Before an emergency, learn “ER speak” so you can describe your pet’s condition efficiently. But first you’ll need to learn the basics of assessing an emergency situation. The guidelines included here are intended to help you to provide detailed, specific information to your veterinarian or the emergency veterinarian.
They in no way should replace veterinary care, but may prove useful in determining whether or not your pet needs to be seen on an emergency basis. When in doubt, have your pet seen by a veterinarian immediately. You are encouraged to assess your pet frequently when he or she is healthy to allow you to determine what “normal” is for your pet and discuss these findings with your veterinarian on your pet’s next appointment.
Learn Your Pet’s:
To determine your pet’s:
Listen to the heart with a stethescope, best heard on the left side of the body. When the left front leg is flexed close to the body and back slightly, the point of the elbow should lay against the chest and fall approximately over heart. In very large dogs with a deep chest, it may be difficult to hear the heart. To prevent panting in dogs, it may be necessary to close the mouth gently. Do this only if the dog is breathing comfortably.
Take the pulse
1. Inside the hind leg, close to the body wall.
2. Front paw, between 3rd and 4th bones on top side of “hand”
Normal heart rates
In both cats and dogs, the sounds heard should be “lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub”. A whoosh sound indicates a cardiac murmur, and may significant. “Extra” heart sounds or an irregular rhythm not associated with breathing (dogs only) should be noted. Normal, healthy dogs may have what is called a “respiratory sinus arrhythmia” - this means that the heart rate increases when the dogs inhales, and slows when the dog exhales. This does not signify a problem.
In both cats and dogs, a resting respiratory rate should be between 16-40 breaths per minute. Obviously, dogs sometimes pant. Cats, however, should never breathe with an open mouth.
A normal breath should be very smooth, and your pet’s chest can be observed to gently rise and fall. Note if your pet is having difficulty inhaling, inhales in a “jerky” manner with several quick inhalations per each exhalation, or has notable abdominal movement associated with breathing.
Mucous Membrane Color:
Mucous membranes include the gums (most commonly used), the tissue of the inside of the eyelids, and the insides of the prepuce or vulva. Normal coloration is a healthy pink. Some dogs have naturally pigmented oral mucous membranes, and must be examined in one of the latter locations. Cats normally have paler membranes than dogs, so be sure to examine your cat when healthy to obtain a normal baseline.
When pressure is applied to a mucous membrane to blanche the color from it, the time it takes for the color to return should be 2 seconds or less. A longer CRT indicates that the heart is not able to return blood to those tissues appropriately.
Normal temperature for both dog and cats: 100°-102.5° F. Digital thermometers work well, but discuss with your veterinarian insertion recommendations. A dog that has just returned from a walk on a hot day will have a higher temperature, up to 103. A temperature lower than 98° F in a cat often proceeds multiple organ failure and death.
Feel your pets’ gums. If the gums feel tacky and dry rather than moist, dehydration is estimated at 3-5% minimum.
A less sensitive way of determining the hydration status of your pet is the skin tenting test. When the skin is pulled up into a “tent” it should return quickly into place.
One additional method of assessing hydration is more subjective, and involves observing the eyes for a dull or sunken appearance.
When speaking with an ER clinic
Start by giving age, sex, (including spay/neuter), and breed of your pet. This is the name, rank, and serial number of veterinary medicine. Describe the signs your pet is exhibiting which are of immediate concern. Include:
Dr. Shoup is in exclusive emergency practice in the Washington, D.C. area.
Assess your pet frequently when he or she is healthy to allow you to determine what “normal” is for your pet.