How To Check A Dog’s Pulse

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Knowing how to check a dog’s pulse is an important skill for all dog owners. In the event of an emergency, it is very helpful for you to be able to assess the immediate risk to your dog’s health. It is also very important information to share with the veterinarian when they see your pet.

As well as this, it can be helpful to know how to take their respiratory rate and temperature. These are the 3 main vital signs. A pulse is the physical movement of blood through your dog’s arteries, forced around by the beating of their heart. 

It is a really good idea to practice taking your dog’s pulse regularly. It can be hard to find at first and with the added stress of an emergency, it may seem impossible. Doing it once a week ensures that it will come as second nature if ever necessary.

It also ensures that you can roughly monitor the health of your dog’s heart. 

Table of Contents

How can you check a dog’s pulse?

You will need something to measure seconds passing, such as a watch, a smartphone, or a stopwatch. There are 2 different methods of measuring a dog’s pulse and the right one depends on its size. 

To measure the heart rate of a smaller dog you should open your hand flat and place it palm side down on their body. Find their left side and place your palm on their chest, just behind their front elbow. 

To measure the heart rate of a larger dog, place the ball of your index and middle fingers on the dip inside their inner upper thigh. This is where the femoral artery is located, and where you will feel the pulse most easily.

You may have to try a few times to find it to begin with, but over time this will become easier. It is easier to find when your dog is standing, but we advise practicing finding it while they are lying down too. 

Once you have found the sweet spot, start your timer. Count the beats for 30 seconds, and then multiply this by 2. This gives you the number of times their heartbeats in a minute, or their bpm. 

What is a normal pulse rate for a dog?

The term normal is subjective and the normal range varies according to the size of your dog. For smaller dogs, the normal range falls between 80 and 130 beats per minute. Larger dogs tend to have a heart rate between 60 and 100 bpm.

Young puppies have even faster heart rates. They tend to be somewhere between 160 and 200 bpm. Puppies younger than 2 weeks can have heart rates up to 220 bpm. 

What do you do if your dog’s heart is beating too fast?

Veterinarian showing a dog owner how to check a dog’s pulse

This is a medical condition known as tachycardia. There are many things that could cause your dog’s heart rate to speed up. It may be something as simple as anxiety but may indicate more serious health concerns too. 

An elevated heart rate may be symptomatic of dehydration, heatstroke, fever, or blood loss.  It could also suggest heart disease, drug overdose, gastrointestinal upset, or congestive heart failure. 

If you become aware that your dog’s heart is beating abnormally fast then you should take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. It is always better to be safe than sorry, as heart problems only get worse if left untreated. 

Other important things to look out for include excessive panting, fevers, shortness of breath, or lethargy. 

What do you do if your dog’s heart is beating too slow?

The medical term for severe cases of this is sinus bradycardia. This may be indicative of heart disease or shock. Some breeds are more genetically prone to this, such as pugs, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, and West Highland white terriers. 

Other causes of a low heart rate include over-sedation, hypothermia, hypothyroidism, pericarditis, hypomagnesemia, and hypocalcemia.

If you think your dog’s heart rate has dropped significantly and remains low, you should take them to a qualified veterinarian

How can you take your dog’s temperature?

The most accurate way to take their temperature is with a rectal thermometer. Lubricate it using a water-based lube and get someone to hold your dog firmly in place. Gently insert the thermometer 1 to 3 inches into their anal canal. 

Hold the thermometer in place for 3 minutes before gently removing it. Check the temperature reading and clean off the thermometer well. 

A normal temperature range for a dog is between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Puppies tend to run slightly colder, averaging between 94 and 97 degrees Fahrenheit. 

How can you check your dog’s respiration rate?

This is how often they are inhaling and exhaling, therefore measuring their intake of oxygen. To check your dog’s respiration rate, you should again grab a stopwatch. Count the rise and falls of your dog’s chest for 30 seconds and then multiply this figure by 2.

This gives you the average number of breaths your dog is taking per minute.

At rest, your dog should have a respiration rate of between 10 and 35 breaths per minute. A high respiration rate can indicate anemia, a respiratory disorder, or congestive heart failure. A low respiration rate, or shallow breaths, are also causes for concern.

This could suggest shock, trauma, neuromuscular disease, or poisoning.

How can you check your dog’s hydration level?

Dehydration may seem insignificant but can pose real health concerns if left untreated. To check how hydrated your dog is, lift the side of their lips gently. Do not do this from the front as this can be very uncomfortable for them. 

If the gums are wet and slobbery, this suggests that they are well hydrated. If the gums are sticky or appear dry, this suggests dehydration. Other symptoms to look out for include sunken eyes and lethargy.

You can also pinch their skin firmly on the shoulders. If it stays in position when released this is a sign of dehydration.