Pet Articles

First Aid for Cats and Dogs – Vital Signs

First aid for pets
By Chantale Robinson
Biologist Veterinary Technician

Vital Signs of Cats and Dogs

Recognizing the normal and abnormal vital signs of dogs and cats is the first step in evaluating if an animal is sick and requires First Aid and Veterinarian attention.

Cats and dogs normal rectal temperature

  • Taking an animal’s rectal temperature is the definite way to know if your pet has a fever or is in hypothermia.
  • Use a rectal pediatric thermometer lubricated with Vaseline.
  • It is a misconception to estimate the condition of an animal by whether its nose is cool or warm. An animal may have a cool nose and a burning fever of 103 F!

Warm ears on the other hand can be an indication of fever or freezing ears an indication of hypothermia.

Normal Temperature: 100.5F -102.5 F (38.0 C- 39.1 C)
Abnormal; Hypothermia (T<37.5 C); Hyperthemia (T>39.1 C)

Normal respiratory rate for dogs and cat


  • Cats – 20-30 breaths /minute
  • Cats panting – up to 300 pants/minute
  • Cats do not usually pant unless they are in a stressful situation (going to the vets), frightened, in hot weather. They should not pant for more than a few minutes at a time. If panting persists and animal cannot return to normal breathing treat as an emergency.


  • Puppies 15-40 breaths/minute
  • Dogs 10-30 breaths/minute
  • Toy breeds (small dogs) 15-40 breaths/minute
  • Dogs that are panting – up to 200 pants/minute

Abnormal breathing:

  • If while breathing the abdomen is expanding instead of the chest on inhalation your pet is not breathing normally. You should seek veterinary care.
  • Slow or fast respiratory rate, loud gasping sounds, shallow breathing, or breathing with mouth open, this is to be treated as an emergency. Seek veterinary care.

Normal heart rate for dogs and cats

  • Cats 110-130- beats/minute
  • Puppies 70-120 beats/minute
  • Dogs 70-180 beats/minute
  • Toy breeds (small dogs) 70-220 beats/minute.
  • The normal heart sound should consist of 2 separate beats with a silent interval between them and a regular rhythm; LUB DUB, LUB TUB (like a drum). If you have any doubts about your animal’s heart or if the heart rate is not normal treat as an emergency and seek veterinary care.

The heart rate can also be taken by locating the animal’s pulse along the femoral artery (inner thigh) or under the arm.

Color of gums

  • A bright healthy pink color of the gums indicates good blood circulation and oxygenation going to the tissues.
  • Abnormal color of gums : dark red, blue or white gums

How to check the color of your pet’s gums

  • Lift your pet’s upper or lower lip and observe the color of the inner lip and gums. A healthy animal should have a pink color to the gums. Brick red or brown, pale light pink, white, yellow or blue colors of the mucous membranes are colors indicative of an emergency (shock, loss of blood, or anemia).
  • Some breeds have dark pigmentation in their inner lips and gums making observations difficult and misleading. For these dogs check for color by gently pulling down on the skin just below the eye with your thumb and observe the color in the inner eyelid.

Capillary Refill Time

This is a test that indicates the animal’s circulatory function or presence of anemia (Low blood volume)

How to check for CRT

A normal CRT is 1-2 seconds. (press gums with finger and release)

A CRT that is less than 1 second signs of shock or longer than 3 seconds are indicative of poor blood circulation and an emergency.

Checking for dehydration

Dehydration can easily occur if an animal has been vomiting or has diarrhea.

Grasp the skin between the shoulder blades; it should bounce back upon releasing the skin almost immediately. Skin that takes more than 2 seconds to bounce back or stands up in the position grasped is a sign of dehydration and in need of veterinary attention.

© 2001 Chantale Robinson AHT Bsc.

3 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar Holly Greenway says:

    My daughter’s puppy on thursday became very sick… throwing up that night and diarreah with increased breathing~ ont friday we carried him to the vet to ensure that he was not coming down with parvo but the vet did not feel that was the case unless it was in the early stages…. now it is sunday and the dog has respirations about 120 per minute… he is standing again and walking a lil since we have given him pedialite around the clock as well as he has started eating but seems to be doing terrible with resperatory distress:( can anyone give me any advise?)

  2. Avatar Joi Bates says:

    My 10wk old 7lb puppy really breaths rapidly at night (80 bpm). When I wake him up he goes down to around 40 bpm. No obstructions, no distress, no nasal flairing and no panting. He is on a puppy zpack for runny nose. Why does it double with bacilly no activity? Thank you :)

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