A dog pulse is a measure of a dog’s heart rate and is a critical vital sign in assessing health.
DOGTV Veterinary Advisor and board-certified veterinary surgeon Dr. Courtney Campbell says a typical dog’s pulse will be anywhere from 60 to 160. It’s a large range, and there are several reasons for that.
“Definitely think about age, size, anxiety, temperament,” says Dr. Campbell. “A Great Dane is going to have a lower pulse than a Chihuahua…and there have been plenty of studies that look at dog’s pulses and say their pulse is highest when they are less than a year of age.”
You can actually check your dog’s pulse at home, and Dr. Campbell recommends it.
“It’s critical to know normals and figure out what your dog’s pulse is before it becomes a problem,” he says.
How to take a dog pulse
Unlike blood pressure and respiratory health, it’s actually fairly simple to check your dog’s pulse at home. You just need to get used to it.
First, timing is critical.
“If your dog is playful and running, that’s not an ideal time to check your dog’s pulse,” Dr. Campbell says. “Let’s say if you are home, watching TV, chilling with your dog on the couch. That’s a great time.”
To do it, Campbell suggests standing behind your pet and moving your fingers along the ground area until it reaches the abdominal wall. Then, move your fingertips back and forth.
“Eventually, you’ll feel something slapping against your finger,” he says. “Count the number of pulses in 15 seconds. Multiply by four. That’s your [dog’s] pulse.”
Be sure to take the pulse on both sides.
“If there is a disparity between the two pulses, that’s something you want to know about,” Dr. Campbell says. “A disparity between the two could represent a blood clot issue [or] a heart issue.”
What it means if a dog pulse is abnormal
If you’ve established normals and feel for your dog’s pulse and find it out of range, there could be several reasons why.
“If you can’t feel a pulse or the pulse quality is poor, it could mean that your dog has a blood clot in their leg, hypothyroidism, is too obese for you to feel the pulse,” Dr. Campbell says. “They could be cold.”
Should the pulse be higher-than-normal, it might be something benign. Perhaps your dog just got some exercise or is nervous or excited. It could also be a sign of something more troubling.
“They could have a heart condition or be anemic,” Dr. Campbell says.
What to do if your dog’s pulse is out of range
If you get an out-of-range reading on your dog’s pulse, don’t panic. First, think about the situation. Did Fido just come in from a walk? Did he just chase a squirrel? Is it really cold in the house? If that’s the case, you probably have nothing to worry about (but maybe turn up the heat).
It’s a good idea to check it again in about 30 minutes, though.
“Knowing trends is critical because, in 30 minutes, it could be back in normal, but if the trend is higher or lower you know there’s a bigger problem,” Dr. Campbell says.
If your dog’s pulse is trending too high or low over the course of a day or even an hour, call the vet for a check-up. They can assess if there’s a more significant issue and provide necessary treatment.