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The fundamentals of pet first aid

 Just like their human counterparts, pets can be involved in accidents or become ill suddenly. For their own peace of mind, sensible people like to prepare for the worst. The following explains how to be ready for (almost) anything.

What items to include in your pet first aid kit?

While there are ready-made kits available, you can also opt to build an emergency kit yourself. To do so, here’s what you need:

  • A diluted chlorhexidine solution to clean small wounds
  • Sterile gauze to clean minor wounds
  • Plastic gloves to prevent wound contamination if you cannot wash your hands, for example
  • Tongue depressors, which can be used as splints to stabilize a fracture temporarily
  • Elastic bandages to use as compresses for bleeding wounds
  • Fabric adhesive tape to hold bandages
  • A thermometer
  • Clean tweezers to remove splinters or other foreign objects
  • Scissors to cut bandages

How to be prepared for an emergency?

You should save your veterinarian’s number in your cell phone and also write it down in your first aid kit for convenience.

If you are travelling far from home, make sure to save the phone number of a local veterinarian in your cell phone as a precaution. Bring your pet’s health booklet: it’s always useful to have the medical history on hand.

IMPORTANT: All the steps listed above are useful to allow you the time to get to the veterinary clinic. Pet owners can underestimate the severity of a wound, which can sadly lead to their companion’s death in the following days. As with humans, it can be very difficult to assess damages to internal organs without more thorough testing.

How to check a pet’s vital signs?

  • Start by practicing while your pet is quiet and in good shape.
  • Take the pulse to see:
  1. If the cardiovascular circulation reaches the limbs
  2. If the number of beats per minute is normal
  3. If the pulse is regular, weak, absent, or fast

The first thing to know is that you take the pulse by palpating an artery, not a vein. Every heart beat is equal to a pulse. That’s why it is said that the pulse rate must be concordant with heartbeats. The easiest and most reliable pulse point is in the inner part of the thigh where you can feel the femoral artery.  To take your pet’s pulse, use the tip of your index or middle finger. Don’t use your thumb or you run the risk of confusing your own pulse with your pet’s.

  • Have the animal lie on their side.
  • Lift the leg gently and press your fingers in the middle of the thigh, close to the belly, and wait.
  • Count the number of beats over 30 seconds, then multiply by 2 to get the pulse rate per minute.

Cats and small dogs: approximately 140 beats/minute

Medium breed dogs: approximately 120 beats/minute

Large breed dogs: 60-80 beats/minute

Puppies: up to 220 beats/minute

  • Check the following:
  1. The mucous membranes: Easily visible on the gums and inside the cheeks, their colour is similar to the pink of our own gums. Membranes which are pale or even white could indicate that the animal is suffering from internal (i.e. no visible blood loss) or external (visible blood) bleeding. Dark membranes could be a sign of a big infection or thermal shock.  When you press on the membranes gently, they should regain their natural pink colour in less than 2 seconds. This is called the capillary refill time (CRT). If membranes are very dry, this often means that your pet is dehydrated.
  1. Body temperature: Take the temperature with a rectal thermometer and make sure to clean it before you stow it away. Normal temperature is between 38-39°C. In case of heat stroke, it can reach 40°C. If the animal is suffering from an infection or running a fever, the temperature will also be higher. If it’s lower than 38°C, it could be the sign of shock, hemorrhage, etc. See your veterinarian if the temperature is too high or too low.

What to do if your pet is choking?

First off, please be careful not to make the situation worse. Your initial reaction will probably be to think that there is something stuck in your pet’s throat. However, a pet can cough for various reasons, including tracheitis, sore throat, a heart condition, or kennel cough.

Take the following scenario:

  • Your pet swallows a toy, chokes, and starts coughing. As long as coughing is still occurring, wait it out. There’s a good chance that your pet will eject the foreign object by themselves. If coughing stops and the animal appears to still be in distress, check if the object is visible by opening their jaws.  If you can see it, try removing it gently. Be careful: in the rush, there’s a great risk of pushing the object further down the throat.
  • You should also take some precautions. There is a danger of getting bitten because your pet is panicking or because you were wrong in your assessment and there’s actually nothing lodged in the throat.

Can you perform the Heimlich maneuver on dogs and cats?

Absolutely, and it can be quite effective. But wait until the pet stops coughing before you begin. Remember that coughing is the best method to eject foreign objects stuck in one’s throat.

Here’s how to proceed:

  • If your dog is lying on their side, place your hands on the largest portion of the thorax and press on it in a swift movement. Depending on the size of the animal, compress the chest 1 to 4 cm.   Next, open the dog’s mouth to remove the foreign object. Reel versus real: the object will not fly out of the mouth like it does in the movies!  If the size of your dog allows it, lie on top of them; otherwise, lie on their side. Wrap your arms around the dog and clasp your hands together, one on top of the other with the hand on top, i.e. the one touching the dog, in a fist. Give sharp thrusts to the abdomen. The aim is to apply pressure on the diaphragm, so do a forward movement.  Check if the foreign object is now visible in the mouth and remove it gently.

What to do if the pet is not breathing?

Perform artificial respiration:

  • Pull on the tongue so it doesn’t block the airways. If you see blood or debris, remove it first. 
  • Press your mouth against the pet’s nostrils and blow. Caution: for small pets, be careful not to blow too hard as it could rupture the pulmonary alveoli. The respiratory capacity is greater in humans than in pets. Push in oxygen about 6 times per minute. You should see the thorax swell.

Can you perform a cardiac massage on dogs or cats?

Yes, here’s how:

  • If possible, have the pet lie down on their right side.
  • Find a spot between the 3rd and 6th rib. Press on the spot every second. For small pets, use 2 fingers. For large breed dogs, use the palm of your hand instead of the tips of your fingers.
  • Continue to perform artificial respiration during the cardiac massage.
  • At every 5 pushes against the ribs, fill the pet’s lungs with air, and then repeat. Make sure that there is air in the lungs when the heart starts beating again.
  • Even if your pet appears to be feeling better after those procedures, please make an appointment with your veterinarian. This could save your companion from sequelae.

What to do with a drowning pet?

The quicker you get to the scene, the greater are your chances to save your pet.  You can hold their head down for a few seconds to let gravity empty some of the water from their lungs. Next, perform the maneuvers explained above, as needed.

  • If the animal is conscious, take their temperature. Hypothermia can quickly become fatal. You need to warm up your pet:
  • Heat up blankets in the dryer for a few minutes to put on your pet.
  • Use a few magic bags heated in the microwave oven but be careful to not apply directly on the fur to prevent injuries.
  • Turn on the heat in the car and quickly go to your veterinarian’s office. X-rays will be performed to detect any water build-up in the lungs, and then appropriate measures will be taken.

Quick tip: Pet owners often put Styrofoam pieces in the pool to give their pets something to hold onto should they fall in the water.

Do you have more questions?

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Passionimo veterinary clinic nearest to you.