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At-Home Emergency Medical Evaluation of Your Pet

At some time in your pet’s life, you will probably be faced with a medical emergency. There are several procedures you can learn to do at home to help assess you pet’s health. If any of the below signs indicate an emergency, call your veterinarian or contact an emergency animal clinic right away.

Take Your Cat or Dog’s Temperature

Use a digital thermometer with a lubricant. With gentle restraint of the pet, insert the thermometer rectally one inch and hold until it beeps. Normal body temperature for cats and dogs is 100 to 102.5°F. A temperature under 100 or greater than 103.5 is considered an emergency.

Take Your Pet’s Pulse

You can feel your cat or dog’s pulse by placing you hand over the chest at the point where the elbow crosses the ribs near the sternum when you pet is lying on his side. You can also feel the pulse on the inner thigh. Heart rates are quite variable:

  • Small dogs: 100-160 beats per minute
  • Medium to large dogs: 60-100 beats per minute
  • Puppy: 120-160 beats per minute
  • Cats: 160-220 beats per minute

Check Your Pet’s Respiratory Rate

When your pet lies down on their side, watch the number of times the chest rises (inhales) and falls (exhales). If the stomach is actively expanding instead of the chest, this is a medical emergency. Normal resting breath rates are:

  • Dogs: 10-30 breaths per minute
  • Cats: 20-30 breaths per minute.

Cats do not like to pant and if they are doing this for more than a few minutes, treat as an emergency.

Examine the Mucous Membrane

Lift your pet’s upper lip and look at their gums or inner lip. If your pet has black (pigmented) mucous membranes, check the coloring of the inner lower eye lid, which should be pink if your pet is healthy.

Test the Capillary Refill Time

After checking the color of the mucous membrane, press lightly on the gums or inner lip and observe the color as it blanches white and then pink again. The normal refill time is one to two seconds. Times of more than three seconds most likely indicate a pet medical emergency.

Check Your Pet’s Hydration

Gently pull up the skin at the back over the shoulder areas. It should spring back to normal within one to two seconds. If delayed, the pet is dehydrated. This is not an accurate test for very old, very fat, or very skinny animals. Instead, check to see if the gums feel dry or sticky.

Next article will present ASAP emergencies, how to transport your pet safely, supplies you should have at home, and emergency phone numbers.

This copyrighted article first appeared in the Residences section of The Palm Beach Post. It may have been updated since its original publication.

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