Knowing Your Pet’s ‘Normals’ …..

28 01 2009

BEFORE …. An Emergency Strikes




Your pet probably has a range of what is normal. His or her temperature is not going to be the same everyday – take several readings to give yourself an idea of what is normal. 

Lift your pet’s tail, as this will help keep your pet from sitting down. It is also easier if you have someone holding the ‘pretty’ end for you. Using a rectal thermometer, lubricate the end with KY Jelly or petroleum jelly and insert the thermometer into the rectum of your pet to about halfway. After 3 minutes you can remove the thermometer and write down the readings. 

Normal temperature ranges (both Cats and Dogs): 99 degrees F to 102 degrees F (38-39.5 degrees Celsius). 


Heart Rate


To measure your pet’s heart rate, place your hand on the left side of your pet’s chest, just behind the elbow.

You should be able to feel the beats of the heart. 

Count the number of beats for 15 seconds and multiply by

4 – this will give you the number of beats per minute.

Try to take several readings to give you an average heart rate (it’s also good practice). 

In addition, try to find your pet’s pulse using the femoral artery. It is located in the groin area where the hind leg meets the body. Press firmly with two fingers; you should easily feel the beats. In an emergency, you may need to find a pulse on your pet – the best place is the femoral artery. 

Note: Normal heart rate for an adult dog can be 70-180 bpm. Smaller dogs have a faster heart rate then larger breeds, and with puppies, normal heart rate can be as high as 220 beats per minute.

Normal heart rate for an adult cat can be 120-240 bpm, and with kittens, normal rates can be 200-300 bpm

Normal resting heart rates: 

Cats: 120-240 bpm

Kittens: 200-300 bpm

Small dogs: 90-180 bpm

Medium dogs: 70-110 bpm

Large dogs: 60-90 bpm

Puppies: up to 220 bpm

 Pulse should be strong, regular and easy to locate. 


Respiratory Rate


To measure your pet’s respiratory rate, count the number of breaths for 15 seconds and multiply by 4: this gives you the number of breaths per minute. Dogs usually breathe 10 – 30 times a minute, cats 10 – 40 times a minute. A panting dog will breathe much faster, up to 200 times a minute; open mouth breathing or panting in cats should be considered an emergency.


Gum Color (mucous membranes)


Checking your pet’s gum color is one way to alert you when something is wrong. The gum tissue should be nice and pink, if your pet’s gums are pigmented, try to find a spot that is non-pigmented or use the mucous membrane tissue in the groin area. If your pet’s mucous membranes are anything other than pink, something is wrong and you should call your veterinarian. 

In general, pale pink or white mucous membranes could spell shock or anemia; blue generally means your pet is having trouble breathing and not getting enough oxygen; yellow mucous membranes generally means your pet is jaundiced and is having liver problems; and bright red mucous membranes could mean heat stroke for your pet or carbon monoxide poisoning.


Capillary Refill Time


This test helps to judge your pet’s blood circulation.

Use the non-pigmented area of your pet’s gum tissue.

Press your finger against the tissue and release.

There should be a white spot where your finger was.

Time how quickly the white spot becomes pink again.

Normal ranges from 1 – 2 seconds; 2 – 4 seconds generally means shock or dehydration; more than 4 seconds is an emergency.




To check your pet’s hydration, grasp the skin at the back of the neck and pull up. The skin should snap back rather quickly; the longer it takes to retract the more dehydrated your pet is. If the skin remains standing up you should call your veterinarian immediately. 

You can also check hydration by pressing a finger to your pet’s gums. If they are sticky or tacky then your pet is dehydrated and your veterinarian should be called. Senior cats will generally be a little dehydrated, you may want to check with your veterinarian for what is considered normal for your senior cat. 




If your pet is small, you can weigh him or her yourself.

First weigh yourself while holding your pet and then weight yourself without – then just subtract for your pet’s weight.

For larger dogs, go to the veterinary clinic and ask to use their scales – there is generally no charge to do this. 

Weight loss can alert you to an internal problem with your pet, for example kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism all list weight loss as a symptom. If you have noticed significant unexplained weight loss, call your veterinarian immediately.

 Putting together your pet’s first aid health chart does not replace an exam done by a veterinarian; use it to learn what is normal for your pet so you are better equipped during an emergency or if you think your pet is not feeling well. If you take your pet’s vital signs at home, you can relay more information to your pet’s veterinarian and help them prepare for you when you arrive with your pet during an emergency. 


Assessing Responsiveness


Healthy dogs and cats are alert and responsive to whatever is happening around them. You can gauge this based on how they interact with you; notice how they respond when you clap your hands or move suddenly towards them. A key window into the brain (and responsiveness) is through the eyes.

Shine a bright light into the eyes to see if the pupils respond and constrict. The room must first be a little dark, so that the pupils are enlarged. Try this on your pet in a darkened room; you will see the pupils constrict immediately with a bright flashlight, under normal circumstances. 




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