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Pet Emergency

by: Dr. Jeffrey Proulx

In a pet emergency, first aid is important, but it's no substitute for a qualified vet.

On a hot summer day your 10-year old tabby begins vomiting and her breathing is laboured. It looks like heatstroke. Late one night your lovable lab suddenly has difficulty breathing and his lips and tongue are turning blue. You think he is choking. Do you know what to do?

Your immediate response to both situations should be to get your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Most pet emergencies will require medical intervention. Nevertheless, before you are able to get to a vet, knowing some basic first aid can help. It should be emphasized though, that in an emergency, first aid is not a substitute for veterinary care.

Checking your pet's pulse rate and temperature can often help determine if your pet is experiencing an emergency situation. The pulse rate should be strong and regular. Normal resting pulse and heart rates are:

  • Cats: 150-200 bpm
  • Small dogs: 90-120 bpm
  • Medium dogs: 70-110 bpm
  • Large dogs: 60-90 bpm

Pulse rates should also be easy to locate. The easiest place to locate a pulse is the femoral artery in the groin area inside the hind leg. When you feel the pulsing blood, count the number of pulses in 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4. This will give you the beats per minute.

It's also good to know that the normal temperature for dogs and cats is 100-102.5 degrees.

Always remember that if your dog or cat is sick or injured, you should handle it with care and caution. Even the friendliest animal can bite when it is distressed and may need to be restrained and muzzled. Dog and cat bites can rapidly become infected, so seek medical attention quickly.

There is no emergency number for pets so prepare for possible emergencies. You should find out how your vet handles emergencies: Does he have somebody on call at all times? If not, where should you take a sick animal, night or day, and on weekends and holidays? Research the answers to these questions and keep the information beside your telephone, or enter it into your cell phone. The last thing you need to be doing during a medical emergency is fumbling through the telephone book, calling directory assistance or going online.

Many pet owners regard their pets as members of the family, and are becoming very proactive in preparing for a pet-related emergency by enrolling in professionally run first-aid workshops. Ask your vet if he can recommend one, or you can call or go online to the American Red Cross, or get in touch with your local shelter for information.

Another useful precaution you can take to prepare for emergencies is to assemble a First Aid kit of basic supplies: gauze pads, gauze roll/bandages, a thermometer, tweezers, scissors, hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, Q-tips, an instant cold pack, rags/rubber tubing for a tourniquet and a first-aid book. The Red Cross first-aid book is an excellent resource.

So, be prepared. It's a priority when your pet's welfare is on the line.

Dr. Jeffrey Proulx is the director of veterinary services at the San Francisco SPCA. If you have any questions about dogs or cats, write to him at The San Francisco SPCA, 2500 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103, or by E-mail. To find out more about the SF/SPCA, visit

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