Pet First Aid From Head to Tail


Listen as Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder, and Denise Fleck, The Pet Safety Crusader, talk about pet first aid and what to look for and know so that you can keep your pet healthy and have a head start on any possible concerns.

This video is part of the Pet Voices LIVE series. CLICK HERE to see the full schedule of videos.


Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 0:02

Welcome to Pet Voices LIVE. I am your host and Co-Founder of All Pet Voices. Today we are talking about Pet First Aid from Head to Tail. And we are so lucky because with us we have Denise Fleck, the Pet Safety Crusader. She is an author and she has taught more than 20,000 animal lovers pet life saving skills. And one of the things I found very interesting is that she is teaching the next generation of what pet first aid and CPCR are… kind of meta.

So Denise, welcome and thank you so much for being here. And what I really want to know is what is that second C? I’ve always known CPR, but you say it’s CPCR. What is that?

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 0:47

Well, thank you for having me, Chloe. And yes, we have to make things a little more complicated in life, but we’ll probably always use CPR. It’s kind of the Kleenex or Coca Cola brand name, but that second C stands for cerebral meaning brain. Because we want to make sure once we resuscitate the dog or the kitty cat that they’re the same pet they were before the incident happened. We’re really emphasizing getting blood flow to the brain, so that we retain brain cells. So Cardiopulmonary Cerebral Resuscitation.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 1:21

I did not know that. So see, learn something new every day.

And one of the things that we’re here to talk about today with Denise is that at our home, there are some things we can do. And I love the idea of like doing this every weekend, or scheduling a regular time in the month to just check in on your pet. And she has this wonderful head to toe, head to tail, and she it’s her dog and cat, you’re not gonna be able to see it here. But we are going to make sure that you can get a copy of this. Denise is going to take us through what we can look for and how we can ensure that we are keeping our pets as healthy as possible. So Denise, where do we start?


Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 1:58

Well, let’s start at the very beginning… at the head.

And this is so important Chloe for two reasons in particular. One, it’s preventive. If we find something when it’s small and get it addressed with our veterinarian, hopefully we can really get it fixed. You’d rather find that bump or lump when it’s the size of a pinky fingernail than when it’s the size of your fist. So that’s always a good thing.

And then secondly, a Head to Tail is an assessment. The time your pet isn’t feeling its best but you’re not sure why. Maybe he’s throwing up but you can’t see that he got into anything in the garbage. But on further inspection, maybe you’ll see a swollen area or a bite. Maybe it could have been a spider bite. Maybe he’s limping and you thought it might have been his hip, but when you examine his paw, you see a thorn between the toes.

So it can be both a preventive and an assessment. What it is is just a home exam. And the main thing is you want it to be good bonding time with you and your kitty or your puppy, whichever it happens to be. So I have to say do it when you’re in a good mood yourself. Not when you’ve just got off a phone call that’s aggravated you or if you’re dashing out the door because pets are so perceptive. They pick up on our energy, and we need to be in a good place when we’re going to be putting our energy on them.

So for starters, with my little feline friend here, I would start at the ears.But we would nestle into something that’s really comfortable, get her in a spot on my lap where she feels secure. And do some nice petting and that calm voice.

Sniff her ear. Ears should not smell bad. If they do, it’s likely there’s a fungal or a yeast infection. And cats are prone to ear mites too. So if you see anything red, or if you see something that looks like coffee grounds in there, you want to get to the vet right away. You don’t want to start digging around in there. It’s funny about ear infections… we tend to, as humans, get them when we’re kids. So we don’t remember how painful they are. That’s something you just don’t want to mess with if there’s already a problem.

On a regular basis for animals with upright ears, you want to check at least once a month and those with downward ears, because it can hold in the moisture and the parasites in the dirt, you probably want to check them at least once a week and keep them clean. Obviously like anything in our house if we cleaned the countertops weekly, they don’t get so filthy that we have to call in the big guns to clean up.

