What you need to know about your cat's vital signs - Dr. Marty Becker


What you need to know about your cat’s vital signs

Monday, Nov 9th, 2020 | By Dr. Marty Becker

Vital signs aren’t just for televsion shows set in hospital ERs. They’re for cats, too. Here’s how I explained it to a reader.

Q: What should I know about determining my cat’s vital signs?

A: Great question! I’m always in favor of people knowing as much as possible about how their animals “work.” Vital signs, which show how well the body is functioning, are temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. Here’s what to know about each one when it comes to cats.

Normal body temperature for a healthy cat ranges from 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. To take the temperature, you can use an old-school glass thermometer or spend a little extra and get a digital rectal thermometer that beeps when it’s time to remove it and has an easy-to-read display. Before inserting, lubricate the thermometer with a water-based medical lubricant. Gently and slowly insert the thermometer 1 to 2 inches into your cat’s rectum and leave it in place for about two minutes or until it beeps.

Call your veterinarian if your cat’s temperature falls below 99 or rises above 103, or if you see evidence of blood, diarrhea or a black, tarry stool on the thermometer.

To determine your cat’s heart rate, place your hand on his left side, just behind his front leg. You should feel the heart beating. Using a watch with a second hand, a stopwatch or an app on your smartphone, count the number of beats during 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get the beats per minute. A cat’s heart rate ranges from 140 to 220 bpm. Check with your vet if it is slow, fast or irregular.

Take your cat’s respiratory rate while he’s relaxed and standing. Count the number of breaths for a full 60 seconds. Normal feline respiratory rate is 20 to 30 breaths per minute. Call your vet if the rate is faster or if your cat is panting.

There’s more – including an inside look at your pet’s oral health – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.