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Pet First Aid 102

Posted December 20, 2014 in Dog Checkups & Preventive Care

Dr. Justine Lee's gives you the basics on pet first aid. For more from Dr. Lee, find her on Facebook!

As we celebrate April as National Pet First Aid Awareness Month, I’m going to focus on how to check vital signs on your pet. Believe it not, it’s harder to check vitals on your pet than you think. When in doubt, practice, as it’s really important. Why? Because helps us when we perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in emergency situations.

Vital Signs
Knowing the normal vital signs for your dog or cat can help you determine if anything is out of the ordinary.

For small and medium-sized dogs, normal vitals are:
Pulse: 70-140 beats per minute 
Respiratory rate: 15-30 breaths per minute 
Temperature: 100-102.5° F

For larger dogs, normal vitals are:
Pulse: 50-120 beats per minute
Respiratory rate: 15-30 breaths per minute
Temperature: 100-102.5° F

And finally, for cats, normal vitals are:
Pulse: 140-200 beats per minute
Respiratory rate: 15-30 breaths per minute
Temperature: 100-102.5° F

First, you have to know how to take your pet’s pulse:
1. Use a timer (or a watch with a second hand).
2. Find the pulse or heartbeat in one of two ways:

  • Place your hands on both sides of the chest cavity (just behind the elbows).
  • Place two fingers inside your pet’s thigh, near where the leg and body meet (dogs only)

3. Count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by four. This gives you the number of beats per minute.
4. Note: Cats are very difficult to get a heart rate on!

To calculate your pet’s respiratory rate, do the same thing but count the number of full breaths in 15 seconds. Then multiply by four to get the number of breaths per minute.

So, now that you know how to check vitals, what do you do if you can’t feel a heartbeat?
Before starting chest compressions, be certain that there is no heartbeat. Performing chest compressions while the heart is still beating can cause extreme harm to your pet. Signs of cardiopulmonary arrest include:

  • Unconscious
  • Not breathing
  • No heartbeat

You should also simultaneously check to see if your pet is breathing. You can do this by one of three ways:
1. Place your ear next to your pet’s nose and mouth and listen for breathing
2. Place your hand on the side of your pet’s

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.