To measure you pet’s normal heart rate, have him/her sit or lie in a relaxed position and place the palm of your hand over his/her left side directly behind the point of the elbow.  Feel for the heartbeat and count the pulses in 15-second bursts.  Then multiply this number by 4 to get the beats-per-minute rate.  To ensure an accurate reading, repeat the count two of three times and average them to find out your pet’s average normal rate.

With illness or injury, a slower-than-normal rate- bradycardia can indicate heart disease or shock.  A racing heart can also point to shock.  Either requires prompt medical attention.  Of course, a stopped heart is the most dire emergency of all and requires immediate CPR.

Check your pet’s pulse rate and as well to become familiar with how a normal pulse feels.  It should be strong and you should feel it at the same time with each heartbeat.  An irregular pulse points to heart problems, while a “bounding” pulse or very weak pulse can indicate shock, weak heart output, or a drop in blood pressure.  All of these conditions require immediate medical attention.

Pet’s don’t have very strong pulses in their “wrists” on the front legs or in the neck.  The best place to find your pet’s pulse is in the femoral artery, in the crease of the hind leg at the groin.

Have your pet lie on his/her side, then press the flat of your fingers in the area until you locate the pulse.  Be aware that it may be much more difficult to find if your pet is depressed, dehydrated, or has low blood pressure.

Your Pet’s Normal Heart Rate

The chart below shows the average beats per minute based on your pet’s size.

Pet Normal Heart Rate (bpm)
Small dogs (up to 20lb) 70-180
Medium and large dogs (more than 20lb) 60-140
Cats 120-240
Puppies (up to 6 weeks) Up to 220
Kittens (up to 6 weeks) 200-300

Shojai, Amy D. The First Aid Companion For Dogs & Cats. Rodale, Inc., 2001.