You’ve probably seen television doctors talking about a patient’s “vitals.” That’s something we measure in veterinary medicine, too. Here’s how I explained it to a reader.
Q: What are vital signs in dogs, and what do I need to know about them?
A: Vital signs are just what they sound like: indicators of life and health. Specifically, they are body temperature, pulse rate and respiratory rate. It’s a good idea to know what your dog’s vital signs are when he’s healthy and feeling good so that you will recognize the difference if he gets sick.
Normal body temperature for a dog is 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but a normal range is 100.2 degrees to 102.8 degrees. Any time your dog’s temperature is lower than 100 degrees or higher than 103.5 degrees, he needs to see the veterinarian right away. A high temperature, or fever, can be caused by heatstroke, bacterial or viral infections, uncontrolled seizures or other conditions. A lower-than-normal temperature may be caused by hypothermia (exposure to cold) or shock, kidney failure or certain types of heart disease.
The normal pulse rate for a dog is 75 to 120 beats per minute (bpm). The rate varies depending on the dog’s size, age and health. You can feel your dog’s pulse if you press your finger against the blood vessel in the V-shaped area where the undersides of the hind legs join the body. To get the bpm, count the beats for 10 seconds, then multiply by 6 to get the total for one minute.
Respiratory rate is the number of breaths your dog takes per minute. In healthy dogs, the normal respiratory rate is 15 to 20 breaths per minute. Get to the veterinarian if you notice that your dog’s breathing is shallow, labored or rapid. More than 35 breaths per minute is cause for concern and warrants a trip to the veterinarian right away.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.