Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration in Dogs

Check your dog's vital signs if you suspect he's sickly.

Pets can't speak up when they're sick, so they count on their human friends to watch them for signs of illness. Some of the most basic indicators of your dog's health are called vital signs - temperature, pulse, and respiration. If you're worried that your dog is under the weather, check his vital signs.

Contrary to what you may have heard, a warm, dry nose doesn't always indicate fever. But, if you notice lethargy, a poor appetite, and overall increased body warmth, in addition to a warm, dry nose, your suspicion of fever is probably right on. To confirm a fever, you'll need to take your dog's temperature with a rectal thermometer.

This isn't the most comfortable task for either of you, so ask someone else to hold and soothe your pooch while you take his temperature. If you don't have help, encourage your dog to lie in your lap, or brace his against your body and hold him securely with your arm.

Lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly and insert it one to two inches into your dog's rectum, depending on his size (one inch for small dogs and two inches for larger pups).

Hold onto the thermometer throughout the procedure. You'll get an accurate reading in about two minutes. Yes, two minutes in this position seems like forever, but hang in there. If he struggles, he could break the thermometer and injure himself. If you feel you can't safely take your dog's temperature, call your veterinarian.

Your dog's normal temperature should be between 101 and 102.5 degrees F. Anything over 103 degrees F indicates a fever, and you should call your veterinarian right away so he or she can pinpoint the problem.

Pulse or Heart Rate
Depending on age and size, your dog's heart rate should generally be between 80 and 140 beats per minute. Larger dogs tend to have slower heart rates than smaller dogs; toy breeds may be at the high end of the scale. Your veterinarian can tell you precisely what rate to expect for your dog.

You can check your dog's heart rate two ways. The first is by taking the pulse on the inside upper thigh of either rear leg. That's where the pulse is the strongest. Place two fingers on the pulse and count the beats for one minute. If your dog refuses to hold still that long, count for 15 seconds and multiply the beats by four. The beats should feel strong and regular. If his pulse is weak, erratic, or too fast or slow, call your veterinarian.

You can also take your pup's pulse by placing your hand on the left side of his chest just behind the elbow to feel the normal "bu-bum" of the heart's double beat. Count each double beat as one, and count the beats for one minute.

Respiration or Breathing
Your dog's breathing is another basic indicator of his health. You can check his breathing by counting the number of breaths he takes per minute - just watch the movement of his chest. He should take about 10 to 30 breaths a minute. If his breathing seems too slow, labored, or the rate is rapid while he's resting, call your veterinarian.