The other day Leroy was off. I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific other than he was just not himself and that he was sleeping more than normal.
He was eating, drinking, urinating and defecating fine. No vomiting.
But he wasn’t following his normal routine. He wasn’t where he was suppose when he’s suppose to be. His internal clock was broken. He wasn’t impatiently waiting to go out for his last pee of the night and he wasn’t standing in the hallway squeaking his toy when I woke up in the morning.
Just like people, I believe that dogs have off days for no apparent reason, however, that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous when it happens. That’s why I always do a quick home exam. If I know what Sherman and Leroy’s regular heart rate, respiratory rate, capillary refill time and temperature are I feel that I have a good way to determine if they are just “off” or if I need to call our veterinarian.
Before we get to it I’ll just say that I believe that routine veterinary care is the best way to manage your dog’s health, I also believe that a good dog owner is a well informed dog owner.
Grab a watch with a second hand and let’s go.
A dog’s heart rate can be as different as the dog itself so it’s important to know what your dog’s regular heart rate is. There’s a few different ways you can check this: With your dog laying on his left side place your hand on his chest under his left arm. You can also feel the shoulder blade and move your hand down until you feel the heart beating or you can gently bend their elbow to their chest and that’s just about where the heart should be. I like to use my index and middle finger instead of my whole hand. Count the beat for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 OR count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. You can also check the pulse from your dog’s back leg. Simply place your 2 fingers on the inner part of your dog’s thigh, just about where his thigh meets his body. You should feel the femoral artery pulsing and then count the pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. A pulse happen with every heart beat. Normal heart rates can vary from dog to dog but according to Vetinfo, a regular heart rate in adult dogs can be 60-160, higher for toy breeds.
Respiratory rate is the number of breaths that your dog is taking. How many times his chest moves up and down in 60 seconds. It’s very simple to check. Focus on your dog’s chest and watch how many times it rises and falls. When I was monitoring surgery at the animal hospital we count for 15 seconds and then multiply that number by 4. You can also monitor for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. Do it twice to make sure your numbers are close. According to the Vetinfo, a normal respiratory rate with 10-30 breaths per minute is considered normal. This is for a resting dog. Not for a dog that is panting. Not for a dog that has been out running a marathon. If a dog is panting like crazy and having a hard time breathing you shouldn’t be counting breaths, you should be on your way to the emergency clinic.
Capillary refill time:
This is checking the color of your dog’s gum and it’s quite easy. With your dog relaxed simply pull up his lower lip and press the pink area of his gums with your forefinger. When you press on the gums the color should go white but return back to the normal pink color within about 2 seconds. While your in there slide your finger across his gums and see if they feel moist or tacky. A tacky feel could indicate that your dog is dehydrated. Checking your dogs capillary refill time is basically checking their blood flow. If your dog has black pigment in his mouth and there is no pink, many veterinarians suggest that you can gently pull the lower eyelid down and assess the color of the tissue.
I always save temperature for last because I figure that is the most uncomfortable thing for the dog. Digital thermometers tend to be the most commonly used and the most accurate for taking a dog’s temperature. First, if someone is around to help distract and hold the dog that can make the process easier for you and the dog. Next, lubricate the tip of the thermometer with Vaseline or regular K-Y jelly. Slowly insert the thermometer into the dog’s rectum and leave in place until the beep. According to Vetinfo, a normal temperature can range form 100-102 Fahrenheit in most dogs. Giant breed dog’s may run a little higher. Clean the thermometer with rubbing alcohol after use and put back in your dog medical box. Don’t put it back your medicine cupboard. My kids are terrified that I do this. I promise I don’t.
A dog that has a history of other medical issues may require further checks. Since Leroy has IBD, I also check to make sure that his stomach isn’t making too many noises and that there hasn’t hasn’t been any recent diarrhea. I’ll also monitor his eating habits for the day.
Doing a quick check of your dog’s vitals takes only a few short minutes and knowing what is regular for dog can help you asses his condition on those days when they seem off. This isn’t meant to replace veterinarian care it’s to help you become more educated on your dog’s health and to have a basis on what a normal vital is for your dog. Don’t forget, you can always ask your veterinarian to show you how to take your dog’s vitals at your next visit!