Checking Vital Signs
Next time you see your vet, ask him or her to show you how to feel the femoral pulse of your pet (on the inside of the groin, where the leg meets the hip), says Dr. Jeff Werber, an Emmy-award-winning veterinarian. You can also feel your pet’s pulse by placing your hand on the lowest part of the chest, by the bottom of the rib cage. “It’s a good idea to get a sense of what is normal for your pet, so you will know when to be concerned,” says Werber.
As a general rule, a large dog should have a heart rate of around 60 to 65 beats per minute, while a small dog will have a faster heartbeat – and so will a cat. Werber recommends heading to the vet if the heart rate is above 100 or if it seems abnormally low. “If it’s too low for too long, it impacts the delivery of oxygen to the organs, which requires attention,” says Werber. “If it’s too high for too long it can strain the heart muscle.”
Another important thing you can learn to monitor is respiration rate (breaths per minute). “Elevated respiration rate when your pet is at rest often indicates a serious lung or heart problem,” says Brown. “Because our pets can’t talk to us, increased respiration rate is often the first and only sign of a problem.”
While temperature taking requires some work, monitoring respiration is a lot easier. “Respiration rate is easily taken by visual observation of the chest going in and out,” Brown says. “Normal rates vary depending upon breed, body condition, environmental temperature; variation from normal for your pet at rest is cause for concern.”
The color of your pet’s gums and tongue are also an indicator of overall health. “Healthy gums should be medium pink,” Margolin says. “If you notice any tinges of bluish or very pale, it’s a cause to evaluate.”
Additionally, monitoring vital signs should also include looking out for obvious signs of exercise intolerance. “Any dragging on walks (for dogs) or resting in previously playful cats should be a sign to call your vet,” says Margolin.