Basic First Aid for your Pet

Tuesday, 19 June 2018 08:51

First Aid For Pets1When your pet gets injured, it’s helpful to know when to recognize a serious medical issue. First aid is not a substitute for veterinary care, but quick thinking and staying calm may save your pet's life until they receive treatment from a veterinarian.  There are two emergency hospitals in the Asheville area, REACH and Western Caroline Regional Emergency Hospital. Have their numbers handy in case you find yourself in an emergency situation.  

REACH: 828-665-4399

Western Carolina Regional Emergency Hospital: 828-697-7767

Important Vitals

If your pet is ever in distress, it’s helpful to be familiar with their vital signs. Periodically checking them at home will help you stay calm during an emergency.  Although vitals are important, if your pet is in distress and in a true emergency, take them to the closest emergency hospital ASAP.

Top 4 Vital Signs

  • Heart rate
  • Respiratory rate
  • Mucus membrane color
  • Temperature

There are 3 ways in which you can try to get pulse without a stethoscope. The first is to place your hand over your pet's chest on the left side just behind the shoulder blade or just behind the front leg. The second only works for dogs. It’s less reliable in cats and most of them won’t let you do it. Place your fingers in the inner portion of the hind leg right up against the body wall to feel for the pulse. This gives you a pulse from the femoral artery. The last way is to feel right behind the paw pads on the feet. You may not always be able to feel this one, so the first two are more reliable.

Count the heartbeats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get the beats per minute. In cats the normal is 140 to 220 beats per minute. In big dogs it should be 60 to 100, and small breeds 100 to 160 bpm.

Respiratory Rate

Respiratory rate is simply the number of breaths your pet takes per minutes. Watch the chest rise and fall, or place your hand gently over the ribs and feel it. One rise and fall or inhalation and exhalation is one complete breath. As with the heart rate, count for 15 second and multiply by 4 to get breaths per minute.

Normal resting respiratory rate in dogs is 10 – 40. If your dog is panting, their respiratory rate will be increased.

In cats 20 – 40 is normal. Cats typically do not pant unless they are in a stressful situation. They should not pant for more than a few minutes at a time. If panting persists or they are breathing with their mouth open treat it as an emergency.

Irregularities such as slow or fast respiratory rate, loud gasping sounds, shallow breathing, breathing with mouth open, or the abdomen expanding instead of the chest on inhalation, are all emergencies.

Mucus Membranes

Your pet's mucous membranes are the inner cheeks and gums, eyelids, and inner ears. Pull back pet's upper lips and examine their gums to get the best indicator. Normal mucous membranes are a healthy bright pink and moist. In dogs it can be a bubblegum pink and in cats it’s usually a little lighter. Brick red or brown, pale light pink, white, or blue colors of the mucous membranes are indicative of an emergency such as shock, loss of blood, or anemia. Again, knowing your pets normal here is a good idea. Dry, sticky or tacky-feeling gums can be a sign of dehydration. Some animals have black pigment in their mouths/gums that is normal. In this case, assess the color of the tongue, or the lower eyelids.


You can take your pet's temperature in one of two ways. To get the most accurate reading, we recommend taking a rectal temperature. For cats, or dogs who won’t allow you to easily take a rectal temperature, you can use an ear thermometer.  The normal temperature for cats and dogs is between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees.

What to keep in your pet's first aid kit

  • Your pet's general information, medication info and vaccine records
  • Your vetrinarian's contact information
  • Emergency hospital information
  • Spare leash and collar
  • Muzzle or Tie Gauze
  • Large towel or blanket – This can be used as a make-shift stretcher, to cover wounds, to cover your car seats or to provide insulation if a pet is cold or hypothermic
  • Digital thermometer
  • Nonstick gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Do not use this to clean wounds! It's abrasive to healthy tissue. It can be used to induce vomiting if your pet ingested something toxic. Call and ask your vet if this is recommended and they should tell you how much to give.
  • Benadryl 25mg tablets - Call your vet first before administering.
  • Saline or contact rinse
  • Latex gloves
  • Bandage scissors (or scissors with a blunt end)
  • KY Jelly
  • Ice pack
  • Flash light
  • Expired credit card to get rid of insect stingers
  • Styptic stick or Kwik stop – for superficial cuts and broken nails. DO NOT put this on deep wounds
  • Honey – for diabetic animals
  • An old t-shirt – Great to cover wounds as needed
  • Treats or a favorite toy – In serious emergencies these are less important, but its nice to have something comforting around for your pets


And as always, please contact us if you have any questions or if your pet needs to be seen.