It’s important to know how to check a pulse on a dog and this is something that must be practiced when dogs are feeling well, so to know what to do in case of an emergency. The best way to learn this is by taking a pet first aid class and pet CPR certification which are now offered by many organizations. Also, asking the vet for a practical, hands-on demonstration can come handy. Checking a pulse on a dog is fairly easy if you know what to do and you have a collaborative dog. There are a couple of places where you can find a pulse on a dog, but there’s a specific location where the dog’s pulse is strongest and is considered more reliable. So today’s trivia question is:
Where is a common place to find a pulse on a dog?
A Under the tongue
B By the femur
C Inside the ear
D In between the toes
The correct answer is: drum roll please….
The correct answer is B, the pulse of the dog can be found by the femur. In order to practice taking a pulse, you will simply need your dog and a stop watch. Following are some instructions on how to measure a dog’s pulse.
Right by the Artery
The femur is a preferred site for taking the pulse on a dog because the dog’s femoral artery passes right there. Also known as thigh bone, a dog’s femur is a bone that is located between the hip and the knee joint. The femoral artery is the main artery that runs by the internal part of the thigh traveling to the bottom of the dog’s rear legs so to supply blood to them. It can be accessed by finding the femoral bone and then sliding the index and middle fingers about a finger-length behind it while pressingly gently.
If you are having a hard time locating this artery, feel around until you feel pulsing. It may be easier to find the femoral artery when your dog is standing by simply feeling where the rear leg meets the abdomen. It’s important to avoid using the thumb to feel the artery as the thumb has already a pulse on its own. Once you locate your dog’s femoral artery when your dog is standing, you may then want to practice locating it when your dog is lying on his side, as in most emergencies the pulse is checked when a dog is unconscious. A video is worth 1000 words, so we have included a video at the end of this article for a demo by a vet.
Counting the Pulse
Once the pulse is located, it’s time to start counting using your stopwatch. When you look at most average timings for a dog’s pulse it will be given in minutes (bpm). If your dog can hold still for a minute, that’s great, but if he can’t, here’s a quick trick to make taking your dog’s pulse much quicker: Simply count your dog’s pulse up to 15 seconds and then multiply the number you obtained times four.
So if say, you counted 15 pulses in 15 seconds you would multiply it by 4. Since 15 x 4 equals 60, now you have your dog’s pulse for a minute. Now that you have your dog’s pulse for one minute, you can compare it with the average “normal” pulse number for dogs that match your dog’s size as outlined below.
“Because “normal” varies so much, it’s difficult to assess abnormal without a baseline, so take your dog’s heart rate a few times and make notes. If you’re concerned about what you’re finding, discuss your results with your veterinarian.” ~Dr. Marty Becker
The Right Numbers
When you are listening to the dog’s pulse, you are basically feeling the expansion of the femoral artery which basically reflects the contraction of the left ventricle of the dog’s heart. A dog’s pulse in therefore, the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently throughout the dog’s body. The pulse rate in dogs tends to vary, with small dogs having higher pulse rates compared to larger dogs. Generally, puppies and small dogs have a pulse ranging from 120 to 160 beats per minute, while dogs over 30 pounds tend to have a lower pulse, usually between 60 to 120 minutes, explains veterinarian Dr. Debra Primovic.
Did you know? Another option to get a pulse is to listen to the dog’s heart “directly” by feeling it through the chest wall. Simply place one hand behind the dog’s elbows and the other hand right under the chest and squeezing a little.
Signs of Trouble
It’s a good idea to get accustomed with how your dog’s normal pulse feels so to quickly identify signs of trouble. Normally, a dog’s pulse is rhythmic and strong. A fast pulse can be indicative of anxiety, exercise, pain or a fever. The presence of a fever can be further confirmed by taking a dog’s temperature. In some cases, a fast pulse can be indicative of a heart problem. A dramatic change in the dog’s pulse is often a sign of problems that require immediate attention. For example, a slow, weak pulse can be indicative of a serious heart problem or even shock. If your dog has an abnormal rate and/or if you notice any worrisome symptoms, please see your veterinarian at once!
Did you know? A good way to access a dog’s circulation is to check a dog’s capillary refill time.
Pulse Rate VS. Heart Rate
Did you know? There is a difference between pulse rate and heart rate. Every heart beat causes a flow of blood that travels to the dog’s body through his arteries causing a ripple effect similar to a stone thrown in the water. This “ripple effect” causes us to feel a pulse in certain parts of the dog’s body where the arteries travel closer to skin. Therefore, a heart rate is the number of times a dog’s heart beats in a minutes; whereas the pulse rate is the number of times that the arteries expand and contract as a response to the heart. In most cases, the heart rate will be the same as the pulse rate, but when the two rates don’t match up, it could be a sign that the blood, for some reason or another, is having a hard time reaching or passing into the arteries.
“Pulse deficits are present when the pulse rate is less than the heart rate. This occurs because a cardiac contraction or several contractions take place prematurely not allowing enough time for ventricular filling (preload). This results in heart beats that do not eject enough blood to generate a palpable pulse.”~Michael R. O’Grady DACVIM, M. Lynne O’Sullivan, DACVIM
Vet demonstrates how to get a dog’s pulse
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has an abnormal heart rate or is showing concerning symptoms, please see your vet immediately.
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