April 2012 – Pet First Aid

April is Pet First Aid Awareness month, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to go over some good, basic information and recommendations for pet owners. First of all, knowing your pet’s vital statistics is important. By this I mean, normal temperature, respiration, and pulse rate. Our pets’ normal body temperature is a little higher than ours. Dogs average 99-102.5 degrees F. and cats average 100.5-102.5 degrees F. Respiration varies during rest or excitement. Normal resting respiration ranges 10-30 in dogs and 20-40 in cats. Panting is normal in dogs, but can indicate serious disease in cats. The pulse rate again depends on the size of the dog, ranging from 60 to 160 beats per minute, the larger the dog, the slower the heart rate. A resting cat usually has a heart rate of 120 to 160 beats per minute (often much faster in the vet’s office when they are nervous). Since there is so much variation between pets, it is good to check your pet and find out the normal vitals are when your pet is healthy and calm, so in the event of a problem, you can compare.

A dry or wet nose isn’t a good indicator of your pet’s health. If your pet is acting ill, don’t rely on the nose, you’ll need to get those vitals. How do you measure your pet’s vital statistics? To take a pet’s temperature the best way you can get that information is by taking the temperature rectally. You can buy a digital thermometer; I usually get the type with the flexible tip and mark it in a way it won’t be used for anyone but the pets. When you take your pet’s temperature, turn the thermometer on, put some Vaseline on the tip of the thermometer and gently place it 1-2 inches (depending on the size of the pet) into the rectum. The digital thermometers beep when they are finished, usually in a minute or so. Respiration and pulse are measured in breaths/beats per minute. To measure respiration watch movement of the chest in and out. To measure pulse you can either find the artery on the inside of the upper thigh on the rear leg- count each time you feel a pulse wave in the artery. For smaller and normal weight pets you can feel the heart through the left chest wall just behind the elbow. You should try to count for a minute, but if your pet is wiggly, you can count for 15 seconds, and then multiply by 4.

Now that you have found out your pets normal range for temperature, pulse, and respiration, you should make sure you have a first aid kit available so you can deal with minor problems. There are pet first aid kits available for sale or you can make your own. Tweezers, sterile saline, roll gauze and gauze sponge, adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment, a nylon leash, latex gloves a carrier for smaller pets and an appropriately sized muzzle. It is important to check your kit yearly and replace any items that have expired. Remember do not use human medication for your pet without your veterinarian’s approval. Many human medications can be toxic to our pets.

Also, be very careful when dealing with an injured animal, they are much more likely to bite and scratch if they are injured, painful and frightened. When deciding if you need to take your pet to the vet, here is my rule of thumb, if you or your child had the same problem, do for your pet what you would do for you. If the problem would require a doctor for a human, take your pet to the vet. Prior to transporting an injured animal, you can call your vet to get recommendations on what to do to safely transport an injured pet.

We often talk about emergency/disaster preparedness for ourselves and family, but are you prepared for your pets? The American Red Cross has a checklist discussing how to include your pet in your plan. Some important points include: having a current photo of your pet, having your pet microchipped, and keeping proof of current vaccinations in your emergency kit. After a disaster, remember that just like people, pets can become stressed and have behavioral changes. They will also be prone to wander, so make sure you have a way to contain your pet in your disaster plan. I have put a link to the checklist on our Facebook page. In addition, The American Red Cross has a dog and cat first aid book/DVD you can purchase you can find more information on their website,

Hopefully, I’ve given you something to think about. As usual, if you have any questions or ideas for future articles, feel free to contact me at [email protected], go to our Facebook page or website, We are sponsoring the Farmers’ Market again this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone this summer at this Market.


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