Getting to Know Your Pet’s Vitals

Article reprint from Alameda Sun

March 17, 2005

by Sabrina Almazan.

Pet Tech is the first national training center dedicated to pet first aid and care for dogs and cats. National Pet First Aid Awareness Month is around the corner (April 1-30, 2005). In our sixth year, our theme this year is “Pets & People Staying Healthy Together.”  Each year we emphasize the importance of being caring, conscientious, responsible and loving pet owners through education and training. The five elements for optimal wellness and staying healthy include The Human-Animal Bond, Knowing your Pet’s Health, Exercise, Proper Nutrition and Quality Supplementation. Today, I am going to focus on Knowing your Pet’s Health.

In our Pet First Aid Classes and in our pet preparedness guide, “Knowing your Pet’s Health” we highlight “Accessing Your Pet’s Vitals”. Pets can’t tell us when they aren’t feeling well. As responsible and caring pet owners, it’s important to understand what is normal for our pets, so we can quickly recognize when they are presenting symptoms that are “not normal”. The first step is assessing your pet’s key vitals:  temperature, heart rate and breathing rate. Create a record of this information and keep it with your pet’s medical records.

It’s important to know what your pet’s normal temperature is so you can tell when the temperature is abnormal. Normal readings for dogs and cats vary according to breed and size and should range from 100.4 – 102.5 Fahrenheit. Digital thermometers are recommended for their accuracy and safety.

Knowing how and where to check your pets pulse is also vital. The easiest and least invasive place to check your pet’s pulse is at the femoral artery.  The femoral artery can be hard to find. It is located on the inside of the thigh or either back leg. Slide your fingers inside the upper thigh feeling for a slight depression. Once you’ve located the pulse, use a watch and count the beats for 6 seconds. Add a zero to that number and you will have beats per minute. The pulse rate for adult dogs can vary between 70-160 beats per minute. Toy breeds or small dogs can be higher and range from 180-220 beats per minute.  Cats’ pulse rates can vary from 110-240 beats per minute. Take the time to determine what your pet’s normal resting heart rate is and record it.

Your pets’ breathing is another vital indicator of your pet’s health. You can visually or manually check your pet’s breathing.  Place your hand on the side of the chest or watch for the rise and fall of the chest; count the rises or the falls for 30 seconds and double this number to get breaths per minute.  The quality and character of your pet’s breathing should be rhythmic, easy and smooth while at rest.  The breathing rate for dogs is 10-30 breaths per minute. Cats breathe approximately 20-30 breaths per minute.  Record the normal breathing rate for your pet.

In addition to the items listed above, you should also observe your pet’s daily activities at rest and at play.  Be familiar with their physical stance, eating habits, eliminations, skin and coat quality.

This is only a sneak preview of what we offer in our Pet First Aid Classes.  These skills are best learned firsthand at a Pet First Aid Class or by asking your own veterinarian.