For the love of your pets: Evaluating your pets condition

July 14, 2011 at 2:14 a.m.

By John Beck

My dog was diagnosed with a heart condition about six months ago. We have some trouble every now and then, but for the most part, his condition is controlled with the medications my veterinarian prescribed. Is there any way for us to know if his "spell" is worth taking him into the vet on emergency or if it is something I can wait on?

Heart conditions are a tricky science. It is usually a blend of medications given a couple of times a day to help maintain your pet's quality of life. Regular visits to your veterinarian are necessary to evaluate how your pet is doing on all the medicines and make sure all of his needs are being met.

The fastest way to evaluate your pet's current state is to try and take his vital statistics - just like a human hospital would get your weight, temperature, blood pressure, etc. upon arrival. You can do the same for your pet.

Mucous membranes are something we always look at when first seeing a patient. Mucous membranes usually refer to the color and wetness of the gum line. A healthy gum line is usually a pretty bright pink and slick to the touch due to the saliva. If a dog is having trouble breathing or making oxygen exchange, the gums can appear purple in color. If the dog is dehydrated, they can feel tacky or sticky to the touch.

Another vital statistic that is regularly checked on a dog/cat is capillary refill time. This is how long it takes for the capillaries (small blood vessels) in the gum line to fill back up with blood after being emptied. To check this, you need to apply mild pressure to the gum line until it turns white, then let go. Count, in seconds, how long it takes for the gum to return to a normal color. If the return time is one to two seconds this is considered normal. Anything over three seconds is considered abnormal.

You can check your pet's pulse by finding the femoral artery that runs inside the pets back leg. The groin section is usually the easiest place to find it. Count how many times you can feel the pulse in 15 seconds then multiply by four. This will give you the number of heart beats per minute. For dogs that are less than 30 pounds, an average heart rate or pulse is 100-160 beats per minute. For a dog over 30 pounds, an average heart rate or pulse is 60-100 beats per minute. The smaller the dog, the faster the heart rate; and the larger the dog, the slower the heart rate. Puppies and cats typically have a pretty quick heart rate regardless of size. They tend to run in the 100-130 beat per minute range.

To check your pet's temperature, you will have to use a rectal thermometer. Adding some lubricating jelly will help with the discomfort. The average dog or cat temperature is 101.5 Fahrenheit. If the patient is very excited, the temperature might be a degree higher. If the patient is very old or calm, the temperature might be a degree lower.

These vital statistics can be taken to help reassure yourself of your pet's condition. If you need more help or have any other questions, please feel free to contact me or your local veterinarian.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at



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