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How to check your pet’s normal health vital signs

Amy Holloway

Emily Ashdown, RVN and pet first aid trainer, with her dogs diesel and Vinnie

Following on from our recent Pet First Aid Event, we asked Emily Ashdown RVN, pet physiotherapist and experienced pet first aider, to explain how to understand the normal vital signs of cats and dogs.

It’s much easier to spot when something is wrong, if pet owners know what is ‘normal’ for their pet. This is especially useful when dealing with an emergency situation.

Every pet is different, and but this guide will show you how to measure the basic ‘normal’ vital signs for your pet.

Heart/Pulse Rate = beats per minute

This can differ from animal to animal and can depend on size, breed, age, fitness and current health. For example, a dog that runs 3 hours every day will typically have a slower heart rate than a dog that walks 30 minutes every day. It’s important to understand what’s normal for your pet.

  • Best place to check is the inside of your pet’s thigh using your first two fingers. Count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4, to get beats per minute.
  • A dog at rest should be around 80 to 120 beats per minute, but this can depend on breed, size, age and other factors.
  • You can also check this on the left side of the lower chest and behind the elbow.

Respiratory Rate = full rise & fall of chest breaths per minute

Again, this can differ from animal to animal and can depend on size, breed, age, fitness and and current health. Find out what’s normal for your pet.

  • Watch your pet’s chest rise and fall, this counts as one breath. Count for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4 to get breaths per minute.
  • A dog at rest should do 16 – 20 breaths per minute, but this can differ.

Mucous Membrane Colour = gums & inside of eyelids

  • This shows how much oxygen is in the blood and can be seen in the colour of the gums.
  • Healthy = salmon pink.
  • Shock/blood loss = pale/blue.
  • Jaundice = yellow.
  • Some dogs have black gums naturally so it can be hard to tell. Alternatively you can pull down the lower eyelids and check there.

Capillary Refill Time (CRT) = blood flow

  • Apply a small amount of pressure to the gums and watch how quickly the colour returns.
  • Healthy = colour returns after 1 or 2 seconds.
  • Shock = slow return.
  • High blood pressure = fast return.

Temperature = measured rectally

Important – remember to have a separate thermometer for you and your pets.

  • Check temperature with a rectal thermometer.
  • Sterilise thermometer and dry it, before dipping the end in water based jelly.
  • If mercury, shake thermometer so it reads below 100oF/37oC
  • If digital, press the button.
  • Insert into rectum, push against the side wall (otherwise you may be measuring the temperature of stools), wait 1 minute or until it beeps, read it.
  • Wipe, rinse and clean it.
  • Average = 100.5oF – 102.5oF/38oC – 39.1oC

Mentation = level of consciousness and alertness

  • This assesses the level of consciousness and how aware the pet is of their surroundings. Do they recognise you and/or seem ok with where they are, or do they seem dizzy or confused? Are they alert? Or are they semi-comatose or comatose?
  • Normally pets should have good mentation so if anything seems ‘off’, you should check for any other symptoms and contact your vet for advice.

If you’re having difficulty with any of the above or are concerned about your pet’s current health, get in touch with our team for advice by calling 01527 889810.


In an emergency out of hours, call us on 01527 889810.

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