How to Evaluate the Health of Your Pet

When your pet isn’t acting like themselves, and you aren’t quite sure what’s wrong or what to do, there are three vital signs that you can easily assess at home.  If you feel you need to contact the veterinarian for help, having this information could help them determine the status of your pet and the best course of action.

The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association advises that you check the temperature, pulse and gum color of your pet, as they can provide very useful information.  If you’ve never taken your pet’s temperature or your pet dislikes having their mouth opened, it’s a good idea to work on adapting your pet to these tests before there is a medical emergency.  Not only will regular checking help your pet to be more comfortable with the idea of someone prodding about their body, but it will give you a good look at what their normal results are so you’ll know if something is off in the future.

Vital 1: Temperature 

If you’ve ever taken your pet to the vet, then you probably know that it’s general practice to take their temperature rectally.  If you are comfortable with this process, purchase a rectal thermometer, lubricate it with Vaseline or K-Y Jelly, and gently insert it 1-2 inches into the anus beneath your pet’s tail.  Not comfortable with the idea of rectal thermometers?  Don’t worry.  You can purchase ear thermometers for your pet, too!  Your pet’s temperature should fall into the 101-102 Fahrenheit range.  If you get a reading that is higher than this, your pet may have an infection and need to see the vet.  Just be aware that exercise, sunbathing and bouts of excitement can cause a false elevation.  If your pet’s temp comes in on the low side, this could be a warning to look for other symptoms like lethargy or weakness.  But as with the higher temps, cold weather and post-nap chills can also create a false drop.

Vital 2: Pulse 

To measure your pet’s pulse, you’ll need to softly press your fingers against their upper-inner thigh or against their chest behind their left front leg.  It can take a lot of practice to accurately measure your pet’s heart rate and blood pressure, so practice repeatedly until you’ve got it down and know where to place your fingers/hand for the most effective read.  Normal resting heart beats in dogs and cats range between 60-150 times per minute, depending on size and other factors.  As this varies greatly, talk to your veterinarian to see what your pet’s normal range should be.  If you find your pet’s heart rate is more rapid than normal, this could be an indicator of heart disease, shock, or that they are in pain.  Slower beats could also point to disease, especially if your pet suffers from fainting or seizures.  Much like your pet’s temperature, however, these numbers can be affected by activity, over exertion, and simple excitement.

Vital 3: Gum Color

Checking your pet’s gum color is by far the easiest of the vitals to check.  Simply lift their lips and look at their tongue and their gums just above their upper teeth.  Their gums should appear a shade of pink to red.  If you apply pressure to their gums, they should blanch to a white color and instantly return to their normal color once you remove the pressure.  If you notice that it takes longer than 2 seconds to return to a rosy pink, this could be a sign that your pet has poor circulation.  If their gums are a very pale or white your pet may be suffering from shock or anemia.  If they appear yellowish, your pet could be suffering from liver disease.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, gums that are too red or painful may mean your pet had gingivitis or dental disease.  Unfortunately, if you have a breed that has naturally dark or black gums, this test may not be very useful to you.

In the end, if your pet is acting listless, oddly moody, or just “off”, these measurements could be very beneficial in helping your vet determine just how severe their illness is and whether they need to be seen immediately.  If you have any doubts or concerns, always seek professional treatment before attempting to administer tests on your own.