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Ask Dr. Aziza: How to Check Your Dog’s Vitals


As a
veterinarian, there are many things I observe and measure to assess the health
of a dog. If you’re interested in learning how to do the same, I recommend
keeping it simple and sticking to the fundamentals, which is learning how to
check your dog’s vitals.

When
learning how to check dog vitals, there are four key signs you’ll need to focus
on:

Vital sign #1: Temperature

Dogs
have higher normal body temperatures compared to us humans – the average
temperature range for a dog is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. At the vet
clinic, we prefer to check the temperature rectally, but if you are not able to
perform this at home that’s okay. Check with your veterinarian to see if they
have any ear thermometers they can recommend.

  • Red flag: Temperatures that are too high or low can indicate serious illness like
    heat stroke, infection, shock, or pain.

Vital sign #2: Heart rate

If
you don’t own a stethoscope, don’t worry! You can still assess your dog’s heart
rate at home by following these steps:

  • Place your hand on their
    chest and feel for the heartbeat
  • The normal range for dogs
    (especially when they are calm) is 70 to 130 beats per minute
  • Count the number of beats in
    15 seconds and multiply by 4

With
your hand, you’ll also be able to get a feel of the heart’s rhythm, which
should be nice and even like a drumbeat.

  • Red flag: If the heartbeat seems
    erratic, you may be feeling an arrhythmia or an abnormal heart rhythm.

Vital sign #3: Respiratory rate

You
can determine your dog’s respiratory rate by simply watching. The dog’s chest
will extend outward and inward, which counts as one breath. Like the heart
rate, count the number of breaths you see in 15 seconds and multiply by 4 – the
normal respiratory rate for dogs is 16 to 30 breaths per minute. A dog’s breaths
should be nice and even, almost effortless.

  • Red flag: If it seems as though the
    abdomen is contributing to the breaths, or breathing seems to be more difficult
    than what you have observed in the past, your dog may be in respiratory
    distress and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Vital sign #4: Mucous membranes

The
easiest way to check your dog’s mucous membranes is to check their gums. The
moisture and colour of your dog’s gums are both very important in assessing
health. Your dog’s gums should be wet from saliva and be a nice, normal pink
colour.

  • Red flag: If the gums are dry or
    sticky, your dog may be dehydrated. If the colour has changed from pink to
    yellow, white, blue, or red, immediately contact your primary care veterinarian
    or the nearest emergency hospital.

Knowing
how to check dog vitals is an important skill for pet parents to learn, as it
can give them early warning when an emergency may be arising. By knowing what
to look for in each vital, you can tell when something isn’t right and contact
your veterinarian promptly, saving precious time.



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