There are all kinds of ear cleaners on the market but what I do suggest is not pouring something down the ear. Dogs and cats have a much more L shaped ear canal than we do. So depending which way you look takes either a right or a left turn. So if you think if you’re flushing ear cleaner down there, everything in that L, any other dirt and debris is getting flushed all the way down onto the eardrum. Now I know a lot of them say that after you put in the ear cleaner you can rub around the ear and wipe it out a little bit or get the dog or cat to shake their head. And yeah, sometimes gunk will go flying. But some of it gets really far down there.

So I’d rather just have you wet a piece of gauze or cotton with whatever cleaner you’re using and just go do like your first knuckle, depending on the size of the pet. Not any farther than that. And other than cleaners, I’m always looking for natural things. So you can dilute half and half with water either white or Apple Cider Vinegar because that’s got great bacterial properties. Or you can brew a cup of either chamomile or green tea, let it get to room temperature, and hold the sugar and milk please. When it’s room temperature use that because again, tea is astringent and has antibacterial properties. The chamomile is very calming, so that can be a good thing to clean ears with.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 5:53

Denise, question there on the ears. Let’s go back just for a second because I know a lot of people, as humans, we use Q-tips and there’s a lot of like you should or you shouldn’t. Is a Q-tip something that would work here or are you trying to avoid that?

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 6:08

It’s a good question. And generally right away, veterinarians are going to say, “No, don’t go in the ears with Q-tips.” And that’s a good idea because you are pushing things farther down. In reality, since there is that L shaped most of the time, we’re probably going to only get this far, we’re not going to get farther down to the more critical parts in the eardrum to cause damage. But some people are aggressive, and they could make it do that turn.

So I would say really, it’s better not unless you’re a groomer or vet tech or somebody that’s really trained and you know the structure of the ear canal. Be very careful with that because you don’t want to cause damage.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 6:47

Yeah. Okay great.

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 6:48

Just usually like your first knuckle because if you’re keeping it clean up here on a regular basis, then there’s less gunk that could go down. But there are always those times where they can get a flee or a mite or something in there and then that’s when you might need that veterinarian.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 7:04

Great. Thank you.

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 7:06

Absolutely. So the eyeballs. Those can be really important on our furry friends. And what I always say with that is make sure you’re right directly in front of the pet.

The first thing you want to do is what we call tracking. You’re going to take your finger and move it back and forth in front of her eyes a couple of times. What you’re looking for, I’ll kind of demonstrate here, is you’re wanting to see a smooth movement following the eyes. Don’t have a cookie or a treat because the nose will do the work, but just you want to see that smooth movement. Once in a while you might find a cat that can’t follow your finger smoothly, there might be a flicker or a jump in the eyeball, and we’re Pet First Aiders. We’re not veterinarians, so we’re not going to diagnose but obviously that is something not quite right. It could be a neurological problem. So you’d want to have the vet check.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 7:57

And you can note it on your handy dandy PDF.

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 8:00

There you go. And see you can mark down anything that’s not right, so that when you visit with the vet you can then address it and we won’t forget.

The second thing about the eyeballs are the pupils. And we all know being human, that when we’re in a bright room, they get small. And when we’re in a dark room, they enlarge or dilate. Well, our dogs have round pupils just like we do. But our feline friends have more elliptical slits. But still, they should respond to light. So when they’re in a bright space, they get smaller. And if we do the little peekaboo, or put them in a darker room, they’ll get large and dilate.

We want to make sure that their eyes are responding to light, but secondly, that the pupils are equal in size to each other. That’s really important. Not equal to me. Not equal to him, but both of hers equal to each other. If they’re ever unequally dilated, that again, can be a neurological problem. The cat may have a concussion or tumor growing behind the eye or the brain.

We don’t know what it is, but we know it’s not quite right. And those are the words I say over and over. Because the more you know what’s normal for your pet, the more quickly you can determine something that’s not quite right.


Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 9:15

Then next we’re going to do an all over doggy or kitty massage without being trained. I’ve got the kitty a little bit high up on me. I just want everybody to see her today. Comfortably in your lap, feeling down the chest and feeling down the muzzle. Your pet needs to get used to giving her paw and letting you touch every part of your body. This makes your dog or cat much better patient at the groomer and the vet. And it allows you to retrieve something out of their mouth if they get something they shouldn’t or to brush their teeth, which is so important. So we really need to be able to touch them all over.

