Dr. Lila Miller, D.V.M., ASPCA Sr. Director Animal Sciences and Vet Advisor
INDICATORS OF GENERAL HEALTH
THE USE OF THE TEMPERATURE, RESPIRATORY AND PULSE RATES AS INDICATORS OF GENERAL OVERALL HEALTH
If there is an assistant working with the technician, a thermometer can be inserted in the rectum to take the temperature while the technician begins the examination at the head. Most animals will tolerate this very well, especially if distracted by being petted and talked to during the examination. The thermometer should be held by the assistant or technician at all times to prevent breakage if the animal moves suddenly. Before insertion of the thermometer, it should be coated with K-Y jelly or Vaseline for ease of placement. It should be inserted gently, not forced.
If resistance is encountered, it should be withdrawn and reinserted. The thermometer should be wiped carefully with alcohol between uses, and shaken down if using a typical mercury thermometer. If the budget permits, it may be a good idea to acquire a digital thermometer, which will give a reading quickly and eliminates the danger of being, broken.
The normal temperature range in dogs and cats is 100-102.8 F
The body temperature of an animal cannot be accurately gauged by feeling its body or its nose. It should also be borne in mind that body temperature may increase if the animal is excited, or if the ambient temperature is very high.
Elevated temperatures are Generally a sign of infectious disease. Any temperature above 104 F that is accompanied by other signs of disease, such as coughing, vomiting etc., warrants veterinary attention. Temperatures above 105 F warrant immediate measures to decrease the temperature to avoid seizures, brain damage and possible death.
Low temperatures can be a sign of shock or exposure to cold, ambient conditions. I
Measures should be taken to warm animals with temperatures below 99 F.
The respiratory rate can be determined by counting the number of complete breaths (in and out) per minute while the animal is at rest.
The normal respiratory rate in dogs is 15-30 breaths per minute
The normal respiratory rate in cats is 20-30 breaths per minute.
Open mouthed, very fast, difficult or very shallow breathing may be signs of diseases like asthma, chest trauma, shock etc. These symptoms require immediate medical attention. I
Pulse and Heart Rate
The pulse rate can be most easily determined by feeling and counting the pulsations of the femoral artery, which can be located in the middle of the inner surface of the thigh. Place the index and third finger in the groove where the femoral artery, nerve and vein are found, press gently, count the pulsations for 6 seconds and multiply by I 0 to determine the beats per minute.
The normal pulse rate for a cat can range up to 240 beats per minute.
The heart rate should be determined by using, a stethoscope. In some animals, the heart rate can be determined by simply feeling the chest, locating where the heartbeat is strongest, and counting the beats per minute. This can be accomplished by feeling between the fourth and sixth rib about midway between the sternum and the back, or approximately where the elbow touches the chest in a standing animal. The stethoscope should be placed near that point on the left side of the chest. Listening to the chest (auscultation) is helpful in establishing what the normal heart beat sounds like. It is unreasonable to expect to be able to identify the type of heart murmur that is being, heard, but it is often sufficient to know that what is being, heard is NOT normal. Some heart murmurs, like mitral insufficiencies or patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), are very distinctive and easily identified once one or two have been heard.
After these parameters have been determined, the physical exam should proceed.
(NOTE: THE ABNORMALITIES THAT WILL BE INCLUDED HERE ARE BY NO MEANS INTENDED TO REPRESENT A COMPLETE LIST OF PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH THE FINDINGS. THEY JUST INCLUDE SOME OF THE MORE COMMON POSSIBILITIES TO CONSIDER.)
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