Pet First Aid – A Few Things You Need To Know, Part 1

How many of us understand what to do if our dog is choking?  Cuts himself?  Breaks a bone?  Stops breathing?  Let’s face it, its not something that we generally think of.  Health issues with our dogs are usually taken care of by our vets and as the days pass we don’t think about what we would do in an emergency situation or one where we are not able to get our pet to the vet quickly enough.

Pet First Aid is important for any pet owner to know.  At least the basics – it can save your pet’s life until you can get him to an actual professional.  Many parents will learn infant and child first aid when they have kids – so why not when we get a new puppy or dog?  It only makes sense.

First, we must all understand what is “normal” for our dogs.  While we share the same internal systems, dogs have different temperatures, heart/pulse rates and physiology than we do as humans.  Its important to start by knowing what norms are for your pet so that you aren’t confused or alarmed when it doesn’t jive with what you know about yourself and other people.  Some main points to remember for dogs are:

  • Capillary refill time is less than one second
  • mucous membranes should be generally pink
  • body temperature is between 101-102 degrees
  • pulse rate at rest for young dogs is 110-120 bmp; large breed adults 60-80 bpm; small breed adults 80-120 bpm
  • respiratory rate for young dogs is 20-25 and for adults 14-16
  • Hydration is adequate when you pinch and release and skin returns to normal within one second

Capillary response can be judged by simply pressing down on the gums above the toothline until they turn white and counting how long it takes to return to a healthy pink color.  Temperature should be taken rectally for approximately 2 minutes.  Always remember that a dog who is active or working will have a higher respiration rate as well as pulse so take it into consideration.

One of the most important things to know regarding first aid is how to administer CPR.  Many people know how to do it on a person but what happens when your dog stops breathing?  The ABC’s of pet CPR include Airway, Breathing and Circulation/Chest Compressions.

Airway:  Often if a pet stops breathing its is because they have choked on a toy, food or a foreign object.  The first thing you do is check the airway for something visible.   If you see something, try to remove but take care that you don’t get bitten.  If you can’t see or reach the object you can attempt to dislodge it by applying pressure to the animal’s rib cage in three or so firm bursts repeated until the object dislodges.

Breathing: Sometimes the dog isn’t choking but still isn’t getting air into their lungs.  Just like you would for a human, you will need to breathe for your dog.  With small dogs you can put your mouth over the whole muzzle and breathe gently in.  With larger dogs you can plug the nostrils with your fingers and gently breathe into their mouth – watch for the chest to rise while doing so

Circulation and Chest Compressions: Chest compressions are necessary only when there is no heartbeat.  Check for a beat where the front leg attaches to the torso.

  • for an animal under 30 pounds or under place hands on each side of ribs over the heart and squeeze gently several times in rapid succession along with one breath for every 5 compressions so they receive 30 breaths/minute
  • for animals over 30 pounds cup your hands and place them over the widest part of the chest performing rapid compressions of 1-3 inches.  One breath should be given  for every 5 compressions so they receive 30 breaths/min
  • for animals over 90 pounds give one breath for every 10 compressions so they receive 20 breaths/min.


In our next installment we will discuss other common ailments and what YOU can do to help your pet survive until veterinary care can be reached….