The hardest part about owning a dog is knowing when and how to care for his health. Our dogs can't tell us when their feeling feverish or if their heart is racing. Oftentimes owners don't even realize their dog is ill until it's too late for treatment. Learning how to check a dog's vital signs is important information to know before an emergency happens.
The time to learn is not when your dog seems to be having trouble breathing. Every owner should know how to check a dog's vital signs and practice it often. I keep a small notebook in our pet first aid kit to record my dog's vital signs at least once per month. I used to do it weekly when I was first learning.
The vital signs that you need to know how to check are:
- Heart rate
- Breathing rate
If you keep a log of your pet's vital signs, you'll soon realize what his average heart rate, breathing rate and temperature are. Just like us, our dogs are all different and their vital signs will not always be the same.
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How To Check A Dog's Vital Signs
How to check your dog's heart rate
The average heart beat for a dog is between 60-140 beats per minute. There is a large variance because their are so many sizes of dogs. For small breeds, 100-140 is usually typically. For large breeds, the rate usually averages about 60-100.
Check with your veterinarian, but most will not begin to worry until your dog's heart rate drops below 60 or jumps above 140.
You should be able to feel your dog's heart beating in his chest without using a stethoscope. Lift your dog's left front paw. See where the ‘armpit' is located? Place your hand in that area and move it around slightly until you feel his heart beating.
Make sure you're learning how to check your dog's vital signs when he is relaxed. If you try to check these things right after a run or hike, it's going to skew the results. All of his vital signs will be elevated after exercise.
In order to figure out his heart rate, you'll need a clock or watch with a seconds hand or a stopwatch. Most smartphones have timer apps that you can download for free. Simply count the number of times your dog's heart beats in a 15 second period of time.
Let's say his heart beat 20 times in 15 seconds. Now, multiply that heart rate by 4 to find the number of times that your pooch's heart beats in a minute. For our example, you would multiple 20 by 4, which is 80. Your dog's heart rate would be 80 beats per minute, which is well inside the “normal” range.
For more detailed information about checking your dog's heart rate and a detailed video guide on the topic, you can check out my article on how to find a dog's heart rate at home.
How to check your dog's breathing rate
Don't put your stopwatch away. You're going to need it for the next step when learning how to check a dog's vital signs.
This one is pretty similar to calculating your pet's heart rate. As I mentioned, you'll want to do this when your dog is resting. Try to get him to lie on his side, like I did with Saddie in my video guide at the top of this page.
You should be able to see his chest expand every time he takes a breath in. You're going to need to count the number of breaths he takes in a 15 second period of time. Then you'll do the same math we did above to find his breathing rate in a minute.
Normally, dog's usually take about 12-24 breaths per minute. Let's say that you counted 5 breaths in the 15 seconds that you were watching your dog breathe. You'll need to multiply 5 by 4 to find your dog's breathing rate per minute. 4 multiplied by 5 is 20, which is right in the middle of the range for a “normal” breathing rate.
How to check your dog's temperature
If the picture above makes you cringe, you're not going to like the final step of learning how to check a dog's vital signs. First, you need to know that a dog's temperature runs slightly hotter than a humans. Don't be expecting a 98.6° temperature from your dog.
The average dog's temperature should be between 100.5° and 102.5°.
The ONLY accurate way to get your dog's temperature is by using a rectal thermometer. As I explain in my video, you don't need to purchase a special thermometer for dogs. Any simple digital thermometer will work – just be sure to label it ‘DOG' like I did or someone in your home may make the mistake of using it on a person. YUCK!
Coat the end of the thermometer with petroleum jelly and insert about 1 inch into your dog's rectum. Turn the thermometer on and wait for it to take an accurate reading. Most thermometers will beep when they're finished.
Once you've removed the thermometer, it's important that you thoroughly clean it. Wipe off the petroleum jelly and wash the thermometer with hot water and soap.
For more detailed information about checking your dog's temperature and a video guide that shows exactly how it's done, you can check out my article on how to take a dog's temperature with a thermometer.