A woman sitting on the beach with a dog.

By Dr. Cindy Bressler

It is very important to learn what is normal for your dog so that you will be able to identify the abnormal. Vital signs for dogs include heart rate, respiratory rate and breathing pattern, color of the gums and mucus membranes, body temperature, capillary refill time, pulse and hydration status.

What is a normal heart rate?

A dog’s normal heart rate depends on the size of the dog. Normal can range from 60-120 beats per minute. Smaller dogs have a higher normal heart rate.

You can take your dog’s heart rate by placing your hand on the chest wall or by taking the pulse. It is easy to locate the pulse on he inside of the inner thigh where the leg meets the body by placing your fingers there. Have your Veterinarian demonstrate this on your dog before you have an emergency.

What is a normal respiratory rate?

A dog’s respiratory rate should be 10-30 breaths per minute. If a dog is having difficulty breathing, you may see a slow or fast respiratory rate, loud gasping sounds, breathing with the mouth open, breathing with the abdominal cavity expanding, cheeks flapping or nostrils flaring. Excessive prolonged panting is not normal. Learn how to take a respiratory rate.


What is a normal temperature for a dog?

It is important to take your dog’s temperature to know if they have a fever or a low temperature called hypothermia. You can take your dog’s rectal temperature by using a digital or glass thermometer with a lubricant. Normal temperature for a dog is 100-102.5 F (38-39.1 C)

What do the color of the gums tell me?

You can tell a lot about blood circulation and oxygenation of the tissues by checking the color of the gums. A healthy bright pink color indicates good circulation. Blue or purple means lack of oxygen. Pale pink or white indicate anemia (low red blood cell level) shock or dehydration. Brown, brick red, orange or yellow colors are also abnormal.

You can check your pet’s gum color by lifting the upper or lower lip and looking at the color of the gums and of the inside of the lips. If you have a dog with pigmented lips, tongue and gums (black gums), you can check the color of the other mucus membranes for example the inside of the vulva or the penis.

How do I tell if my dog is dehydrated?

There are two easy ways to check for dehydration in your dog. The first way is to gently grab the skin with two fingers between the shoulder blades or on another area of the body. When you let go, it should bounce back to normal in a couple of seconds. If it takes longer or stays up, your dog is dehydrated and you should seek veterinary help.

Another way to check is to see if your dog’s gums feel moist and slippery. If they are dry, your pet may be dehydrated. As dogs get older, their skin may lose elasticity making it a little more difficult to tell if they are dehydrated. If you are unsure, contact your vet.

Seek medical attention if your pet has:

Difficulty breathing, Vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, excessive drinking or urination, difficulty urinating or defecating, weakness or collapse, bleeding, seizures, loss of vision, abnormal discharge, lameness, crying or vocalizing, lethargy or anything abnormal.

*** Pet CPR Courses are important and knowledge of Pet CPR can save lives. You should also have a Pet First Aid Kit in your home. Information on Pet CPR and First Aid Kits are available through Hamptons Canine Concierge 631-255-8556.

Also by Dr. Cindy Bressler: Summer Skin and Fur Care​