Vail Pet Talk column: How to know if you have a pet emergency |

Vail Pet Talk column: How to know if you have a pet emergency

So you think you may have a pet emergency. Do you know your pet's vital signs? Do you know what normal vital signs even are for your size of dog or cat? You are not alone if you answered "no."


First of all, check your pet's temperature. The best way to accomplish this is to take the temperature with a digital thermometer in the rectum. Put a small amount of Vaseline on the end, and slide it in about 1/4 inch, not too far. Do not think that a "cold nose" means a dog is sick — take the temperature.

Normal temperature for a dog or cat is 100.5 degrees to 102.5 degrees.

Abnormal is less than 99.5 degrees or greater than 102.5 degrees and warrants a call to your veterinarian. That said, after excitement or being in a hot or cold environment, those temperatures can certainly go up and down, so wait a few minutes after you initially get the temperature, get your pet to a neutral-temperature environment with minimal stress, and try again for accuracy.


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Your dog or cat's gum color should be a bright, healthy pink color. After all, the gum color of a pet indicates good blood circulation and an adequate amount of oxygen going to the tissues. If your pet's gums are pale, that can mean blood loss, blood destruction or poor perfusion; all reasons to get to the vet as soon as possible. Other colors that are abnormal are red, blue, gray or white.

If you gently lift the lip of your pet, either the upper or the lower lip, take notice of the gum color prior to contacting your emergency veterinarian so you can provide him or her with as much information as possible.

Another helpful hint: Press on those gums and count how long it takes before the color returns. Ideally, you want that color to come back within 3 seconds. If it is longer, again you may have an emergency with your pet.


Normal respiration rates for pets are as follows:

• Cats — 20 to 30 breaths per minute. If panting, they can be up to 300 per minute. Remember, cats only pant if highly stressed, and it should stop quite quickly. If a cat is labored in its breathing, you very well may have a pet emergency.

Dogs — Puppies' rate is 15 to 40 breaths per minute, and dogs' normal is 10 to 30 breaths per minute. Toy breeds are 15 to 40 breaths per minute.

It is important to note that a slow or very rapid respiration rate, blue tongue, abdominal breathing or breathing with the mouth open all are considered veterinary emergencies and your pet should be seen.


The heart rate of a pet can be determined by placing your hand underneath the armpit on the chest or inside a rear leg on the femoral artery.

• Cats' normal heart rates are 110 to 120 beats per minute.

• Puppies' normal heart rates are 70 to 120 beats per minute.

• Dogs' normal heart rates are 70 to 180 beats per minute, depending on the size of the dog. Large breeds will very from 70 to 100 beats per minute, where small breeds are 100 to 140, and toy breeds can go up to 180 beats per minute.

If you detect an abnormally high or low heart rate, again, this is reason to be alarmed and contact your emergency veterinarian.


Knowing if your pet is dehydrated is yet another determining factor in if you do or do not have a pet emergency. Dehydration occurs very quickly when a small pet has had vomiting or diarrhea for even a day.

The best test is to grab the skin between the shoulder blades or on the side, pinch it together and pull back. If the skin takes a long time to return to the body wall, your pet is dehydrated, versus if it bounces right back. Also, take a look at those gums again. If the gums are dry and tacky, chances are your pet is in need of some intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy to avoid further complications.

We hope this helps and are always there to answer any questions you may have about your pet's potential emergency.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center, submitted this column. You can reach her at 970-328-7085.