how to take your pet’s vital signs: heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature

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How to take your pet's vital signs | Petplan
Posted by Dr. Rebecca Jackson on Jul 13 2013

If your pet is ever in distress, it’s helpful to be familiar with their vital signs. Knowing how to periodically check and record normal pet vital signs is a smart idea; not only will it give you and your furry family member some practice doing it, but you’ll be able to use the numbers as a baseline of what’s “normal” for your pet in case of an injury or illness. The three main vitals you want to measure are the heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature.

Vital sign #1: Heart rate

A normal heart rate for dogs is 60-140 beats per minute, and for cats is 160-240 beats per minute.

To determine your pet’s heart rate, put your hand to their chest and count how many pulses you feel in 15 seconds, then multiply by four to get the number of beats per minute.

Don’t be alarmed if your pet’s heart skips a beat when they breathe. This is likely normal, as cats and dogs can have a sinus arrhythmia (a fancy way of saying their heart seems to skip a beat when they breathe). If you’re concerned about the rhythm of your pet’s heartbeat, ask your vet to take a listen and make sure everything is okay.

If you have trouble detecting heart beats in the chest area, try placing two fingers on the middle of your dog’s thigh near where the leg joins the body. There, you should be able to feel the femoral artery pulsing each time the heart beats (this can be very difficult to feel in a cat).

Vital sign #2: Respiratory rate

Determine your pet’s rate of respiration at rest (in other words, not right after a game of Frisbee or chasing the laser pointer). A healthy dog takes between 12 and 24 breaths per minute, and a healthy cat takes between 20 and 30 breaths per minute.

To measure breathing rate, count the number of times the chest expands in 10 seconds and multiply by six. You can do this either by watching your pet or resting your hand on the ribs.

Normal respiration should not make any noise, and should require very little effort. Of course, if you have a brachycephalic breed like a Pug, English Bulldog, Himalayan or Persian, a little snort from time to time can be expected!

Vital sign #3: Body temperature

A normal body temperature for dogs and cats is around 100.5 to 102.5°F. And yes, the best measure of true body temperature is taken rectally with a thermometer, so you might want to distract your pet with a treat or toy while you take the temperature. If you (or your pet) aren’t comfortable with that particular method, the next best tool is an ear thermometer or “touch-free” infrared thermometer made for animals.

Once you’ve taken your pet’s vitals, keep a log of their normal numbers in the event you ever need to grab it and go. You can use a smart phone app to store this information or keep it in your pet first aid kit, along with more details about their medical history and pet insurance information. As important as your pet’s vitals can be, their medical history (including ALL medications they’re taking) is just as, if not more, important to the treating veterinarian.

Knowing how to take your dog or cat’s vital signs is an important key to monitoring and managing their health. It takes less than five minutes to do, and it’s one more way you can become a better, more responsible pet owner!