Chloe, if we can’t touch a pet, we’re going to never know if something is sore because every time we go to touch them, they pull away. So the idea is this kitty lets me always touch her here on the muzzle and then one day she isn’t happy with me doing it. It will signal to me that something is sore or tender. And if something is sore tender here, it could certainly have to do with the nasal passages. But it might also have to do with the mouth or the teeth. So that’s the point to really be able to feel them all over.

As far as the tip of the nose goes… no matter if it’s black, brown, pink, or whatever color, it should be what we call a happy medium. It shouldn’t be so wet that it’s constantly dripping or so dry that it’s cracked, but somewhere in between. It’s really not the best indicator of health. Checking vitals, I’ll show you a few in a moment. I’m noticing that animals have good energy in their eyes, that their coat is shiny, and their skin isn’t flaky. Those are better indicators of health than actually feeling the nose.

So we’re going to continue our way down the chest, feeling for lumps and bumps and go down each leg while watching their face. Sometimes you’re going to hit a good spot and particularly with our canine friends, that back leg may start going on now that you hit that good spot. But other times if something is sore, you might suddenly see it too, or hear a “grr” or “hiss”, and that’s going to let you know that something isn’t right with that area and either if you can’t address it better, you need to have veterinary care.

Go all the way down. Check the pads, the feet. Look in between the toes to make sure they’re no parasites, no burrs. If you live in the parts of the country that have foxtails, those can be really problematic. They kind of screw helically quickly into the skin and can cause abscesses. So anything we can get off our pet that shouldn’t be there is great, but we also want to know what’s supposed to be on our pet so that we don’t remove something we should and that’s where these things now come into help for me. I want to make sure that it really is a tick and not a little wart or a spot I’m trying to pull off my pet. Make sure you have the tools you need.

Funny story… well sort of funny. I was teaching Pet First Aid at a grooming school many years ago, and one of the students was trying to remove a tick off the abdomen of a male dog’s body. Not knowing male dogs also have nipples.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 12:20

I’ve heard this a lot recently. Dr. V mentioned it on Tuesday that it’s like a common thing people think male dogs don’t have nipples.

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 12:30

Yeah, that’s funny that somebody else recently too. So you want to make sure you don’t remove something that’s supposed to be there. And also that you do remove things that shouldn’t so that’s why it’s so important to get in touch with their bodies. We hug our pets. We love our pets. We brush our pets. We play with them. But it’s important that you learn the individual idiosyncrasies. Some might have some scars or some lumps or bumps but you’ve already had them checked out and they’re no big deal, but you want to watch and keep sure that things aren’t changing.

Now as we start to continue on down. Obviously, like I mentioned in the abdomen, you want to make sure there are no hard spots. You want to make sure that nipples aren’t having any kind of discharge, but that there aren’t any hard spots because I’ve had several students go home and find little marbles on their pet, they did turn out to be the start of mammary cancer. But boy, you’d rather find it when it’s a marble than when it’s a golf ball. And in that same vein, yes, male dogs and cats can get mammary cancer. It’s not just a female thing.

You want to check the privates. These guys are really good at keeping eidetically clean, but if they’re overweight, if they’re arthritic, they may not be able to bend back and take care of business. So you need to get out that wet washcloth at night just to prevent infections.


Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 13:49

So let’s talk a little bit about while you’re here at the chest. That’s where you can check for their breathing. Sure, you can put your hand in front of Fido’s mouth and count how many times he exhales, but when you do that, he thinks a cookie is coming. He starts to pant, get excited, and you’ve blown your count.

So it’s really better to be stealth. Just watch the side of your pet for that rise and fall, or even just gently place your hand here. One inhalation and exhalation equals one breath. Our little friends, cats and small dogs should read about 20 to 40 breaths per minute. Whereas our larger friends are a little bit slower, about 10 to 30 breaths per minute.

Same thing applies to their pulse or their heartbeat. The heart beats and then the blood pulses through the body. The best places to check the pulse, particularly on our big dogs is the femoral artery back here at the thigh. You roll your fingers into the groin.

