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How to check your pet’s vital parameters 

Watch the video of how to perform these checks on our Facebook page here

Mucous membrane colour:

This means checking the colour of their gums. Lift your pet’s lip up and look at the underside – it should be a nice salmon pink, similar to your own gums. Some animals have naturally black, pigmented gum. In these cases, you can try looking at the inside of the eyelids to assess the colour of the mucous membranes.

There is a degree of variation in the colour of the gums of different animals; cats typically appear a little bit paler than dogs.

It is not normal if your pet’s gums are very pale pink, white or if they are red.


When you touch your pet’s gums, they should feel moist, slightly slimy. If they are sticky or dry, this can be a sign of dehydration.

Another way to check for dehydration is by checking your animal’s “skin tent”. Gently pinch the skin of their neck and pull it upwards, then let go. When you release the skin, it should immediately slide back down into normal position. This remains the case even if your animal is mildly dehydrated.

If the skin tent is abnormal – that is, if the skin stays folded up for a second or two before slowly sliding back down into position – this is an indication of severe dehydration. 

Capillary refill time:

This can be a little bit tricky to assess. You press down on an animal’s gums, which should cause them to go white for a couple of seconds after you lift your finger up. In a normal animal, it takes around 1.5 to 2 seconds for the colour to become pink again. If the colour comes back very quickly (under 1.5 seconds) or very slowly (over 2.5 seconds) then this is not normal.

Heart rate:

The easiest way to measure an animal’s heart rate is to feel for the heart beat rather than trying to feel for a pulse. Slide your hand under your pet’s chest a little bit further back from the front legs and you should feel their heart beating.

To measure their heart rate, count how many beats you feel over the course of 15 seconds. Multiply this number by 4 and it will give you their heart rate in beats per minute. The range of normal heart rates is quite variable depending on breed, body condition and whether an animal is at rest or exercising.

A normal heart rate in a dog would be around 80 to 120 beats per minute (the bigger the dog, the slower the normal heart rate), while a normal heart rate in a cat would be somewhere between 120 and 180 beats per minute.

Respiratory rate:

An animal’s breathing rate is extremely variable depending on whether they are exercising or stressed, or if they are trying to cool down (for example panting in dogs). For this reason, the most reliable way of assessing an animal’s breathing is by measuring the resting respiratory rate (RRR). This is done when the animal is either sleeping, or completely at rest (and has been resting for at least 30 minutes).

Each breath the animal takes is done in two movements – inspiration and expiration. An easy way to count breaths is to count each time the animal’s chest moves upwards. If you count how many breaths your pet takes over the course of 15 seconds, then multiply this number by 4, it will give you their respiratory rate in breaths per minute.

Measuring the RRR is something that is done regularly in animals with heart disease, as it can give an indication of the progression of the disease. But it can be helpful in a lot of other cases too.

The normal resting respiratory rate in dogs and cats should be between 15 and 25 breaths per minute.

Please note also that, while normal in dogs, open mouth breathing or panting in cats is a sign of severe respiratory distress which would require urgent veterinary attention.

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