Vital Signs Can Help You Determine
If Your Dog Is Injured, Sick or Poisoned


Use your dog's vital signs to determine if he is in good health. Deviations from baseline numbers may mean he is injured, sick or poisoned.

Most injuries, illnesses and poisonings cause a change in one or more of these.

If you know your dog's baseline body temperature, resting heart rate, and resting respiratory rate, then you can quickly check that he's fine, or note that something is affecting his health.

Normal Temperature

If you checked your child's or your own temperature, you'd be concerned if it read 102°F (39°C) on the thermometer.

If your dog's temperature is 102°F (39°C), you can breathe a sigh of relief. The normal range for dogs is 100°F (approximately 37.8°C) to 102.5°F (slightly over 39°C).

You'll need a rectal thermometer to check your dog's temperature.

If you're using a mercury thermometer, shake it until the reading drops below 99°F (approximately 37.3°C).

If you're using an electronic one, turn it on; there's no need to shake it.

Lubricate the bulb with some K-Y jelly or petroleum jelly.

Grasp and firmly hold the base of his tail so that he does not sit on the thermometer.

Holding the thermometer about two inches (five centimetres) from the bulb, gently slide it one inch (2.5 centimetres) into the rectum. Continue holding his tail and the thermometer for 60 seconds. Remove the thermometer and read the temperature.

This procedure may require two people, one to hold your dog and one to insert the thermometer and hold it and his tail.

If you are doing this alone, straddle him, facing his rump. Close your legs firmly against his abdomen to keep him secure while you grasp his tail and insert the thermometer.

Resting Heart Rate

Of the three vital signs, the resting heart rate for dogs shows the greatest variation. Unlike humans, the heart rate of dogs varies widely based on the size of the breed.

  • Large-breed dogs (Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, and similar size breeds over 50 pounds) have a normal rate of 70 to 120 beats per minute.

  • Medium dogs (Border Collies, Cocker Spaniels and other breeds weighing 25 to 50 pounds) have a normal rate of 80 to 120 beats per minute.

  • Small dogs (Miniature Poodles, Boston Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers and other breeds between 10 and 25 pounds) have a normal rate of 90 to 140 beats per minute.

  • Toy dogs (Chihuahuas, Maltese and Yorkshire Terriers, and others under ten pounds) have a normal rate of 100 to 160 beats per minute.

Place a clock or watch with a second hand on a chair or table near you. Stand over your dog, with his head facing away from you. Place both hands on his ribs, below his elbows. Move your hands until you can feel his heartbeat easily.

Count the number of beats in a 15 second period, then multiply by four. Or count for 30 seconds and multiply by two.

While you're checking, also practice taking his pulse from other places. If he's ever ill and unable to stand, you won't be able to use the above method.

Other locations where you can check his pulse are the sides of his neck, on the inner thighs of his hind legs, and on his lower front legs, which is the equivalent of your wrists.

Resting Respiratory Rate

The normal respiratory rate for a dog ranges from 15 to 30 breaths per minute. It's easy to count your dog's breathing rate. With a clock or watch with a second hand, count the number of breaths for one minute.

Do not, however, try to count his breaths when he's panting — it doesn't count as breaths. Panting occurs when he's hot, short of breath, excited or in pain.

Some breeds pant more than others:

Dogs with heavy coats pant more when it's warm. Dogs with pushed-in faces, such as Pugs and English Bulldogs, pant more than other breeds. The shape of their faces forces them to work harder to get air in and out of their lungs.


These three vital signs — normal temperature, resting heart rate, and resting respiratory rate — are important indicators of good health and health issues. Don't delay in learning what your dog's baseline vital signs are.

If you don't feel comfortable testing for the baseline numbers of these vital signs, ask your vet to provide you with the numbers, or ask her to show you how to check for them yourself.

As soon as you have the vital signs, record them and store a copy of them in your dog first aid kit and in the information and records you keep in the evacuation kit you make for your dog.




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