Pet First Aid for Pet Professionals Level 3 (VTQ)

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Vital Signs

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3 min 14 sec
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Understanding Vital Signs in Pets: Temperature, Heart Rate, and Respiration

1. Introduction

When assessing the health of any animal, it's crucial to consider three vital signs: temperature, heart rate, and respiration rate.

2. Temperature

Temperature varies by factors such as breed, age, and size. Here's what you should know:

  • Normal Dog Temperature: Average of 38.5°C with a range of 38 to 39.1°C.
  • Puppies and Kittens: Can have lower ranges (34.4 to 36.1°C) until about one month old.
  • Signs of Cold: Look for shivering and seeking warmth in dogs and cats.
  • Temperature Regulation: Dogs and cats regulate temperature through panting, so limit exercise in hot weather, especially for short-faced breeds.
  • Coat's Role: The coat helps insulate in cold weather and protect from heat in hot weather, but may be less effective in short-coated animals.
  • Abnormal Temperatures: Less than 37.5°C (hypothermia) or over 39.2°C (hyperthermia) may indicate fever or heat stroke.

3. Heart Rate

Heart rate varies with age and breed. Here's what to consider:

  • Puppies: Heart rates range from 160 to 200 beats per minute.
  • Larger Dogs: Heart rates typically range between 60 to 140 beats per minute.
  • Size Matters: Larger breeds have slower heart rates, while smaller breeds have faster heartbeats.
  • Toy Breeds: Toy dog breeds may have a pulse of 180 beats per minute.
  • Know the Average: Determine your dog's average resting pulse to recognize deviations from normal.
  • Exercise Impact: Heart rate increases with exercise, so always assess the resting pulse.

4. Respiration Rate

Respiration rate is measured in breaths per minute and varies based on factors. Consider the following:

  • Normal Dog Breathing: 10 to 34 breaths per minute when not panting.
  • Puppies and Toy Breeds: Respiratory rate ranges from 15 to 40 breaths per minute.
  • Resting Rate: Determine the resting respiratory rate, not when the dog is panting.
  • Panting: Dogs can reach up to 200 breaths per minute when panting due to heat or stress.

5. Cats

Cats have different vital sign ranges. Here's what to know:

  • Cat Pulse Rate: Average of 110 to 130 beats per minute.
  • Cat Respiration Rate: 10 to 30 breaths per minute under normal conditions.
  • Panting in Cats: Cats typically pant due to stress, fear, or heat, with rates possibly reaching 300 pants per minute, but this should not persist for long.