Knowing how to check your dog's vital signs is a skill that could be very helpful in the event that your dog is ever in distress. This skill could also prove helpful for pet owners who have elderly pets, or pets with recurring or lasting medical conditions. Being able to monitor and record your dog's vital signs when they are healthy is equally as important - you cannot know for sure if something is wrong if you do not have a healthy baseline to compare to! The three most important vital signs to be able to measure are the heart rate, breathing rate (also referred to as respiration), and body temperature. In the field of veterinary medicine, veterinary technicians or veterinary assistants will always take a pet's vital signs first thing during a visit, before doing anything else. In the field of veterinary medicine we refer to these vital signs as TPR(W) - temperature, pulse, respiration and weight. Weight, though important to monitor, is not generally a relevant factor when a pet is in immediate distress, and is usually skipped over during any emergency visits. (Weight should always be taken and recorded during your pet's regular physical exams to ensure that the animal is maintaining a healthy weight or meeting weight gain or weight loss goals.)
A normal heart rate for dogs is between 60-140 beats per minute (BPM). This sounds like a huge range, and it is, however one must take into account that dogs of different sizes, weights and breeds may have different heart rates based off of what their body's metabolic needs are. Long story short, if your pet is at either end of the 60-140 beats per minute spectrum, this isn't necessarily cause for any concern. However, anytime you have a question or concern, even if your pets BPM is within the normal range, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian.
To measure heart rate:
1) put your hand to your pet's chest
2) count how many pulses you feel in 15 seconds
3) multiply that number by 4 to get the number of beats per minute
If you have difficulty finding the heart beats in the chest area, not to fret. Try placing two fingers on the middle of your pet's thigh where the leg joins the body. There you should be able to find their pulse - the femoral artery is there and it will pulse each time the heart beats.
Breathing rate (respiration): Any time you take your pet's respiration you want to make sure they are at rest and relaxed - anxiety or physical activity can alter your results. A heathy dog should take between 12 and 24 breaths per minute, depending on the breed. Breathing can be measured by sight, or by resting your hand gently on your pet's ribs. If a dog is breathing normally, their breathing should be quiet, if not silent, and should seem to happen effortlessly. If your pet's breathing seems to be labored at any point in time, contacting your veterinarian would be a wise decision.
To measure breathing:
1) count the number of times the chest expands in 10 seconds
2) multiply that number by 6
Finally, one must check your pet's body temperature. A normal, healthy canine body temperature should rest between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to take a dog's temperature is rectally, and all you need is a thermometer that is designed to be inserted rectally (you can use one that is made for humans, as long as you don't try and use it again on yourself). You may want to distract your dog with a toy or treat while you take their temperature, but if taking your pet's temperature rectally just isn't going to work, ear thermometers or animal specific "touch free" infrared thermometers are the next best thing.
After taking your dog's vitals, keep a record of their normal numbers in your pet first aid kid (if you have one), or with the rest of their medical records. You can also save this information on various smartphone apps, including PetSnap, which I wrote about in last week's blog. Being a proactive pet owner who keeps good records might just be the thing that helps save your pet's life one day!
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