Your dog’s heart is the engine of their body, working tirelessly every second to keep every system functioning. With the ability to impact every aspect of your dog’s health, your dog’s heart health should be an important consideration at every stage of your dog’s life!
To help you get started, we are going to look at how to check the heart rate of a dog step by step, including multiple locations where you can measure your dog’s pulse accurately. We will also discuss the warning signs that something may be ‘off’ and when you should contact your veterinarian.
Understanding Your Dog’s Heart Rate
The first step in learning how to measure a dog’s heart rate is to understand what you are measuring specifically. Also referred to as the pulse, the heart rate refers to the number of times that your dog’s heart beats every minute. If the heart rate is too high, it’s a sign that your dog’s heart is having to work harder than usual to supply blood to the body’s major organs. On the other hand, if you notice that your dog’s heart rate is lower than usual, this could be a warning sign that the heart is struggling to function effectively.
A healthy resting heart rate will vary from dog to dog for several different reasons. One major factor is the size of the dog. Other factors include your dog’s breed, the strength of the heart muscles, his level of physical activity, age, and any other underlying health conditions. The following numbers are guidelines that serve as a starting point for recognizing a healthy heart rate.
Puppies and Small Dogs: 100 to 140 beats per minute
Medium Dogs: 80 to 120 beats per minute
Large Dogs: 60 to 100 beats per minute
To put these numbers into perspective, the average heart rate of a healthy human is equivalent to a large dog at 60 to 100 beats per minute. Since there is no one set number that indicates a healthy heart, it’s important to get to know your dog as an individual. This means learning to recognize a ‘normal’ resting heart rate for your pup. This can be done by measuring and recording your dog’s heart rate over time.
There are many different factors that can influence the heart rate of a dog. The heartbeat will naturally slow down and speed up with each breath, meaning that it’s not a set rhythm with no change. They may even occasionally skip a beat when breathing. This shouldn’t be a cause for concern unless it continues to happen repeatedly.
If your dog has engaged in a heavy play session or some other form of physical activity, his heart rate will be elevated from his normal resting rate. A temporary increase in your dog’s heart rate could also be triggered by feelings of fear, anxiety, or high levels of stress.
From a medical standpoint, a slow pulse could be a sign of heart disease, heart failure, or that their body is going through shock from some other health-related complication. On the other end of the spectrum, a rapid heart rate could indicate heat stroke, a high fever, dehydration, or significant blood loss.
Prioritizing your dog’s heart health includes not only tracking your dog’s heart rate but also taking steps to care for his heart. One of the most important things that you can do for your dog’s heart is to incorporate physical activity into his daily routine. Physical activity strengthens the heart, allowing it to work more efficiently and avoiding strain or unnecessary complications. Some great ways to incorporate this into your schedule is to include daily walks or play sessions with your pup. This will also help you to maintain a healthy weight, which is a key factor in heart health.
In addition to keeping your dog active, you can also improve your dog’s heart health by paying careful attention to his diet. This includes providing a healthy, balanced diet, as well as choosing healthy treat options. Avoid high-fat foods that can lead to heart disease. A great way to boost your dog’s health and well-being is to include fresh fruits and vegetables as meal toppers and treats.
How to Check Your Dog’s Heart Rate
Before you check your dog’s heart rate, take a moment to check on his current physical and mental state. When faced with a potential medical emergency, you can’t always avoid situations that will temporarily elevate your dog’s heart rate. In these situations, take note not only of your dog’s heart rate but also any factors that may have had an impact on that to show your veterinarian. This can help with their diagnosis. However, any regular well-being checks should be done when your dog is relaxed and rested.
There are multiple locations on your dog’s body where the heart rate, or pulse, can be checked. While any of these areas can be used for checking your dog in the event of an emergency, it is recommended that you choose one location if you are recording your dog’s heart rate regularly to compare to a baseline. This will help to ensure that you are seeing a more accurate comparison.
The four different locations where you can check a dog’s heart rate include:
- Directly behind the left or right elbow, on the ribs
- On the bottom of either of your dog’s front paws, behind the end of the middle paw pad
- Inside of either hind leg, in the location where the dog’s leg meets his body
- Just below the ankle on the back of either of your dog’s hind legs
If this is your first time, you may be wondering exactly how to check a dog’s heart rate. For those that have taken a first aid course in the past, the process is very similar to a pulse check on a human being.
- Take your middle and index fingers and place them firmly on the point of choice feeling for the pulse, as you would when checking a human pulse.
- Using a watch with a second hand or the timer on your phone, count the number of beats in a 15 second period.
- Take this number and multiply it by 4 to reveal the beats per minute.
Record your dog’s heart rate in a spreadsheet or wellness journal along with the date and any other notes that you may believe to be relevant to the situation. This will allow you to compare his heart rate from check up to check up, revealing any patterns of concern. If you notice that your dog’s heart rate is trending up or trending down from the usual base rate, this could be a sign that something is off.
When you first try taking your dog’s heart rate, pay attention to how he reacts to each of the possible locations. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try each of the four spots. This will help you discover which option is most comfortable for him. Stress and discomfort can elevate your dog’s heart rate, providing a false reading. By identifying the best location and checking your dog’s heart rate regularly, you will help him relax throughout the process. You can also help to calm your dog by stroking him gently and speaking to him in a soft, calm voice.
How to Handle an Abnormal Dog Heart Rate
While a slight change in heart rate should not be a cause of concern, there are some situations that warrant medical attention for your dog. An irregular heartbeat, or abnormal heart rhythm, could be a sign of heart disease, injuries impacting the heart, a major infection in the body, or other medical conditions that will require treatment. Left unaddressed, these conditions can lead to serious or life-threatening complications.
In addition to a noticeably fast or slow heartbeat, some other signs that you should be aware of include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Inability to keep up with normal activity levels
If you see any of these signs in combination with an irregular heart rate or notice that your dog’s heart rate is significantly higher or lower than usual with no reasonable explanation, you should contact your veterinarian right away.
As dog parents, we want the best for our pups. This includes keeping them happy and healthy, as well as recognizing when something is ‘off’ so that we can get them the help that they need as soon as possible. Learning how to check my dog’s heart rate was an important step towards a better understanding of his overall health and well-being.
The process may not be easy at first, especially if you are working with a high-energy puppy like mine, but the more you practice, the easier it will be for everyone involved! Reward your dog after checking his heart rate using treats or playtime, making the experience a fun and enjoyable one. But don’t forget to log your findings!
Have you ever tried to check the heart rate of a dog before? If so, which of the 4 heart rate locations listed above did you find to be the easiest and most reliable for you and your dog?
Your dog’s heart rate is one of five vital signs that we encourage pet parents to monitor. Join us in Pet Health 5 and together we can start tracking our dog’s health. It’s super easy! We’ll send you a reminder on the 5th of each month with a checklist of what to do and how to do it. All you need to do is take the time to check your dog’s health stats and log them.
Pet health is an important aspect of helping our dogs live long and happy lives. You can start today by checking your dog’s heart rate and signing up for Pet Health 5.
About the Author: Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.