the vet immediately as excessive bleeding can be life threatening.

BURNS: Flush burned area with large quantities of water, then apply ice compact to the burned area. You may want to muzzle your dog for your own protection.

FRACTURES/BREAKS: Try to stabilize your pet on a board/cot or use a towel or rug to carry him. You may want to muzzle your pet, and get him to a vet to set any bones.

HEAT STROKE/HEAT EXHAUSTION: Symptoms of overheating include your pet collapsing, body temperature of 104 or higher, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, wobbling, excessive panting/difficulty breathing, redness in mucus membranes, and increased salivation. DON’T LEAVE YOUR PET IN THE CAR ON WARM DAYS!! It quickly gets hot in a car, faster than you think. Move your pet to a cool or shaded area immediately. Put a cool, wet towel around his neck and keep it wet with cool water. Pour cold water over his body and sweep it off with your hands over and over. Take your dog to the vet. Read more about the effects of heat exhaustion in dogs here.

You should definitely consider building a basic first aid kit for your pets. You can add in anything that you want, but here are a few basics to start with:

A wound spray like Zymox topical spray, which is what I use. This will come in very handy for cuts and scrapes. Zymox is non-toxic and even safe if licked. It will also clean the wound and speed up healing.

Bandages that self-cling, gauze and bandage scissors.

Eye and ear rinse and dropper to help flush out any contaminants.

E-collar to prevent licking and biting at wounded area.

Muzzle and leash-because your dog may be acting extra cranky when injured and in pain, or extra skittish and try to bolt.

Hydrogen peroxide is good to keep on hand to induce vomiting. Don’t do this unless you have been advised by your vet or an emergency poison control hotline to do so. Some poisons cause more harm if they are regurgitated.

Finally, you should keep your regular veterinarian’s as well as your local 24/7 emergency veterinarian’s phone numbers posted on your refrigerator and saved in your phone. Also, keep the Pet Poison Helpline number handy: 855-764-7661. They are available 24/7, but will charge you a $49 fee. This fee will cover follow-ups and multiple phone calls. Find more information at petpoisonhelpline.com. You can also look for the Pet First Aid App by the Red Cross to download to your smartphone.

Credits: American Red Cross, www.peta.org, https://www.cesarsway.com/?s=first+aid

Please note: This article is for informational purposes only. This is not intended to prevent, diagnose or cure any disease or injury.