Would you know if your dog’s heart was going too fast or too slow? Your cat was in respiratory distress? Or overheating?

Owners watch for changes in pets’ behaviour for clues that something may be wrong with their pets. And the best way to know that, is by being aware of what’s normal for your particular pet when he or she is happy and healthy. Here are some guidelines and info for what is within the normal ranges for your pet’s vital signs and to help you be equipped to know when they’re not.


Heart Rate: Too Fast? Too Slow? Strange Rhythm?

Heart rate changes in relation to the size of a pet. In general, the larger they are, the slower the heart rate and if very young, their heart rates will also be much faster than an adult of the same species and breed. It’s also worth thinking about what your pet is busy doing, has just been doing or is anticipating doing… i.e. is he fast asleep (slower), just been running wildly in the park (faster) or about to get his favourite treat (faster).

Resting heart rates (i.e. quiet, calm and relaxed) for adult cats are usually around 120 -140 beats per minute. Adult dogs will usually be between 70 – 120 beats per minute.

To take your pet’s heart rate you can feel the femoral artery on the mid-section the inside of the hind leg. Count the number of beats you feel in 15 seconds and multiply by four.

A marked increase, decrease or irregular pattern can indicate a serious condition like dehydration, fever, heart disease or shock. Knowing how to take your pet’s pulse can be a useful tool for assessing how your pet is doing in an emergency situation. The next time you see your vet, ask her to demonstrate how to find your pet’s pulse and what is normal for your pet in particular.

Respiratory Rate: Short and Shallow? Laboured and Heavy? Deep and Relaxed?

Just as heart rates change depending on mental and physical activity, so too does respiratory rate. However, it’s also affected by disease, irritants in the air, anxiety and temperature. So knowing your pet’s normal respiratory rate and being aware of her normal breathing pattern will help you be more aware of whether she is well within her normal range or if there is something more troubling going on.

Resting respiratory rates (i.e. quiet and calm) for adult cats are between 16 and 40 breaths per minute and adult dogs between 10 to 35 breaths per minute. Again, generally speaking the smaller the pet, the faster the respiratory rate.

Counting the number of times your pet breathes in over 15 seconds and multiplying by four will again give you the rate of breaths per minute. If you’re not sure if you’re counting correctly, just ask your vet at the next visit.

Any substantial change to the rate or character of your pet’s breathing i.e does it look shallow or weak; or noisy; or as though she’s putting in a lot of effort to breath, can indicate an emergency situation, and they need to be seen fast.


Temperature: Too Hot? Too Cold? Who Knows?

Cats’ normal rectal temperatures range around 38-39 degrees celsius and dogs’ 37.5-39.5 degrees celsius. A temperature outside of the normal range can indicate heatstroke or fever (higher than normal) or serious circulatory issues or hypothermia (lower than normal).

The best way to know how to take your pet’s temperature is to ask your vet to show you how to take it. No-one wants to go fishing a thermometer from their pet’s bottom!

Knowing how to do this is especially important in our hot and humid climate and especially for owners of short nosed (Brachycephalic) breeds of dogs and cats that are prone to heat stress. If you suspect your pet may be suffering from heat stress, use cool but not cold water to wet them down and get them seen by the vet ASAP – heatstroke is an emergency. By the same token, if your pet is colder than normal, and is weak or lethargic, they also need to be seen ASAP.


If you have any concerns about your pet’s general health please get in touch on 0481 527 678 or email, we’ll be happy to help. If your pet is having life-threatening or serious issues with its breathing, heart rate or high or low temperature, please seek emergency assistance immediately.