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
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
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
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.
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
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