If your pet has any symptoms of illness or injury, you should check their vital signs. Here is how to do it:
- Heart Rate:
- Lay pet on side (preferably on right side, but either is fine)
- Place hand over pet's chest just behind the shoulder blade to feel for the pulse
- Count the heartbeats per minute (i.e., count beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4)
- Normal heart rate (in beats per minute) is:
- Cats: 140 – 220
- Dogs: 80 – 150
Never attempt to take an oral temperature. Ear thermometers and forehead skin strips are not accurate with pets. Use a digital thermometer to take your pets rectal temperature.
- Lubricate the end of a rectal thermometer with a water-soluble lubricating jelly or petroleum jelly (K-Y jelly or Vaseline yellow petroleum jelly) and gently insert in the rectum
- Wait the time recommended by the thermometer, remove it and read results
- Normal temperature (in Fahrenheit) is:
- Cats: 100.5° – 102.5°
- Dogs: 100.5° – 102.5°
- Respiratory Rate:
- Your pet should be laying quietly in a relaxed position
- Watch the chest rise and fall
- Count the number of breaths for one minute
- Normal resting respiratory rate (breaths per minute) is:
- Cats: 24 – 42
- Dogs: 24 – 42 (May be higher if panting)
- Mucous Membranes / Hydration Status:
If your pet's mucous membranes are pale, or white, this can signal a serious health problem or emergency in which you should seek care immediately. Dry, sticky or tacky-feeling gums can signal dehydration, also potentially serious.
- Your pet's mucous membranes are the inner cheeks and gums
- Pull back pet's upper lips and examine her gums
- Normal mucous membranes are a healthy pink and moist.
Note: some dogs have black pigment in their mouths/gums which is normal – in this case assess the color of the tongue.
- You can also test your pet's hydration status by performing the following: Gently pinch the skin behind and between pet's shoulder blades, and lift up, (as in a tent), and immediately release. If the skin snaps back against the body in less than 1 second, your pet is properly hydrated. If it takes longer than 1 second for the skin to snap back against the body, your pet may be dehydrated.
- Capillary Refill Time (CRT):
- Pull back pet's upper lip and find the gum line above their teeth – the gums should be pink
- Gently press with your finger or thumb on the gum and release – the gum will blanche white
- The pink color of the gum should return within 2 seconds
- Other helpful indicators in establishing emergency situations include:
- Bruising around the gums, and other areas of skin, such as the inner ears and abdomen areas, which can indicate severe anemia, blood loss or other critical situations
- Jaundice or yellowing of the mucous membranes or skin, which can indicate kidney or liver problems