Dog vital signs – what is normal?

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Chinook Puppy
Photo by Kathleen Riley: The Beej, a Chinook dog

What Is Normal?
As dog owners, we can usually tell if something is wrong with our companions by the symptoms we observe. Vomiting and diarrhea are pretty obvious signals that the gastrointestinal system is off. Other signs that something is wrong are coughing, watery or mucousy (gooey) eyes and nose are signals that something is wrong. Loss of appetite and listlessness or sudden behavioral changes are warning signs that something is not right with our companions.As good dog owners, we need to be aware of normal and not so normal life signs so we can better know what our companions need. The following is a brief list that can help you measure your dog’s vital signs. As always, if you have any questions, contact your veterinarian immediately.Temperature:
Normal temperature in adult dogs is between 101-102.5 degrees. Should you want to take your dog’s temperature using a rectal thermometer, it is fairly simple. Be sure the thermometer starts below 97 degrees and lubricate the tip with Vaseline. You want to insert the thermometer into the dog’s anus to a depth that is appropriate for the size of your dog. For small dogs, an inch is probably sufficient. For larger dogs, you may need to insert as much as half the thermometer. You will want your dog in a standing position, hold the end of the thermometer in your free hand and keep it inserted for about two to three minutes to get an accurate reading. For those of you that prefer a simpler method, you can get a thermometer that measures temperature from contact with the skin. If you use this method, hold the flat thermometer against your dogs abdomen where there is the least amount of hair until you get a steady reading.

A resting dog breathes about 10-30 times per minute. After excitement, heat, exercise or extreme stress the respiratory rate increases. While at rest, you can count respiration as the dog breathes through his nose by watching the chest move in a smooth, rhythmic motion. You should also count respiration after your dog exercises so you know what normal looks like. Changes in rate or style of respiration of your resting dog may indicate disease.

Normal heart beat rate for dogs ranges from 80-140 beats per minute. Small dogs and pups usually have a more rapid heart rate or pulse rate than larger dogs. A normal pulse is steady and firm. You can check your dogs pulse rate by placing your fingertips or palm against the dog’s chest just behind the point of the elbow or you can place your middle and index fingers at the middle of the inside surface of the rear leg near the point where the leg meets the body. This is the area the femoral artery passes close to skin. Your dog’s heart rate and pulse rate should be the same. To count the pulse, either count the beats for one minute or if you like math, count for 15 seconds and multiply by four.

Capillaries are the small blood vessels that carry blood to the skin. Capillary Refill Time (CRT) is the measure of capillary circulation. Normal CRT is one second or less. To check this, press one finger firmly against your dog’s gums. When you lift the finger you will see a pale area which should refill with blood almost instantly with the gums returning to the normal color. Dogs in shock will have poor capillary refill time.

Without Ray vision, you won’t be able to see what is going on inside your dog’s digestive tract, but you can still monitor appearance to help you know what is normal for your dog. Know how your dog looks and sounds on a normal day. How wide is your dog behind the ribcage before and after eating. The abdomen should be soft to the touch and shouldn’t have a hollow sound when tapped. It also should not have constant audible gurgling sounds. Dogs with a distended abdomen or with a hollow sound like a drum or with a very active gastric tract may be in distress with enteritis or bloat.

Urinary Tract:
Healthy dogs have urine that is clear yellow in color. The color will increase as the amount of water excreted decreases and the color will pale as the amount of water excreted increases. Cloudy or bloody urine is not normal and is cause for contacting your veterinarian. Normal urine volume ranges from 12-20 milliliters per pound per day. The average water consumption is 30 milliliters (a little more than one ounce) per pound per day. A sudden increase in water consumption or urine volume may be an indication of disease.

Puppies usually have 28 baby teeth, also called deciduous teeth. Puppies do not have molars and all baby teeth should be in place by six weeks. Adult dogs have an average of 42 permanent teeth which usually start to arrive at 4-5 months and are all in place by 6-7 months. Larger breed dogs tend to have teeth erupting more quickly than smaller breed dogs. Gums are pink and teeth are white in normal dogs. (Some dogs do have black gums and that is normal. Again, know your own dog.) There should be no swelling or bleeding of the gums once all the teeth are in. Be sure to brush your dog’s teeth to reduce tartar buildup and keep a healthy mouth.

This should get you started on what is normal for your companion. For more detailed information, you can always talk to your veterinarian about basic health care.

This article first appeared on Minneapolis Dogs Examiner and is used here with permission of the author Kathleen Riley Daniels

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