You can certainly do that on the kitty too. But on smaller animals, we can often check what’s called the apical pulse by just placing our hand behind the front leg, here on the chest. The heart beats and then the blood pulses through the arteries. So for a kitty cat, if he’s just been chasing his brother around the room, it could be 200 beats per minute. That’s almost three per second, so that’s really hard to count. It’s like a flutter. So you want to know what’s normal, because if you just suddenly check that one day, it would be like “Holy moly, what’s wrong with my cat?” And it could actually be in a normal range for an active cat.

Whereas a bigger fellow like this may have 60 to 90 beats per minute. So even though I’m giving you landmarks here, every animal, like every person, is a unique individual and you want to know what is normal. You want to establish those baselines.

Same thing with a temperature. We typically take it under the tail for dogs and cats. Although there are the new fangled ear thermometers, and there’s even infrared ones where you don’t even have to get in the ear. You can be like two inches from the ear or the inner thigh. But I guess I should quiz you here. Do you remember what our human normal temperature is on a regular basis?

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 16:06

Well, I know it used to be 98.6, but I’ve read recently that it’s coming down. That it’s lowering.

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 16:13

Yeah, but you’re still exactly right. It’s in that ballpark. Some people are a little higher, and some are a little lower.

Well, if you’re a dog or cat is 98.6, Chloe, he’s in a whole heap of a lot of trouble. He should be 101 degrees on average Fahrenheit. The range is about 100.4 to 102.5, so no matter where you’re taking it, it should be higher than humans. But I will say if you are taking the temperature at the ear, it’s possible it might be a degree cooler, which makes sense the brain should never be the hottest part of the animal you’re going to get something more internal here.

As we continue that head to tail, we’re going to check the breathing. We’ll check the pulse to see… and the pet should be calm while you’re doing this, hopefully, so it’ll be at the lower end of normal. But if you’ve got your pet stressed out, if he isn’t used to this head to tail, it could be elevated. If your fingers are cold or something. Warm up those fingers and be in a good mood and hopefully everything will go through.

As you continue down the hind legs, do like you did the front feeling all the way down watching the face. And to be perfectly honest with you and a real case scenario, I wouldn’t have her face this close to my face. Simply because if I do hit a sore spot, I may have just lost a cheek or the jugular. She would be more down in my lap, but I just want everybody that’s watching this see, and I’m going to again, check the pads of the feet because they can get tears. Make sure the nails are nicely trimmed. If you have a long coated kitty or puppy, it’s possible that the fur is actually growing between the toes. So you want to be careful about trimming it short, not cutting the skin but trimming the fur short because if it actually covers the pads of the fee, they’ve lost their traction when they’re on tile or wooden floor.

And then don’t forget the tail whether it’s the little nub of a bulldog or a long flowing Golden Retrievers or this Siamese kitty’s nicely curled and appointed tail. You want to feel all the way down, watching the face as you go. The tail is an extension of the spine and it has a blood supply and nerve endings and particularly in labs, they do this wagging all the time. Some of them get what’s called “Happy Tail” and they actually get sores from banging it against your leg or your chair or the corner of the wall. And you have to be very diligent about that.

So the point here is just really looking your pet all over from head to tail, making it a good experience, feeling for any lumps and bumps, making sure there aren’t parasites or weeds or burrs in their fur, and also noticing if there is a little bump and marking it on your chart and having it addressed with your vet. Maybe you won’t do it the minute you find that bump. There are really no guarantees with lumps or bumps. Only your veterinarian knows for sure is my comment on that. But typically, if it is something that’s growing fast, you want to write down if it’s the size of the pencil eraser today, and in a couple of days, it’s a dime or a quarter, you want to have a vet visit because the quicker it grows, the more likely it is problematic. And it’s always better to get it fixed when it’s small.



Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 19:32

What I love, Denise, about your handout, which again, we’re going to make sure that people can get we’re going to put it in the blog post with this video. And I know we’re gonna let you share where they can get it from you too. But what I love about it is not only do you have the diagram of what to look for, and all the things you just went through here, but places to make the notes and to keep a log and what we should be looking for average daily heart rates in cats, small dogs, medium to large dogs. All such amazing information here right at our fingertips because I think none of us are necessarily looking to get this in our head so much that we’re trying to teach others but when you’ve got this and you just know the basics, and like you just showed us, we can in our calm voice go through it with our pets and then use this to mark anything we’re concerned about. Then we also don’t have to remember…

I have a notebook that I write everything down in and some of having this knowledge saved one of my dogs. Those of you who’ve been with BlogPaws for a long time may remember like a year and a half, two and a half years ago when he got super super sick. And he went through nine months of crazy things and the best compliment I’ve ever received in my life was my vet telling me that my diligence on his health and tracking him and doing all that and bringing him in when I noticed something, saved his life. And so I feel like he’s here because I did a lot of this but I wasn’t this organized with it. And this makes me feel a little more powerful with it like “Oh, I can help.”

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 21:05

And that’s a lot of what First Aid is about because I always say that I don’t teach meditation, I don’t teach yoga, I’m not going to get you in a Zen zone. But by giving you skills, walking you through scenarios, teaching you to do things like this, it builds your confidence so that you can more calmly react. Because if we have a plan B, and we know what we’re doing, we feel so much better.

I know I went through this really quickly. There’s a lot more details, but my book The Pet Safety Bible, a little shameless little plug here. There’s two sections of it that take you through the head to tail checkup, and really give you a lot more of those details. So that you don’t have to remember when your brain today, you can look them up and make the best you can for your pets.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 21:47

And I love that this is about collecting the data, like you’ve become a data collector for your vet so that when you go in and they ask all these questions, you know because you’ve created a schedule and you’ve checked. You’ve also gotten your pet used to that which I know is a point you made, so it seems like the sooner you start and maybe the younger you start, the better.

And I feel like right now I have two senior dogs and this is useful for them because now is the time when those little differences really start to be more noticeable and potentially mean more. I literally just the other day found a new lump growing on my Greyhound right here and I thought, “Oh gosh, there’s another one.” She has some fatty tumors, but she also has an MCT. And so now I’m like, “Oh,” so now I’ve just literally been checking it every day to see if it’s… and watching her.

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 22:33

And that’s what you need to do. You need to check it regularly. But if you don’t find it, and I was just talking to somebody a little bit earlier today that said, she found the lump and the vet couldn’t even find it. She really had to show the vet. So it’s about getting acquainted with our pets’ bodies and really be able to feel it.

And I want to show you one other thing. These things. Sometimes they’re the bane of my existence, but they can be so wonderful for your pets because your pet may do some antic, some kind of cough or choke regularly that you know he’s not going to do it on cue at that vet. Or maybe there’s a spot or something that’s skeptical to you, you can take a picture, you can take a video so you can show the vet. Because the first time I had a dog doing a reverse sneeze, I didn’t know what that was 10 or 15 years ago. I was like “oh my gosh.”

These can be so helpful. You talked about me teaching the next generation of pet caregivers and I actually used to teach high school animal care. And that’s really what I felt like I was doing teaching the next generation there, and I would have them clean up the kennels at the shelter. And it got to be really funny, because on a Sunday, I would be there but I’d be walking around watching my 30 students doing whatever and I always tell them if you found poop or pee that had blood in it, don’t clean it up. We need the vet to know. So all of a sudden on my phone, I’d be getting all these texts of pictures of poop and pee. “Can I clean this kennel now that we have a picture?”

But it’s helpful. It’s useful. Really it can be a good tool, but put it away when you’re spending quality time with these guys.


Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 24:17

Absolutely. Well, Denise, thank you so much for coming and walking us through that, which was, I know quick, but we’re going to get this in people’s hands so that they can feel empowered to do it. They can refer back to here and I’m sure you can be found in all the places. Why don’t you share where we can find you before we wrap up here so that they know where to get more information?

Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader – 24:36

Absolutely. My website is where you can find my live and my recorded classes and books. And if you want the PDF, I know Chloe has a way to get it to you, but you can also pop me an email at and I’m happy to send the PDF your way.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 24:56

Perfect. Thank you so much Denise and I hope everybody’s pets stay safe and healthy and that you stay safe and healthy with them. And maybe you can start a little bonding routine now with them and start documenting their health and be ahead of the curve.

So thank you all. Thank you Denise, and until next time, bye bye.

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