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Pet owners live with their dogs 365 days a year and are in the best position to recognize what's normal and what isn't normal for your dog. If you're lucky your vet will only see your dog once a year for his annual checkup. It's best to create a baseling first-aid health chart that lists vital signs for your dogs when they're healthy. The baselines should include: Temperature, color of skin and gums, capillary refill time, dehydration test, heart rate, pulse rate, respiration rate and responsiveness.
The normal body temperature for dogs ranges between 99 to 102.5 degrees F. A pet who has played or exercised strenously often has a slightly elevated temperature of a degree or two, but it should return to a normal range with rest. And although a fever may not be dangerous by itself, it could point to underlying problems that needs first aid. Any temperature over 103 (if the dog has not been exercising) should be taken seriously and the vet should be notified.
Skin tone can be hard to see on a pet because of all the fur. Vets use the color of the mucous membranes, like the "whites" of the eyes and the gums above the teeth to guage the pets health. For gums, anything other than a normal pink color calls for immediate vet attention. If your dogs gums are pigmented (black or brown), try to find a non pigmented pink spot on the gums or lips to assess the condition.
Gum Color & What it could mean
Pink = Normal
Pale to White = Anemia or Shock
Blue = Smoke inhalation or suffocation.
Bright cherry red = Carbon monoxide poisoning or heatstroke.
Yellow =Liver problems.
Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that lie near the surface of the skin. They're easiest to see in your pet's gums above the teeth. The capillaries are what give this tissue its normal pink color. You can judge the condition of your pets blood circulation bya capillary refill test. To do this, lift your pets upper lip and press the flat of your finger against the nonpigmented, pink gum tissue. This temporarily squeezes blood in that spot out of the capillaries and blocks the normal flow. Quickly remove the pressure, and you'll see a white, finger-shaped mark on the gum. use the second hand on your watch to time how long it takes for the pink color to flood back into the white spot- that's the capillary refill time.
To assess the condition of your pet's circulation, use these guidelines:
1-2 seconds -refill time is normal
2-4 seconds-moderate to poor, possible dehydration or shock.
More than 4 seconds- VET IMMEDIATELY
Less than 1 second- VET IMMEDIATELY- heatstroke.
You can guage a pet's degree of dehydration, or fluid loss, with a simple test. The first sign of a problem is loss of the skin's elasticity. Normally hydrated dogs have extra loose skin at the tops of their hads and the base of their necks that is easy to grasp. When the water balance of the body is normal, you can gently pull up the scruff, and when you release it, hte skin will spring back immediately to a normal position. The skin at the top of the head is more likely to show this effect, so you might want to test there first.
The more severe the dehydration, the slower the skin will retract. With moderate dehydration, the skin will go back slowly. In severe cases, where the skin remains standing up in a ridge off the body even after you've released it, immediate vet care is required.
To measure your dogs normal heart rate, have him sit or lie in a relaxed position and place the palm of your hand over his left side directly behind the point of the elbow. Feel for the heartbeat and count the pulses in 15 second bursts. Then multiply thisnumber by 4 to get the beats per minute rate. To ensure an accurate reading, repeat the count two or three times and average them to find the dogs average normal rate.
With illness or injury, a slower than normal rate can indicate heart disease or shock. A racing heart can also point to shock. Either requires prompt medical attention. Check your pet's pulse rate as well to become familiar with how a normal pulse feels. It should be strong, and you should feel it at the same time as each heartbeat.
Here are the average beats per minute based on the dogs size.
Small dogs (up to 20 pounds) 70-180 beats
Medium & Large (over 20 lbs) 60-140 beats
Puppies (up to 6 weeks) up to 220 beats
Most dogs breathe 10 to 30 times a minute. When your pet is resting quietly, anything other than quiet, effortless breathing requires medical attention.
Healthy dogs are alert and responsive to whatever is happening in their surroundings. When they are injured or ill, their behavior is affected to various degrees. The more serious the condition, the less response there will be.