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When a Dog's Heart is Beating Fast (Tachycardia)

Dog's Heart is Beating Fast

If your dog's heart is beating fast, you are right to be concerned. The normal heart rate in dogs generally ranges between60 to 160 beats per minutein a resting dog. A heart rate that is over 160 beats per minute is considered to be rapid and therefore inappropriate for the dog's behavior circumstance (always based on a dog who is resting). When a dog's heart is beating fast, there can be several causes, and some of them may be quite serious, often requiring immediate veterinary treatment.


Tachycardia in Dogs 

Tachycardia is the medical term used to depict a faster than normal heart rate. As mentioned, the normal heart rate in dogs is anywhere between 60 to 160 beats per minute.

Size matters though when taking a dog's heart rate. Expect a faster heart rate in smaller dogs, and a slower heart rate in the larger ones. Generally, the normal heart rate for puppies and small dogs ranges anywhere between 100 and 160 beats per minute, while the normal heart rate in large dogs ranges anywhere between 60 to 100 beats per minute.

Tachycardia in dogs may be divided into two distinctive types: ventricular tachycardia and supra-ventricular tachycardia.

Sometimes, dog owners may assume that their dog's heart is racing and pounding because the dog is laying down on the carpet or bed right next to them and they can strongly feel the pulse. Yet, it must be remembered that dogs have a much faster pulse than humans, especially the smaller ones. In humans, the normal heart rate at rest is 60 to 100 beats per minute, so a dog's heart rate may comparatively feel faster because of that.

Checking Your Dog's Pulse

dog's heart rate beating fast

Your first step to determine if your dog's heart is really racing, is to check your dog's pulse. How do you find a pulse in dogs? It's fairly easy. The best method to check your dog's pulse is by feeling over the femoral artery which passes by the dog's femur, also known as thigh bone.

This bone is located between the hip and the knee joint. To find the artery, simply have your lying down (or even better, have your dog standing) and locate the femoral bone and then slide your index and middle fingers (avoid using your thumb as your thumb has pulse on its own) about a finger-length behind it while pressingly gently.

Once you find and feel your dog's pulse, count its beat up to 15 seconds and then multiply the number you obtained times four. This will give you your dog's heart beat per minute. Now, match this number with the average "normal" pulse number for dogs that match your dog's size as outlined above. Watch the video below for a more hand-on demonstration on what to do exactly.

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Another option to feel your dog's pulse is to simply listen to your dog's heart "directly" by feeling it pump through the chest wall. Just place one hand behind the dog's elbows and the other hand right under the chest while squeezing a little. If really your dog's heart is beating fast, see your vet promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Did you know? On top of feeling your dog's pulse, you may also want to check your dog's gums and capillary refill time. Both will give you an insight on your dog's circulation. See your vet immediately if your dog has a slow capillary refill time and/or if your dog has pale gums!


Vet demonstrates how to get a dog's pulse

Apoquel for dog allergies

Dog's Heart is Beating Fast from Drugs

There can be several causes for a dog's heart beating fast at rest, some though may be more worrisome than others. On a lighter note, tachycardia in dogs can be caused by something more innocent such as a reaction to a drug your vet prescribed.

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Some examples of some drugs that may cause an increased heart rate in dogs include Proin, thyroid medications and steroids.

Generally, the heart rate stabilizes once the dog is off these drugs, but consult with a vet first though. Stopping steroids abruptly (cold turkey) can lead to complications. Your vet will guide you on how to correctly wean your dog off the steroids.

If your dog is not on any medications and you can exclude he may have accidentally gotten into contact with your own medications, consider that exposure to some toxins (like chocolate, poisonous mushrooms) in the home or yard can also be a cause for a dog's heart beating fast.

Dogs' Heart is Beating Fast from Pain 

Panting in dogs on steroids

Panting in dogs on steroids

Another potential cause of increased heart rate, often accompanied by panting or shaking, is pain. Pain such as from an injury to the dog's back or dog's neck may cause rapid heart rate, shaking and panting especially when the pain arises suddenly.

Acute pain from a bout of pancreatitis or a case of bloat (often accompanied by pacing, unproductive vomiting, and an abdomen that appears swollen and tight) may be a trigger as well. See your vet immediately if you suspect bloat which can quickly become life threatening.

It's not unusual for dog owners to witness a dog's heart beating fast after surgery. In such a case, better pain control after surgery is recommended. An example of dog pain medication often prescribed in dogs after surgery is Tramadol which often provides dogs some extra comfort, explains veterinarian Dr. Drew. 

While some dogs show readily signs of pain (whining, shaking panting) consider that some may not. If you do not notice signs of a painful condition, other than the faster heart rate, don't exclude this possibility, many dogs try to hide the signs of pain as much as possible. See your vet. Your vet may be able to manipulate your dog's body in such a way to elicit a pain response that can help pinpoint the problem so it can be treated accordingly.

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Dog's Heart Beating is Fast from Fever

Increased body temperature can cause a dog's heart to beat faster and increase a dog's respiratory rate (panting). A good way to rule a fever out is by taking a dog's rectal temperature. To do this, simply, lubricate a digital thermometer with a bit of Vaseline, insert the tip and take your dog's temperature until the thermometer beeps.

A dog's normal temperature is between 101 and 102.5 . Anything over 103 F is considered a fever, while any temperatures above 104 are a medical emergency. Temperatures so high are where one starts worrying about a dog's organs and tissues sustaining damage.

There can be several underlying causes for a dog's fever. Consider viral and bacterial infections, rickettsial disease ( diseases from ticks such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever), some types of cancer, fungal disease (Valley fever, mostly seen in Arizona and the desert southwest) and some immune-mediated diseases.

dog's heart is beating fast

If your dog's heart is beating fast, play it safe and see your vet.

Dog's Heart is Beating Fast from Other Problems

A dogs heart beating fast may also originate by other miscellaneous problems. For example, a dog with anemia will have a faster heart rate because with anemia there is a lower amount of oxygen-rich blood circulating in the body. As a defense mechanism, the heart beats faster in an effort to circulate more oxygen-rich blood through the dog's body.

A fast heart beat in a dogs can also occur from primary heart disease. Possible heart problems include cardiomyopathies, neoplasia of the heart (cancer), heartworm disease,  dog valvular disease, and congenital lesions.

Generally, dogs with heart problems also develop other signs such as coughing, exercise intolerance and even collapse in severe cases. To rule out a heart problem, an ECG and/or an ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram) may come helpful. If the fast heart rate comes and goes, your dog may need to wear a Holter monitor.

Of course, increased activity may cause a faster heart beat, and so can anxiety. Many dogs who are terrified of thunderstorms develop a rapid heart rate when they sense an upcoming storm.

As seen, there are various causes (and many more not listed here!) as to why a dog's heart is beating fast and some can be quite serious. Only your vet can really diagnose any underlying conditions and suggest proper treatment. If your dog has a high heart rate, it's therefore important to seek quick veterinary assistance for safety sake.

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