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To take your dog’s temperature, lubricate a bulb or digital rectal thermometer with K-Y or petroleum jelly and gently insert it one to three inches into the anal canal. Trust me, even with a tiny dog, you’ll want an assistant to hold the dog firmly during this process. Hold the thermometer in place — and whatever you do, don’t let the dog sit down on it — for three minutes. Then remove it, wipe it down and read the temperature. After every use, clean the thermometer with alcohol.
How do you know if your dog’s body temperature is out of whack? If his temperature is below normal, you might notice that he has chills or is shivering or that he’s trying to keep warm by curling up or lying in a warm spot. Fevers, on the other hand, are often the body’s response to infection, but they can also be caused by anything from inflammation and allergic reactions to toxins or cancer.
Dogs with heatstroke — a life-threatening rise in body temperature — pant heavily, have difficulty breathing and may have a bright red tongue and gums. Thick drool and vomiting are other signs. Heatstroke is an emergency! Get the dog out of the heat, bathe his paws with lukewarm water and get him to the veterinarian.
How fast your dog’s heart beats depends on his age and size. Young puppies have the most rapid heartbeats: 160 to 200 beats per minute at birth and up to 220 bpm when they are 2 weeks old. An adult dog’s heart beats 60 to 140 times per minute. Usually, the larger the dog, the slower the heart rate. A toy dog’s heart rate can be as high as 180 bpm.
To check your dog’s heart rate, put your hand on the inside of the rear leg at mid-thigh. You should feel the femoral artery pulsing near the surface. It’s easiest to find if your dog is standing. Count the number of beats you feel during a 15-second period and multiply by four to get the beats per minute.
A pulse that is unusually fast or slow can be cause for concern. A fast pulse rate might be something as simple as anxiety, but it can also indicate many other conditions, including blood loss, dehydration, fever and heatstroke. A slow pulse rate may be a sign of shock or heart disease.
Next time you’re at the clinic, ask your veterinarian what’s normal in your dog and have her show you how to check for it. Knowing what to look for can save you some anxiety and get you to the vet on time when you do face an emergency.
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