Knowing First Aid Can Minimize Pet’s Trauma

By Carrie Harrington
Marin Humane Society


(Photo by Kristin Herrera)

Our pets rely on us to take care of them when they’re sick or injured. But if we’re not prepared, panic and confusion might hinder our ability to act when they need us most. The best way to increase your chances of responding quickly and calmly to a pet emergency is to familiarize yourself with basic pet first-aid techniques.

“Properly applied first aid can minimize a pet’s trauma and even save its life until you are able to transport them to a veterinarian,” says Dr. Jim Clark of the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin. Clark and PESCM staff have treated animals for countless life-threatening conditions.

In an emergency situation, your first priority should always be to protect yourself. Before approaching an injured animal, carefully assess the scene to check for hazards (such as, electrical wires, traffic, unstable structures, etc.). If all looks clear, approach slowly and with caution. Any injured animal has the potential to bite.

An animal should be muzzled and properly restrained before any care is administered. If necessary, you can make a homemade muzzle on the spot using a piece of cloth. It may be dangerous to muzzle an animal that is coughing, vomiting, having trouble breathing or resisting. In this case, do not attempt treatment on your own.

Practice measuring vital signs on your healthy pet so that you become sensitive to changes that signal a medical emergency.

The heartbeat of a dog or cat can be felt by laying an animal on its right side and placing your hand over its chest, just behind the left elbow. Normal heart rates for dogs average 60 to 160 beats per minute, while cat heart rates average 160 to 220 beats per minute. A pulse also can be measured with your middle and index finger on the inner thigh, just below the wrist and just below the ankle.

You can measure an animal’s breathing rate by observing its sides to watch its chest expand. Normal dog breathing rates are 10 to 30 breaths per minute, while cat breathing rates average 20 to 30 breaths per minute.

While it may be difficult to practice taking your pet’s body temperature, note that temperatures from 100 to 104 degrees are considered an emergency.

If an animal has stopped breathing, knowing the ABC steps (airway, breathing and circulation) can mean the difference between life and death. If there is no breathing despite a clear airway, you will need to perform artificial respiration.

If there is no pulse, compressions alternating with breaths will be necessary.

Difficulty breathing, seizures, excessive bleeding, shock, poisoning, heatstroke and snake bites are some of the more obvious situations constituting an emergency. Learn what is normal for your pet so that you are able to recognize when something is abnormal.

Always have the phone number for your emergency veterinarian handy, too.

Carrie Harrington is the director of communications at the Marin Humane Society. which contributes Tails of Marin articles. Visit; follow them on Twitter at

One Response to “Knowing First Aid Can Minimize Pet’s Trauma”

  1. Keep it going. Nice Post.

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