Join Our Community of Dog Lovers

Champion of My Heart is an award-winning dog blog. We've created many important resources that people from all over the world continue to access. Like this post? Get an email alert when new content goes live by subscribing.

Subscribe !

5 Dog Vital Signs You Should Know BEFORE Your Dog Gets Sick

In addition to continuing to chronicle Lilly’s treatment for rabies vaccine-induced meningoencephalomyelitis (brain inflammation), I’m trying to glean some valuable lessons YOU can learn from our experience. For example, do you know your dog’s “normal” vital signs? Trust me, it’ll help you know when something is wrong and when / if to worry about your dog.

Dog Vital Sign #1: Temperature

Normally, most dogs’ temperatures hover around 100-101 degrees F. That’s like saying, however, that normal for people is 98.6 degrees F. Personally, I run cold. My normal temp is more like 97 degrees, so I feel like I’m burning up at 98.6.

When you know your dog’s typical temperature, you’ll be better able to gauge fever or no fever.

Dog Vital Sign #2: Respiration Rate

Ten to 30 breaths per minute could be considered normal depending upon the dog, but how often does your dog breathe each minute? Do you know? I didn’t.

Clearly, panting is an obvious sign, but do you know your dog’s normal breathing patterns?

This info will help you assess recovery and comfort, when your dog is sick or injured.

Dog Vital Sign #3: Heart Rate

When Lilly got so-so sick again in August — suffering a major adverse vaccine reaction relapse, her heart rate dropped into the 50s. We were told that was scary low. Even scarier is that Lilly didn’t respond much at all to meds meant to increase her heart rate.

So, I was left to wonder what was normal for Lilly. Normal heart rate for most dogs range from 100-130 beats per minute.

I’ve chatted with KB from Romping and Rolling in the Rockies about this, and it turns our her black lab (R) has a resting heart rate in the high 20s because he gets so much exercise each day at altitude.

Maybe, just maybe … 50 beats per minute for Lilly wasn’t all that low FOR HER, but I didn’t have a reference point.

Dog Vital Sign #4: Blood Pressure

Early on in this ongoing crisis, Lilly developed monstrous nosebleeds. Typically, nosebleeds in dogs mean nasal tumor, but since Lilly had just had an MRI of her head, we knew that wasn’t he case.

We ended up back in the veterinary ER, just days after she came home from her first major adverse vaccine reaction hospitalization in February because of these nosebleeds, and it turns out her blood pressure was SKY HIGH, which isn’t good for a number of reasons (including the damage it can do to her kidneys).

So, for reference, a dog’s normal blood pressure should be about the same as a person’s — around 110 / 70 – 120 / 80.

Lilly’s was like 225 / 120 that night in the ER. She now takes daily blood pressure meds to keep it in a safer range.

Dog Vital Sign #5: Coat Density

I know this sounds weird, but REALLY look at your dog’s coat. How thick is it? Is it naturally thinner in certain spots? And, yes, what’s the coat density / pattern on your dog’s butt?

I like to think I know Lilly’s body pretty well, but I find myself wondering if her coat really is getting thin / sparse from the long-term use of steroids and other immune mediation meds, or if maybe I’d just never noticed how her coat “hangs” as it were.


Are there other things you monitor about your dog’s body and health that might be useful? Please share your ideas in the comments.

For example, because I worry about adverse vaccine reaction treatment side-effects, I really watch how pink Lilly’s gums are or are not.


Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I’m a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles … and, of course, all things pet related.

I don’t just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

KB - October 21, 2012

Great points, Roxanne! You might remember that, when I told you about R’s very low resting heart rate, it was in was in the context of a story in which I rushed him to the vet when I found him standing in our bedroom with a heart rate of 30 or so (together with other odd symptoms). I thought that it was so low… especially for a dog who wasn’t even lying down so I rushed him to the vet.

So, your advice would have saved me a fast drive down the mountain!
KB recently posted..Black and White Sunday: Big Brother, Little SisterMy Profile

Jana Rade - October 18, 2012

Great tips. I also always keep an eye of appetite, drinking habits, urination (habits and color etc), stool quality, overall stamina/attitude, eyes (do they have their regular spark), an odd smells coming from any parts of the body, check for presence of any bumps or irregularities on the skin/mouth … generally I try to have a good picture of what is normal and monitor for any deviations from that.
Jana Rade recently posted..What’s In the Vomit?My Profile

Stacey - October 18, 2012

Thanks for listing all this in one place and reminding us how important it is to know our own pets! I had to go through a round of figuring it all out when one of my dogs got severely ill and ended up in the ER. She was ultimately diagnosed with cancer, but symptoms had come on suddenly because of hypercalcemia. We realized after she began treatment for everything that the hair around her eyes had possibly been a symptom too. She was a golden retriever but had really long hair around her eyes as she had gotten older that looked like what you see on a german wirehaired pointer. After she began treatment, the hair returned to a normal length for a golden, which is when we suspected it might have been a symptom of something. The vet hadn’t heard of that being the case, but didn’t rule it out. It probably goes along with knowing your dog’s coat density, but the hair growth was so gradual that we never suspected anything. We just thought she had “old man eyebrows” in her senior years.

Sam - October 18, 2012

We keep all this information, plus a notebook of surgeries, scars, normal marking and pigmentation (with photos) for all our animals (including horses, goats, cats). You never know the situation you are in and it is easier to refer to the notebook instead of trying to remember things when you are panicking. We use the loose leaf kind of notebook so we can update sheets – i.e. one page for medicines, etc. We also keep an up to date series of photos in this, plus all the numbers for their tags, etc.

Sam recently posted..Think of Sam?My Profile

Jodi - October 18, 2012

My question would be, how do you get some of these vitals? Must you take the temperature rectally or does it work in the ear like humans?

How do you get their heartbeats and blood pressure ‘normals’ are these something only your vet can tell you? Because if that is the case I would say some animals become stressed at the vet and then those readings might not be accurate.

I’m just curious because I am very in tune with my dogs and what their ‘normal’ is, but I have never thought about knowing this information.

Thanks for a great post!
Jodi recently posted..Another Vet VisitMy Profile

    Roxanne Hawn - October 18, 2012

    Jodi ~ I believe, yes, that rectally is the only way to accurately take a dog’s temperature. The heartbeats you can listen for (if you have a stethoscope at home) or feel for a pulse (typically in the groin). I usually count beats for 10 seconds then add a zero, but it’s more accurate to do a real count for 60 seconds. The blood pressure, indeed, requires teeny-tiny cuffs and one of those automatic machines that only vets have. You are right: Those readings for everything might be high, but at least you know a nervous normal … at least you’d have an idea where your dog’s numbers fall.

Comments are closed