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What is Normal?


© Text Copyright the American Kennel Club, Inc., 2008

No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from Text Copyright the American Kennel Club, Inc., .

No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from AKC Family Dog, September/October, 2008.
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You come home from work and your dog greets you but isn't his bouncy, "normal," exuberant self. He continues to seem a bit subdued into the evening.

You start to wonder whether your dog could he sick. Should you wait and see what happens or should you go to the veterinarian?

A little knowledge gained in advance about your dog and his normal vital signs could save a lot of anxiety, uncertainty, and time should you find yourself asking these kinds of questions.

"Become familiar with your dog's vital signs when he is healthy and normal to help determine whether your dog is seriously ill, if you are ever in doubt," advises AKC Companion Animal Recovery's Elaine Smith.

"Know what is normal," says Smith, a veterinary technician. "Take your dog's temperature and pulse. Record your dog's respiration rate. Note mucous-membrane color and capillary refill time as well as skin turgidity and mucous-membrane moistness and body weight. Put all these values on a card that will he easily accessible in your first-aid kit."

Not sure exactly how to do this? It's easier than you think and only takes 10 minutes or so. To record your dog's vital signs while he seems to he his usual sell, all you will need is a thermometer, stopwatch, pen, and paper.


Designate a standard digital thermometer (available in drugstores and grocery stores) to use exclusively for your dog. Apply a small amount of lubricant, such as petroleum jelly, to the end of the thermometer. It possible, have someone on hand to assist you to steady and restrain your dog, if necessary. Insert the thermometer so that the metal tip is inside the dog's rectum as far as it will easily go-up to two inches or so. At a minimum, the metal tip should be inside. Follow the directions on the thermometer. It should beep when it has recorded the dog's temperature Remove the thermometer and note the reading. An average temperature is usually between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. (38.06 - 39.17 C).


Place your hand flat against your dog's chest, just behind the front leg. You should be able to feel your dogs heart beating. Take a count for 15 seconds, and then multiply by four to get the number of beats per minute. A dog's heart makes two contractions for each heartbeat, so count each "lub dup" as one beat. You can also get your dog's pulse or heart rate by feeling the femoral artery, a large artery that runs inside the back leg. If you have difficulties taking your dog's pulse, ask your veterinarian to show you how the next time you visit. Most adult dogs' heart rate falls between 50 and 150 beats a minute. Toy breeds' or puppies' rates average 180 beats a minute.

Respiration Rate

While your dog is awake but relaxed, watch his rib cage rise and fall. Count the number of breaths (one rise and tall of the rib cage) for 15 seconds. Multiply that count by four to get breaths per minute.

Note this rate. (If your dog has recently exercised, be sure to wait an hour or more before taking his respiration rate.) 

Mucous-membrane Color

Use your fingers to pull beck your dog's lips so you can get a good look all around the gums. Some dogs will have areas of black pigmentation, which is normal. Pay attention to the nonpigmented areas, which should be pink. It may be helpful to take a photo or two that you can refer to later. Also note the moistness of the gums; they shouldn't be dry or tacky.

Capillary Refill Time

Lift your dog's lip and firmly press your finger to a non-pigmented area of the gums for a second or two. Once you remove your finger; it should take less than two seconds for the blanched area where your finger was to return to its normal color.

Skin Turgor

Grip the scruff of your dog's neck and pull up or "tent" the skin. When you let go, does it return to its normal position quickly? Dehydration impairs the skin's elasticity. If your dog is dehydrated. the skin won't snap back as quickly as normal.

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