Have you been tasked with monitoring at least one aspect of your pet's vitals?
Are you confused about where to start?
Well, don’t panic... Here is how to accomplish it!!
Monitoring vitals is a crucial part of each and every visit to your Veterinarians' office. Occasionally, there are times where you will also need to keep an eye on your pet's vitals at home. So let us break this down to make this a manageable task, and therefore more likely to get accurate measurements to help your Veterinarian!
What are Vitals?
Technically, they are specific clinical measurements of one's temperature, pulse (heart rate) rate, respiratory (breathing) rate, and blood pressure. These clinical measurements are checked each time you bring your pet to see their doctor. We take these measurements so routinely that you may not even realize it is being done!
A normal temperature for a dog or cat is anywhere between 99.5 ℉ and 102.5 ℉ (37.5 ℃ - 39.1 ℃). Occasionally we will see temperatures that fall outside of these ranges, and sometimes it can be worrisome.
There are times that your Veterinarian will ask you to monitor your pet’s temperature at home. While a bit nervewracking, this is not a terribly difficult task.
We, at IMFPP, recommend having a dedicated pet digital thermometer. Personally, I am quite partial to the Vicks ComfortFlex Digital Thermometer pictured below. (Click on the picture to go to Amazon.)
You can buy probe covers, and a bit of Vaseline for lubrication. You can get a small travel size of the Vaseline and keep it separated in your pet supply kit. Always use some isopropyl alcohol to clean the thermometer after use and prior to storage.
To take your pet's temperature, prepare your thermometer, gently lift your pet's tail so that you can visualize the anus, and gently insert the thermometer. The thermometer does not need to be inserted very far, just ensure the “temperature sensitive portion” (the tip) is fully inserted within the anus. Once the thermometer has finished taking its ready, generally indicated by a beeping noise, remove the thermometer and record your result.
A normal sleeping respiratory rate for a dog is between 15 - 30 breaths per minute (bpm), while a normal sleeping respiratory rate for a cat is between 20 - 30 bpm.
Monitoring your pets respiration rate is less hands-on than taking their temperature! While your pet is sleeping, count each complete inhale-exhale cycle. Count this cycle for 60 seconds, and record your results.
If your cat is ever breathing with their mouth open (panting), call your veterinarian immediately and have your cat be evaluated. Open mouth breathing is never normal in a cat!
Monitoring your pets heart rate can be a bit more difficult. A normal heart rate for a small dog is between 140 - 180 beats per minute (bpm), while a normal heart rate for a medium to a large dog can be between 60 - 90 bpm. Dogs who are very athletic (fly-ball athletes, for example) may have an even slower heart rate!
A normal heart rate for a cat is between 140 - 220 bpm.
To measure your pets heart rate you can palpate (feel) their pulses high on the inside of their hind legs, or by placing your cupped hand on the bottom of their chest. When you feel the “lub-dub” that is one beat. Count each lub-dub you feel for the duration of 60 seconds, and record your result.
You can always obtain a stethoscope to listen to your pet’s heartbeat as well! There is a large variety of stethoscopes out there that come in a wide variety of price points.
An inexpensive option is from Prestige Medical. This can work for basic listening, although may not work for everyone. If you would like to get a higher grade of stethoscope, a common brand in veterinary medicine is Littmann. A middle grade stethoscope from Littmann can befound here. Of course, you can get higher grades of stethoscopes, but for basic at home use there is no need for more expensive ones.
To listen to their heartbeat, place the stethoscope bell (the part that is not in your ears) onto the place where you feel the lub-dub. And, voila! You should now be able to hear a lub-dub! Once you become accustomed to the sounds your pet’s heart makes, you will start to recognize when it does not sound normal.
The last vital that you may be asked to monitor is your pets mucous membrane color. It is normal for your pet to have a nice healthy pink color to their gums and tongue, very similar to your own! If at any time you notice that your pet's gums are any other color (pale pink, white, purple or blue) you must contact your veterinarian immediately for your pet to be evaluated urgently!
Check with your vet
When first learning how to monitor your pet’s vitals, ask someone within your veterinary team to help guide you. They can show you how to listen to your pet’s heartbeat, as well as feeling it.
Of course, these values are only a guideline and your pet may not fall perfectly into place within them. It is also possible for your pet’s “normals” to be outside of these given ranges. Most importantly, follow all instructions that your Veterinarian has given you.
If at any time you have a question or a concern, do not hesitate to reach out. You know your pet better than anyone, and know when something is not normal!
Ashley DiPrete, RVT, VTS (SAIM) is a Registered Veterinary Technician practicing in California and obtained her Veterinary Technician Specialty in Small Animal Internal Medicine in 2016. She is the co-founder and a contributing author for InternalMedicineForPetParents.com. Visit her author page here.
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This website is NOT a substitute for veterinary care with a veterinarian. We recommend you follow the advice and treatment plan as prescribed by your veterinarian, and only after discussing anything found on this website with your veterinarian, with their approval, implementing advice found here.
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