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Dealing with Pet Emergencies
By Dawn Prate

None of us wants to think about having a genuine emergency situation with our pet, but statistically, this will happen at least once in your pet's lifetime. This article will teach you how to identify common pet disasters and diseases, and what to do in the event of an emergency.

Common pet emergencies
Here are some of the more common pet emergencies including a list of dangerous symptoms that, if exhibited by your pet, should be referred to a veterinarian immediately.

Gastric torsion (dogs): One of the most common emergencies in dogs is gastric torsion, or bloat. This is seen almost exclusively in large breed dogs, but can occur in smaller breeds. Gastric torsion happens when the stomach twists upon itself, causing the esophagus and the small intestine to close.

As the stomach gets larger with air, the dog will rapidly go into shock. Death can occur within several hours after the stomach becomes twisted. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your dog, take it to the vet immediately:

Excessive drooling
Gagging and vomiting small amounts of mostly mucus
The right side of your pet's body will appear bloated
Listlessness and abdominal pain
Walking around with a tucked-up abdomen

Feline Urologic Syndrome (cats): The most common emergency is a condition called FUS (Feline Urologic Syndrome). In this case, crystals will clump together and form an obstruction in your cat's urethra, preventing it from urinating. This could lead to kidney failure and death. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice the following symptoms:

Frequent urination
Your cat repeatedly visits the cat box and is straining to urinate, with limited results
Cat becomes listless and exhibits pain in abdomen

Swallowing foreign objects: Pets have put themselves in danger by swallowing all sorts of foreign materials: Turkey bones, Christmas ribbons, candy wrappers, etc. If you suspect something is lodged in your pet's digestive system, classic signs are nausea and persistent vomiting. Take your pet to the veterinarian immediately, if these symptoms persist.

Asthma: Just as people get asthma, so can your pet. The cause is mostly unknown, but the symptoms are easy to recognize. Asthma can be life threatening to your pet, and it will need immediate medical attention. Watch out for the following symptoms:

Difficulty breathing
Breathing with mouth open
Noticeable contraction of stomach muscles to assist breathing

Automobile accidents: Cars are the No. 1 killer of dogs. In the event that your dog is hit, take it to a veterinarian immediately. While there may be no external signs of trauma such as scrapes or cuts, there can still be serious internal injuries: Internal bleeding, broken bones, diaphragmatic hernias and organ trauma. Any dog hit by a car should be examined by a veterinarian. (See below for information on how to stabilize an animal.)

Dangerous symptoms
In a medical crisis situation, call your veterinarian immediately if you detect any of the following symptoms:

Abnormal breathing
Active bleeding
Bone exposure
Puncture to abdomen, chest or neck
Watery or bloody discharge
Partial or complete paralysis
Difficulty urinating
Profuse vomiting or diarrhea
Poison ingestion
Bloated or tender abdomen
Rectal temperature over 103 degrees or under 99 degrees
Abnormal color

Diagnosing your pet
Here are several ways to gauge the health of your pet:

Temperature: A dog's normal temperature will fall between 101 degrees and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (F). A cat's will fall between 101 degrees F and 102.2 degrees F. If your pet's temperature falls below these levels, take it to the veterinarian.

Gums: Lift your pet's lip and examine the gum color. While pets can have variations in pigment color, for the most part, the gums should be moist and pink, not pale white, bluish or dark red. Press your finger into the gum. The surface should blanch, and then return to a pink color. Count the number of seconds that it takes for the color to return. This is called the capillary refill time. If it is longer than two seconds, contact your veterinarian.

Hydration: Lift the skin at the nape of your pet's neck, then release it. Normally, the skin should return to its original position. If the skin remains "tented," your pet may be dehydrated.

Respiration: Dogs should usually breathe 10 to 30 times a minute, but can have up to 200 pants per minute. Cats typically take 20 to 30 breaths per minute, and can pant up to 300 times per minute. If vigorous panting persists for more than a few minutes, contact a veterinarian.

Heartbeat: The best places to feel for a pulse are on the inside of your pet's rear leg, or on the chest, just behind the front elbow. Listed below are the normal pulse rates for animals in beats per minute (bpm):

Small dogs: 90-to-120 bpm
Medium dogs: 70-to-110 bpm
Large dogs: 60-to-90 bpm

In case of emergency
Even though many emergencies require veterinary attention, you should know how to stabilize your dog or cat and relieve pain until you can transport it to the veterinary or emergency hospital.

You should also keep a Pet First Aid Kit that contains at least the following items:

1. Clean bandages and tape
2. Sterile gauze
3. Iodine
4. Rectal thermometer and lubricant
5. Hydrogen peroxide (3%)
6. Activated charcoal
7. Kaopectate
8. A muzzle or a strip of gauze to make a muzzle or tourniquet
9. Scissors and tweezers
10. Disposable gloves
11. An elizabethan collar to prevent injury irritation
12, Phone numbers for your veterinarian, a 24-hour emergency clinic, and a poison control center.

Here's how to deal with some of the more common emergencies you may encounter as a dog owner:

If your pet is hit by a car: For your safety, place a muzzle on your pet, since they tend bite out of pain, fear or shock. Check your pet's breathing by feeling for exhalations through the nose, or by watching for the rise and fall of its chest. Check for a pulse. If your pet isn't breathing, or if you can't find a pulse, administer CPR immediately (See breakout, "How to Perform CPR," below).

If your pet is bleeding: Lay a sterile gauze pad over the area, and apply direct pressure. If the bleeding doesn't stop after five minutes, create a tourniquet. Do not use a tourniquet around the neck or body; only legs and tail. Never leave a tourniquet in the same position for longer than 15 minutes.

If your pet is choking: Open your pet's mouth while placing your palm on its nose and inserting your fingers around the canines. Pull the tongue to the side, and see if you can remove the object. If not, stand behind your dog, put your arms under the belly just in front of the rear limbs, and lift your dog's rear legs off the ground, like a wheelbarrow. Gently shake your dog to see if the object will fall out.

If your pet has eat poison: Call your veterinarian or poison control center. You can induce vomiting with one teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide per 10 pounds of body weight. Activated charcoal can also help absorb the poisons.

If your pet has been bitten: If you see your pet fighting with another animal, spray both animals with water. To treat the wounds, clip the hair away from the area, wash it, and place a sterile gauze pad over the area. Apply pressure to stop bleeding, and secure the gauze in place with a bandage. If the area becomes swollen, apply warm compresses for five minutes at a time, four to five times a day, to encourage drainage. Contact your veterinarian.

Pets not just dogs are considered our best friends for good reason. Their universal loyalty and companionship is invaluable, and such friends should, at the very least, be rewarded with the same efforts to ensure their health, safety, happiness and welfare as you would afford yourself.

Simple lifestyle changes like spending a little more on natural, safer food, or taking them outside for a regular walks, or sticking with scheduled playtimes can mean a world of difference to your pet's well-being. Basic safety precautions like proper ID tags, safe property fencing, and safeguarding toxic household chemicals can be easily overlooked if you're new to the world of pet ownership.

About the author
Dawn Prate is the coauthor of The Real Safety Guide to Pet Health, the latest guide from that outlines doable strategies for keeping your pet healthy, safe and living an enjoyable, stress-free life. This article is an excerpt from this book. More information on this and other Real Safety Guides can be found at

Photographs by Cami Johnson,