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In this lesson, we'll be digging into the first vital sign you should be monitoring and checking in your pet – resting heart rate.

If you ever have any concerns about how your pet is feeling, the first thing you should do is check his or her heart rate. This is often an important indicator of how your pet is feeling and doing physically.

Your pet's heart rate will vary dramatically depending on a few factors, including:

  • The activity level of your pet
  • The anxiety level of your pet
  • The general health of your pet

Pro Tip #1: You may have noticed in the first paragraph that we used the phrase resting heart rate. It's really important that you measure the heart rate of your pet while he or she is at rest and calm, in order to get a more consistent measurement over time.

Why is it important to get a consistent measurement over time? Well, remember, it's all about what's normal vs. what's abnormal. If you measure your pet's heart rate at times when he or she is not at rest, this will produce inconsistent measurements and normal will be unattainable.

Normal Heart Rate Ranges for Dogs and Cats

The normal heart rate for a dog at rest is between 40 and 100 beats per minute.

The normal heart rate for a cat at rest is between 80 and 140 beats per minutes.

Again, it's really important to remember that these heart rate numbers will be very different if your pet:

  • Is anxious
  • Just finished running around or exercising
  • Is experiencing some stress

Pro Tip #2: Raise your hand if you think your pet gets stressed out at the vet. What pet doesn't, right? For this reason, your veterinarian will always get a different heart rate measurement than what you'll get at home, when your pet is calm. The vet's office is a stressful environment for pets, and all those vital signs may be affected. (You can go ahead and put your hand down now.)

How to Measure Your Pet's Heart Rate

Wait until your pet is nice and calm and laying down. This is the perfect opportunity to measure his or her heart rate.

1. Ideally, your pet will be laying on his or her side, like Quinn was in the corresponding video for this lesson.
2. Locate the femoral artery on the inside of your pet's thigh by placing your hand there. This artery runs down the inside and middle of the thigh along the bone.
3. Once you find it – you should be able to feel it pulsating – put three fingers on that area and hold it.

Pro Tip #3: You may recall in the video that Dr. Bobbi used the top leg to get that measurement rather than lifting up the top leg to access the bottom leg. Your dog or cat will likely remain calmer if you're not using their legs like a wishbone, so curl your hand under that top leg instead. And remember, practice makes perfect!

4. Once you feel those pulsations, it time to measure. Using a clock or watch with a second hand, count the pulsations for six seconds.
5. Multiply the number of pulsations by 10. This will tell you your pet's resting heart rate for one minute.
6. Compare your findings with the range listed above for your dog or cat.

Getting to know your pet's normal resting heart rate, along with checking it whenever you suspect something is wrong, will alert you if something really is amiss.

If your pet's resting heart rate is abnormal, as in outside that range and different from what you normally get, this is a pretty good indication that something is wrong. In this case, you should look at other signs of trouble like:

  • What are your pet's other vital signs (don't worry, we'll be getting to those)?
  • How is your pet otherwise doing/feeling?
  • Are his or her behaviors normal – eating habits, bathroom habits, and social habits?

If your pet is otherwise bright, alert, and isn't showing any unusual signs, a slightly elevated or depressed heart rate may not be a concern. However, if you discover other signs of trouble, this could be an indication of a bigger problem and warrants further investigation, and maybe even a trip to the veterinarian.