How to Check the Heart Rate of Dogs and Cats

By Betty Lewis

You brush his teeth, comb his coat and feed your pets a healthy, well-balanced diet. Whether you're curious or proactive, you may want to stay on top of your dog or cat's heart rate. It's fairly easy to check the heart rate of a dog and cat, however you should talk to your vet to understand what's normal for your pet.

What's Normal?

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Before you start monitoring your dog or cat's heart rate, you should understand what you're listening for. Normally, a cat's heart rate ranges between 140 and 220 beats per minute at rest. A dog's pulse ranges between 60 and 140 bpm, depending on the size of the dog. Large dogs tend to have a pulse between 60 and 100 bpm, compared to small dogs, who are usually at the high end of the scale.

Finding a Pulse

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Look to your pet's legs if you want to check his heart rate. The femoral artery is a large artery in the thighs, carrying oxygen to your pet's rear legs. With your pet standing or lying on his back, feel along the inside of his thigh where his leg joins his body until you locate his pulse. If your dog is more interested in rolling over, or your cat isn't keen on you poking around his groin, try feeling behind his front leg on the left side of his chest, on his rib cage.

Ready, Set, Count!

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When you've located the pulse, take a few seconds to become accustomed to the rhythm of your pet's beating heart. If you have a stethoscope, you can hear the sound of his heart; if not, you'll have to rely on your fingers to feel his pulse. Your smartphone's timer will work to keep time for you, or you can go old school, using a watch or a clock with a second hand. No matter how you keep time, all you need is 15 seconds to count your dog's or cat's beats per minute. After you count beats for 15 seconds, multiply your total times four for your pal's heart rate.

I Want a Recount!

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If you get what you think is a strange number -- way too high or low -- take a deep breath, reset your timer, find your pet's pulse and count again. It's easy to mix up your count with the timer or to lose your place, so don't become alarmed if it doesn't seem quite right. As well, consider your pet; if you just finished a game of fetch with your pup, or if your cat has been on one of his signature tears through the house, his heart rate will be unnaturally high. If he's been sunning himself and is thoroughly relaxed, his heart rate may be on the low end.

Checking the Breathing Rate

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While you have the timer handy, you also can check your pet's breathing rate, also called the respiratory rate. Cats and dogs have a much slower respiratory rate than circulation rate, so a 15-second time frame won't be sufficient. Instead, watch your pet breathe; it's a simple matter of counting the number of chest movements in a 60-second period. A rested, nonpanting dog should take between 10 and 35 breaths in a minute; a cat takes between 20 and 30 breaths per minute. If you regularly come up with irregular heart and breathing rates for your cat or dog, you should speak to your vet. The vet can determine what is an appropriate heart and breathing rate for your pet based on his current health condition and what you should expect to find at home.