While visiting the vet is an inevitable conclusion when your pet gets sick, there are some small, non-emergency situations you can manage right at home. Mastering in-home pet care treatments can save time, money and make future veterinary visits less stressful.
Here are five treatments you should master at home – and when to go to your vet instead.
Taking Your Dog’s Temperature
Taking your dog’s temperature can be extremely helpful if your dog is feeling “off.” According to Peter Brown, DVM, chief medical officer at Wagly, if you call your vet and are trying to determine if you need to bring your pet in, your veterinarian might ask you to take his or her temperature at home. “Body temperature is one more piece of information that can help determine sickness from health,” Brown says. Your vet might also ask you to check your dog’s temperature to make sure it’s going or staying down after an illness.
Unfortunately, ear and thermal thermometers are not reliable for pets, so you’ll need to take your dog’s temperature rectally, says Brown. “The normal temperature for a dog is 101.5 [degrees Fahrenheit]. Temperatures above 103 F or below 100 F are potentially serious and an examination by a veterinary is indicated.”
For successful temperature taking, Brown recommends enlisting the help of a friend, so that person can hold the dog’s neck while you place the tip of a digital thermometer (1/2 to 1 inch) into the anus. “Some pets are very nervous about this, but if you are calm and talk in a soothing voice, they will be calm about it too,” says Brown. “It is not a painful event.”
To make things easier, don’t forget to use water-soluble lubrication, says Dr. Tiffany Margolin DVM, CVA, a holistic veterinarian, author, speaker and the owner of California-based From The Heart vet practice.
“Mistakes can be caused if there is poop in the area, which can make the reading lower; not getting the thermometer in far enough can also result in a false reading,” Margolin says.
When it comes to cats, leave temperature-taking to the professionals and take them to your veterinarian if you need to check their temperature.
Checking Vital Signs
Next time you see your vet, ask him or her to show you how to feel the femoral pulse of your pet (on the inside of the groin, where the leg meets the hip), says Dr. Jeff Werber, an Emmy-award-winning veterinarian. You can also feel your pet’s pulse by placing your hand on the lowest part of the chest, by the bottom of the rib cage. “It’s a good idea to get a sense of what is normal for your pet, so you will know when to be concerned,” says Werber.
As a general rule, a large dog should have a heart rate of around 60 to 65 beats per minute, while a small dog will have a faster heartbeat – and so will a cat. Werber recommends heading to the vet if the heart rate is above 100 or if it seems abnormally low. “If it’s too low for too long, it impacts the delivery of oxygen to the organs, which requires attention,” says Werber. “If it’s too high for too long it can strain the heart muscle.”
Another important thing you can learn to monitor is respiration rate (breaths per minute). “Elevated respiration rate when your pet is at rest often indicates a serious lung or heart problem,” says Brown. “Because our pets can’t talk to us, increased respiration rate is often the first and only sign of a problem.”
While temperature taking requires some work, monitoring respiration is a lot easier. “Respiration rate is easily taken by visual observation of the chest going in and out,” Brown says. “Normal rates vary depending upon breed, body condition, environmental temperature; variation from normal for your pet at rest is cause for concern.”
The color of your pet’s gums and tongue are also an indicator of overall health. “Healthy gums should be medium pink,” Margolin says. “If you notice any tinges of bluish or very pale, it’s a cause to evaluate.”
Additionally, monitoring vital signs should also include looking out for obvious signs of exercise intolerance. “Any dragging on walks (for dogs) or resting in previously playful cats should be a sign to call your vet,” says Margolin.
Cleaning ears is often necessary to help prevent painful and dangerous ear infections in your pet. The best way to clean your dog’s ears is to get an ear cleaner from your veterinary first. Brown emphasizes you should never use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or other over-the-counter products unless directly recommended by your vet. Then, soak a cotton ball in the ear cleaner and place the soaked cotton ball into ear canal and massage at base of ear, says Brown. Cat ears are very similar to dog ears, so Brown says they can be cleaned in a similar way, however, cats do not tend to have as many ear problems as dogs do.
If your dog’s ear looks red, seems inflamed or painful or has a strong odor, Brown says this usually indicates an infection and warrants an immediate vet visit. “Lack of proper treatment can lead to serious infections and deafness,” Brown says.
While you might be tempted to use a long Q-tip to clean your dog’s ear, this is usually a bad idea. For starters, there’s a chance you might end up pushing the debris deeper into the ear canal. Plus, long medical Q-tips can break off and become a foreign body in the ear canal, Margolin says. “And if the owner actually reaches the eardrum they can inadvertently rupture it with the Q-tip, causing permanent damage.”
When it comes to removing a tick from your pet, here are three things you shouldn’t do, according to Werber: don’t pull the tick straight out, don’t heat it and don’t light a match to hold to it. “The best way is to put tweezers on the tick as close to the skin as possible,” says Werber. “When you have a good grab, unscrew the tick counter or clockwise, and slowly extract.”
It takes 24 to 48 hours for disease transmission, so as long as the tick is removed right away, your pet should be fine, says Margolin. “If it’s been longer than 24 hours, plan to consult your vet for tick disease testing and possibly preventative antibiotics,” adds Margolin. If the tick is in a sensitive spot (deep inside the ear, close to the eye) and you can’t extract it safely, head to the vet for help.
Bleeding can usually be controlled by pressure using a bandage, clean sock, towel or pillow case (for a large wound), according to Brown. “Bleeding is an emergency if it does not stop after five to ten minutes of pressure, if the wound is gaping, or if underlying tissue (bone/muscle) is exposed,” he says.
If the bleeding stops or is very mild, you can then clean up the wound and let it dry. Never use alcohol on an open wound, as this can cause burning and extreme pain.
Additionally, hydrogen peroxide can dissolve clots and can restart a bleed, Werber says. “Better to use gentle mild soap and water, and a triple antibiotic or anti-bacterial like chlorhexidine, or an iodine compound or cream.” To help slow the bleeding and ease any pain or discomfort, Werber also suggests applying ice.
Nail bleeding is a separate issue, as it’s very common and often hard to stop. “Placing of Kwik stop powder (or corn starch in a pinch) directly on the nail can aid in slowing the bleeding down,” says Brown. “Keeping your pet (and yourself) calm will lower the blood pressure and slow the flow of blood.”
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer, whose work has been published in DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo!, & Popular Mechanics.