Daniela explains why you need to know your pet’s normal vital signs

April 2, 2022

‘Knowing what is normal will help you understand what is abnormal’ – this is the key advice from our Vet Daniela, when it comes to being prepared for cat and dog health emergencies.

If your pet seems ‘out of sorts’, you can help them by being able to quickly assess their vital signs. You can do this by understanding what their normal levels are, which will help you spot areas of concern. If you need to contact the team at Alpha Vets in an emergency, being able to give this information to our veterinary team can help them give you the most helpful advice.

See our emergency information


Vital health signs for cats & dogs

Pulse/heart rate

Daniela explains that your pet’s pulse/heart rate can indicate signs of stress levels and high/low blood pressure, amongst other things. A change in blood pressure can lead to other health complications. Get a stopwatch and count how many beats you can feel in 60 seconds, or how many in 15 seconds and multiply by 4.

  • Cats: 140 – 220 typical bpm (beats per minute) – a resting cat will be at the lower end – find a heartbeat just behind the front leg on the left side
  • Dogs: 80 – 120 typical bpm – find a pulse on the inside of the thigh near the groin, or a heartbeat behind the elbow on the left side of the lower chest

Respiratory rate

Understanding whether your pet’s current respiratory rate is abnormal for them can be critical information in an emergency situation. Again, using a stopwatch, count how many times your pet’s chest rises and falls when they breathe in 60 seconds (or 15 seconds and multiply by 4) – do this when they are resting.

  • Cats: typically 20 – 30 breaths per minute
  • Dogs: typically 16 – 20 breaths per minute

Other signs that your pet could be unwell include:

Temperature – The typical normal temperature for cats and dogs is around 38 to 39 degrees Celcius. It is always best to get this checked by one of our Vets so as not to do any harm to your pet with a rectal thermometer. Lethargy and shivering or panting are signs that your pet could have a high or low temperature. Call us if you are concerned on 0208 979 1384.

Colour of mucus membranes – Look at your pet’s gums, or the insides of their eyelids if their gums are pigmented – the colour can indicate levels of oxygen in the blood. A healthy colour is deep salmon pink; pale/blue could be a sign of shock or blood loss; yellow could indicate jaundice.

Capillary refill time – Apply a small amount of pressure to your pet’s gums and release; if the colour returns after 1 – 2 seconds this is typically a good sign. A slow return could indicate shock and a fast return could indicate high blood pressure.

Mentation – How does your pet seem? Are they aware of where they are and who you are? Can they walk and sit as normal? Pets that seem ‘spaced out’ may be stressed, unwell, or could be going into shock.

Daniela recommends that pet owners keep a note of their pet’s normal vital signs on their phone or in a purse/wallet, so they are easily accessible.

Our Stanley Road nurses will be happy to show you how to check your pet’s vital signs if you are unsure – just ask them next time your pet is in for an appointment.

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