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Let’s face it, not everyone has a niece that is a veterinarian that you can call for advice when their pet is not acting right. Many times this happens on a weekend or during evening hours when most veterinary clinics are closed. It is a struggle to decide whether to bring your pet to the veterinarian and how much is it going to cost! When in doubt, it is always better to bring your pet to the veterinarian or emergency veterinarian because a veterinarian’s complete physical exam is invaluable. In the meantime, there are some things that you can do at home that can help you decide whether you need to see a professional immediately or if you can wait.

Vital Signs

Temperature: Any thermometer can be used to obtain a rectal temperature – As expected; many pets prefer a flexible tip fast digital thermometer. The normal range is between 99.5 – 102.5 ⁰F (dogs) and 100.5 – 102.5 ⁰F (cats).

Heart rate: The heart rate can be counted by palpating the heart in the most dependent portion mid chest or by feeling the femoral artery located on the inside portion of the mid-thigh. The normal rate can be counted for a full minute or estimated by counting for 15 seconds and then multiplying by 4. The normal rage for heart rate is 60-160 (dogs) and 140-220 (cats).

Vital SignDogsCats
Temperature (F)99.5-102.5100.5-102.5
Heart Rate (Pulse)60-160140-220
Respiratory Rate10-3024-42
Mucous Membranes PinkPink
CRT<2 seconds<2 seconds

Respiration: The respiratory rate is counted while the pet is not panting or purring and at rest. Again, count to 15 and multiply by 4 or count the breaths during a full minute. The normal range is 10-30 (dogs) and 24-42 (cats).

Mucous Membranes: The mucous membranes can usually be assessed by lifting your pet’s lip and observing the gums. Note the color of the gums. Normally, the gums are pink in color, indicating good peripheral blood circulation. If they are pale or white it can be a sign of anemia or shock and yellow a sign of liver disease.

CRT – Capillary Refill Time: The CRT is the rate in which blood refills empty capillaries. To perform this test apply light pressure to your pets gums until they become pale and count how long it take for them to return to their original color. Any time less than 2 seconds is normal. This can be a sign or decreased peripheral blood perfusion and dehydration.


Lightly palpating your pet for lumps and bumps on the surface of their skin and/or any discomfort they may have can be helpful. Gently raise your pet’s skin to check the turgor. If it takes longer for the skin to go back into place this can also be a sign of dehydration. Feel your pet’s abdomen to assess if it is tight, soft, uncomfortable, etc. Be aware that your pet could experience extreme discomfort during this process and be careful not to surprise them or cause them pain that could result in them biting someone. If you have any doubts then you need to bring them immediately to the vet.


You know your pet best! You are the best judge of your pet’s behaviors and if they are feeling sick or not acting right. Trust your gut. Additionally, if you have a “fufu” pet then keep in mind they may be feeding off of your worries and responding to your emotions. Is your pet eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping normally? Are they hesitating when offered a treat, not as active, not going up or down the stairs, and getting on the bed? Write your observations down including time and it can help you realize if something is not right.

In conclusion, if your pet is experiencing anything outside these normal ranges of objective parameters (vital signs) or subjective findings (pain, abnormal behaviors) then either call your mobile vet or grab your keys and seek medical attention immediately.