It’s helpful to be familiar with your dog’s vital signs just in case your pet is ever in distress. Knowing how to periodically check and record normal vital signs like your dog’s heart rate is a smart idea. Not only will it give you and your dog some practice doing it, but you’ll be able to use the numbers as a baseline of what is “normal” for your pet in case of an accident or illness. The three main vitals you want to measure are the heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature.
The three main vitals you want to measure are the heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature.
Measuring Your Dog’s Heart Rate
A normal heart rate for dogs is between 60 and 140 beats per minute.
To determine your dog’s heart rate:
- Put your hand to his chest
- Count how many pulses you feel in 15 seconds
- Multiply by 4 to get the number of beats per minute
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.
Your Dog’s Rate of Respiration
Next, you want to determine your dog’s rate of respiration, at rest (in other words, not right after a game of fetch). A healthy dog, depending on breed, takes between 12 and 24 breaths per minute.
A healthy dog, depending on breed, takes between 12 and 24 breaths per minute.
To measure breathing rate:
- Count the number of times the chest expands in 10 seconds
- Multiply by 6
You can do this either by watching your dog or resting your hand on the ribs. Normal respirations should not make any noise, and should require very little effort. Of course, if you have a brachycephalic breed like a Pug or English Bulldog, a little snort from time to time can be expected.
Checking Your Dog’s Body Temperature
The final vital sign to measure in your pet is body temperature; a normal temperature is around 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
And yes, the best measure of true body temperature is taken rectally, so you might want to distract your dog with a treat or toy while you take the temperature. If you (or your dog) aren’t comfortable with that particular method, the next best tool is an ear thermometer or “touch-free” infrared thermometer that is made specifically for animals.
Once you’ve taken your dog’s vitals, keep a log of his or her normal numbers in your pet first aid kit, in the event you ever need to grab it and go. (If you have an additional kit kept in your car for those trips to the dog park, be sure to keep a copy there, too).
You can also store this information, along with more details about your pet’s medical history, using many smartphone apps. There are a number of helpful apps available that let you save all of your pet’s information, so it’s always at your fingertips. As important as your dog’s vitals can be, his or her medical history (including ALL current medications) is just as, if not more, important for the treating veterinarian.
Knowing how to take your dog’s vital signs is an important key to monitoring and managing your pet’s health, it takes less than five minutes to do, and it is one more way you can become a better, more responsible pet owner!
Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Jackson for this guest post.
Dr. Rebecca Jackson, DVM, is a staff veterinarian for Petplan Pet Insurance, and works as a relief veterinarian for hospitals in the Philadelphia area. She has also practiced in Tacoma, Washington, and Richmond, Virginia, where she served as a civilian veterinarian at the Fort Lee Veterinary Treatment Facility.
If you found this post helpful, also be sure to read our dog first aid checklist.