Knowing how to count your pet’s breathing rate at home can be a powerful tool for assessing his/her cardiopulmonary health – i.e. are your pet’s heart and lungs working as they should be? One of the heart’s many important jobs is to pump blood to the lungs to receive oxygen. If there is a problem with oxygen exchange in the lungs, as occurs with many diseases (congestive heart failure, pneumonia, lung cancer, pulmonary hypertension, etc.), a pet’s resting respiratory rate will be higher than normal. Many owners of pets with heart disease are asked to check their pet’s resting respiratory rate daily – doing so can help identify developing problems before they become emergencies, and can help guide treatment.
What is a resting respiratory rate?
The respiratory rate refers to how many times your pet breathes in one minute. A normal respiratory rate in the dog and cat is 12-30 breaths per minute. It is important to check a pet’s respiratory rate when they are either very calm (i.e. “resting”) or asleep. It is considered normal for breathing rates to be much higher when dogs and cats are hot, nervous, excited, painful, or exercising. Therefore, it is key to check their breathing rates when they are calm and quiet. I usually tell my clients that a perfect time to count the breathing rate is when their pet is asleep next to them on the sofa or bed. Lower rates than 12 breaths per minute are occasionally seen, and these are no cause for concern if the pet is otherwise acting normally. However, resting respiratory rates that are consistently greater than 30 breaths per minute are considered abnormal and should prompt a call to your veterinarian.
How is the resting respiratory rate counted?
Observe your pet while she is resting, but do not touch your pet – she loves you, and when she feels or sees you, she will start breathing faster. So, from a few feet away, watch your pet’s chest rise and fall. Each “up” and “down” of the chest walls represents one breath. For example: up, down … 1 … up, down … 2 … up, down … 3 … etc. Count the number of breaths in 30 seconds and multiply by 2 (i.e. double the number) to get the breaths in 60 seconds (one minute). To continue the example, if there were 10 breaths in 30 seconds, then 10 x 2 = 20 breaths per minute. Keep track of the breathing rates you count (I use my smartphone because it’s always with me, but a diary or calendar works too) so that you can monitor trends in your pet. There are several apps available to help with this as well.
Note: Cats should not be purring when measuring their resting respiratory rate.
With these tips, you should be able to accurately measure your pet’s resting respiratory rate at home. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your family veterinarian. They may choose to refer you and your pet to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist. You can learn more about Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Cardiology Service here.