Canine Medical Emergancies
by Dr. Wendy Ernst
Published Pawsitively News Spring 2008
I’ve put together just some very basic first aid info for your interest. For the next newsletter I’ll get into more specific emergencies and what you can do… so stay tuned! For now I’ll give some brief general first aid info, things to have in your first aid kit, and basic normal values for dogs’ vital signs.
For general emergency preparedness one important thing is to have a relationship with a veterinary clinic. You should be know if your veterinarian offers emergency services or refers you to an emergency clinic. If the answer is an emergency clinic then you should have that phone number handy and also have an idea of how to get there.
Many folks complain to me when they find out that their vet office refers out emergencies, but let me give you the other side. Emergency clinics are open and staffed 24 hours a day. The doors are unlocked, the equipment is on and the staff is fresh and ready to deal with your emergency. For critical cases the staff is there offering supportive care and treating patients throughout the night. That is a tremendous benefit to your pet. I know that you might not know the Veterinarian and that makes you uneasy- but it is often the best treatment option for your ill pet! I have spent a fair amount of time working shifts in local emergency clin-ics and I am often able to offer superior care compared to when I get paged into work in the middle of the night, with no technical support, with no overnight care, etc!
There are a number of things I recommend that you have in a first aid kit- both at home and to take with you on the road or at training events. In addition to the first aid items listed below it is also important to have your veterinarian’s number, and the number of a local emergency clinic if needed. Also, it’s great to keep a copy of your pet’s medical info/vaccine records with you.
First Aid Kit contents
Non-adherent sterile pads (like Telfa pads)
Roll gauze Roll bandage (like Vet Wrap)
Heavy duty maxi pads (they make great wound dressings) Towels Page 9 Splint material (like rolled up newspaper/magazines) Rubbing alcohol Hydrogen peroxide (3%)
Sterile saline eye wash and eye lubricant
Topical antibiotic ointment
Water based lubricant
Compact thermal blanket
Over the counter medications that may be useful to have around (use under the advice of a veterinarian)
Buffered aspirin (Bufferin or ascription) - not recommended in cats
Pepto Bismol (not recommended in cats)
DO NOT use Tylenol (not recommended for dogs and DO NOT ever give to cats)
In the event of a possible emergency- do not panic, remain calm and assess the situation!
The normal pulse rate for a dog is 60-160 beats per minute (smaller dogs have faster heart rates, bigger dogs and dogs in excel-lent physical condition have slower hear rates). The pulse will usually be elevated during times of excitement. You can feel for a dog’s pulse in many locations- the left side of the chest, just behind the elbow; and the inner thigh are the two easiest places.
The normal respiration rate for dogs is 10-40 breaths per minute. Dogs will commonly pant though and can increase respiration well above the normal listed. Breaths that are shallow or noisy can indicate a potential problem.
Body temperature in dogs is normally 101-102.5 and temperature is best obtained using a rectal thermometer. In general it is very difficult to “feel” that a dog has a fever by touching them or any specific body part. Clients often come in thinking their pet feels hot but we find a normal body temperature. Rectal temperatures under 99 or over 104 degrees may constitute an emergency.
Mucus membrane color is used to assess circulatory and respiratory function (ie, is the blood being oxygenated by the lungs and moved around the body through the circulation appropriately). The mucus membranes include the gums, inside of the cheeks, the conjunctival tissue around the eyes, etc. The color should be pink. Excessively pale or blue or yellow mucus membranes are abnormal findings.
Capillary refill time is an additional “test” of circulatory ability. It is the time that it takes for blood flow to “refill” an area. Lightly press on the gum and then observe how long it takes for the normal color to return. Normal capillary refill time is 1-2 seconds.
Hydration status is very difficult to determine subjectively. You can tent the skin on the back of the neck (pull it up) and it should return to normal position very quickly. In animals that are dehydrated the skin takes some time to fall back into normal position. You can also check the gums; they should be moist and not dry. Older pets can be more difficult to assess for dehydra-tion.
ASPCA Animal Poison Control. If you suspect that your pet has come in contact with a poison, write down as much information as you can about the product, when the contact occurred, how much exposure there was. Your veterinarian may refer you to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control center. There is a charge for their service, with no additional charge for follow calls on that case (and they will consult with your vet throughout the treatment). They have board certified veterinary toxicologists on staff 24 hours a day and provide you/your vet with detailed information about the appropriate treatment for your pet. The ASPCA animal poison control number is 888-426-4435
First Aid references: Carlson, D. 1992. Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook. Howell Book House. NY. Mammato, B. 1997. Pet First Aid. Mosby