If your pet has any symptoms of illness or injury, you should check their vital signs.  Here is how to do it:
  • Heart Rate:
    1. Lay pet on side (preferably on right side, but either is fine)
    2. Place hand over pet's chest just behind the shoulder blade to feel for the pulse
    3. Count the heartbeats per minute (i.e., count beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4)
    4. Normal heart rate (in beats per minute) is:
      • Cats: 140 – 220
      • Dogs: 80 – 150

  • Temperature:
    Never attempt to take an oral temperature. Ear thermometers and forehead skin strips are not accurate with pets. Use a digital thermometer to take your pets rectal temperature.
    1. Lubricate the end of a rectal thermometer with a water-soluble lubricating jelly or petroleum jelly (K-Y jelly or Vaseline yellow petroleum jelly) and gently insert in the rectum
    2. Wait the time recommended by the thermometer, remove it and read results
    3. Normal temperature (in Fahrenheit) is:
      • Cats: 100.5° – 102.5°
      • Dogs: 100.5° – 102.5°

  • Respiratory Rate:
    1. Your pet should be laying quietly in a relaxed position
    2. Watch the chest rise and fall
    3. Count the number of breaths for one minute
    4. Normal resting respiratory rate (breaths per minute) is:
      • Cats: 24 – 42
      • Dogs: 24 – 42 (May be higher if panting)

  • Mucous Membranes / Hydration Status:
    1. Your pet's mucous membranes are the inner cheeks and gums
    2. Pull back pet's upper lips and examine her gums
    3. Normal mucous membranes are a healthy pink and moist.
      Note: some dogs have black pigment in their mouths/gums which is normal – in this case assess the color of the tongue.
    4. You can also test your pet's hydration status by performing the following: Gently pinch the skin behind and between pet's shoulder blades, and lift up, (as in a tent), and immediately release. If the skin snaps back against the body in less than 1 second, your pet is properly hydrated. If it takes longer than 1 second for the skin to snap back against the body, your pet may be dehydrated.
    If your pet's mucous membranes are pale, or white, this can signal a serious health problem or emergency in which you should seek care immediately. Dry, sticky or tacky-feeling gums can signal dehydration, also potentially serious.

  • Capillary Refill Time (CRT):
    1. Pull back pet's upper lip and find the gum line above their teeth – the gums should be pink
    2. Gently press with your finger or thumb on the gum and release – the gum will blanche white
    3. The pink color of the gum should return within 2 seconds

  • Other helpful indicators in establishing emergency situations include:
    • Bruising around the gums, and other areas of skin, such as the inner ears and abdomen areas, which can indicate severe anemia, blood loss or other critical situations
    • Jaundice or yellowing of the mucous membranes or skin, which can indicate kidney or liver problems