Vital Signs


  • Normal temperature for dogs and cats is between 101 degrees F (38 deg C) and 103 degrees F (39.5 deg C). Abnormal is below 101/38 or above 103/39.5


  • Normal heart rates for dogs are 70-160 beats per minute.
  • Normal heart rates for cats are 160-240 beats per minute.


  • Normal respiratory rates for dogs are 10-30 breaths per minute.
  • Normal respiratory rates for cats are 20-30 breaths per minute.

How do you check vital signs?

  • Use only rectal thermometers for pets. New, human digital thermometers are best.
  • Heart rate can be checked by placing a hand over the animal’s chest
  • Respiration can be measured by observing the flanks or by holding a wet finger in front of the nostrils
  • Measure both rates for 15 seconds and then multiply by four to get the rate per minute.
  • Make sure the animal is in a calm, resting state to get normal rates.
Handling and Transporting Tips

Don’t assume a pet won’t bite or scratch. Dogs/cats hit by a car, or that suffered some other type of major trauma, don’t know why they are in pain. Even if your dog/cat is sweet-natured, he/she may bite if handled.

  • Don’t try to comfort an injured pet by hugging it. Don’t put your face near its head.
  • Muzzle dogs if necessary with gauze, soft towel strips, or stockings. Wrap cats or other small animals in a towel.
  • Perform any examinations slowly and gently. Stop if the pet becomes agitated.
  • Don’t attempt to lift or drag a large injured dog. Improvise a stretcher out of a board, throw rug, child’s plastic toboggan, etc.
  • Before transport, try to stabilize injuries with minimal handling.
How to perform CPR
  • Lay animal on side and remove any obstruction in airway (open mouth, pull tongue forward, extend neck and visually inspect).
  • If airway is clear, extend neck, hold tongue out of mouth, and close animal’s jaws over tongue.
  • Holding jaws closed, breathe into both nostrils for 5-6 breaths. If no response, continue artificial respiration (see below). If there is also no pulse, begin cardiac compressions.
  • Depress widest part of chest wall 1.5 to 3 inches with one or two hands:
  • For very small animals, 1-5 pounds (.4kg-2.3kg), place hands around rib cage and apply cardiac massage
  • 100 compressions per minute

Continue artificial respiration:

  • 10 breaths per minute
Heat Stroke

Possible Causes: Excessive heat and/or lack of shade, overexertion, lack of water (animals differ in how much heat they can tolerate; even mildly warm, humid temperatures can stress some pets; short-nosed breeds most susceptible).

Action Steps

  • Place in cool or shaded area.
  • Immediately bathe animal with tepid water (do not leave pet unattended while soaking, even if conscious).
  • Monitor rectal temperature. When temperature drops to 103 F(39.5 C), dry pet.
  • Continue monitoring temperature and transport to clinic.
  • Do not allow animal to become excessively chilled.
Toxic/Foreign Ingestion

Possible Toxins – Mushrooms, compost, cannabis, lilies (cats), ethylene glycol (antifreeze), xylitol, chocolate, grapes, rat bait. (bring a photo of the packaging if possible)

Possible signs of toxic ingestion – Vomiting, tremors, twitching, seizures, bloody diarrhea, drooling.  With some toxins, symptoms can be delayed.

Possible Foreign Bodies – socks, toys (animal and baby), sticks, string, tinsel, rocks

Possible signs of foreign body ingestion – Vomiting (can’t hold down food or water), pray position (painful abdomen), anorexic, hiding (cats), lethargic


If you notice any foreign material hanging in your animal’s mouth, or coming out of the rectum – DO NOT PULL, it may be attached to something more.

If you notice any of the above signs, see your family veterinarian or contact us.

DO NOT try to make your pet vomit until you have spoken to a veterinarian. Not all things should come back up.


Possible Causes: Broken limb or digit, acute arthritis, injury to footpad, dislocation, sprain, muscle soreness.

Action Steps

  • Attempt to localize injury through gentle inspection if possible. If your pet is in great pain, do not palpate or manipulate leg.
  • Once localized, examine affected area to check for pain, heat, injury, and swelling.
  • If a fracture is suspected, gently stabilize limb for transport. See “Handling and Transporting Tips”.
  • Cover any wounds with a clean cloth. See “Bleeding”.

Possible Causes: Drowning, electrocution, trauma, drug ingestion, seizure.

Action Steps

  • In case of drowning, clear the lungs of fluid. Lift animal’s hindquarters high over their head until fluid stops draining.
  • In case of electrical shock, DO NOT touch the pet until it is no longer in contact with electricity source.
  • In case of airway obstruction, the object will need to be gently removed. See “Choking”.
  • If animal is not breathing and has no pulse, start CPR.

Possible Causes: Car accident, animal fight, fall, severe wound, clotting problem, immune problem, rat bait poisoning.

Some wounds may not bleed but still require attention. Keep the wound clean and see a veterinarian.

Arterial bleeding is an immediately life threatening situation. Arterial blood will be bright red and will bleed in spurts, be difficult to stop, and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Action Steps:

  • For any type of bleeding, place a clean cloth or sterile gauze over the injured area.
  • Apply direct pressure for at least 5 – 7 minutes to stop bleeding. Don’t apply a tourniquet unless absolutely necessary.

Many possible causes.

Action Steps

  • Examine vomit for blood or other clues as to cause.
  • If poisoning is suspected, take a photo of the packaging or bring the packaging with you to the veterinarian.
  • Gently press on abdomen to detect any abdominal pain.
  • Withold all food and water until a veterinarian has been consulted.
  • Abdominal pain, enlarged stomach, and nonproductive vomiting or retching are serious signs. Call veterinarian immediately.

Possible Causes: Foreign object (needle, bone, food, plant material) lodged in throat, esophagus, or teeth; allergic reaction.

Action Steps

(Do not attempt if animal is trying to bite.)

  • Gently pull tongue forward and carefully inspect mouth and throat, if possible.
  • If a foreign object is spotted, hold the mouth open and attempt to remove it by hand or with tweezers or a pair of small pliers. Take care not to push the object farther down the animal’s throat
  • Do not pull on “objects” that you cannot directly see.
  • If animal is not breathing, initiate CPR

Possible Causes

  • Epilepsy
  • Toxins
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Hypoglycemia (diabetics)
  • Primary brain disorder

Action Steps

  • Leave pet alone but block off stairs, sharp furniture, etc.
  • If seizure continues for longer than 3-5 minutes, carefully transport to the hospital.

Call if unsure how to handle.

Bee or Wasp Stings

Action Steps

  • Bee stings are acid; neutralize with baking soda.
  • Wasp stings are alkaline; neutralize with vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Apply cold pack.
  • Apply calamine or antihistamine cream.
  • In case of severe swelling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, or pale gums, transport to clinic immediately. Animals can have anaphylactic reactions similar to humans.