Vitals: Temperature, Pulse, Respiration (TPR)

Jul 20, 2020

Vital signs are measurements of the body's most basic functions. The main vital signs routinely monitored by veterinarians are body temperature, pulse rate and respiratory rate. Vital signs are useful in detecting or monitoring medical problems. It’s important to know what is normal for your pet and how to evaluate these vital signs at home. 


The normal body temperature of a dog or cat can vary. Normal body temperature can range from 99.9 F degrees to 102.5 F degrees. The most accurate way to acquire a temperature is rectally. Try not to insert the thermometer directly into fecal matter, this may affect accuracy.  It is not recommended to use a glass thermometer, as it has a slow response time and can easily break and create trauma and mercury exposure.  The quickest digital thermometer one can find is best.

Be aware, not every pet will volunteer to have their temperature taken. You may want to distract your pet with a treat/toy/or another friend to give a pat on the head.  It’s never wise to just grab your pet’s tail and jerk it up high to expose the rectum. Try to leave the tail in its natural position and lubricate the thermometer with something like Vaseline or KY prior to administration.

Body temperature may be abnormal due to fever (high temperature) or hypothermia (low temperature). Both issues need to be addressed by our veterinary team.

Pulse Rate

The pulse rate is a measurement of the heart rate, or the number of times the heart beats per minute. As the heart pushes blood through the arteries, the arteries expand and contract with the flow of the blood. The normal pulse for healthy dogs ranges from 80 to 160 beats per minute and for cats 140-220 beats per minute.  The smaller the animal, the faster the heart rate. The pulse rate may fluctuate with exercise, illness and injury.

The easiest way to take a pulse is to put your hand on the left side of your pet’s chest where the elbow meets the chest. At this location, one should be able to feel the heart beating. Count how many times you feel the heartbeat for 15 seconds and then multiply by four to calculate beats per minute.  Another place where it may take more finesse, may be inside the inner thigh for the femoral pulse. Practice taking your pet’s pulse while they are chilling with you on the sofa.

Respiration Rate

The respiration rate is the number of breaths a pet takes per minute. The rate is usually measured when a dog or cat is at rest and simply involves counting the number of breaths for one minute by counting how many times the chest rises. Respiration rates may increase with fever, illness, and other medical conditions.

When checking respiration, it is important to also note whether there is any difficulty breathing. Cats should never open-mouth breathe. Dogs with labored breathing traditionally have their neck extended and take a wide stance to open up their airway cage, in an attempt to increase air flow. 

Normal respiratory rates at rest vary from mid-teens to mid-20’s per minute in dogs and cats.

Being familiar with your pet’s vitals is an essential skill for any pet parent. If something strays from the norm, addressing it early with one of our veterinarians may make all the difference. Please refer to our youtube video channel to see our continuing growing educational videos.

Dr. Michelle Mayers