Knowing how to take your cat's pulse, take its temperature, and find out its respiration is a handy skill if you feel your cat is ill and trying to decide if a trip to the veterinarian's office is necessary. The rate a cat's heart beats is his "pulse" rate which normally beats between 140 and 220 times a minute. A relaxed cat's pulse is on the lower end of the scale and its pulse may increase with stress or illness (i.e., a visit to the veterinarian's office could increase a cat's heart rate).
What you will need to find out your cat's heart rate: A watch capable of displaying seconds; and your cat.
Put your hand over the cat's left side, behind the front leg. You should be able to feel your cat's heart beating beneath your fingers. (If you cannot feel the heartbeat, consult your veterinarian about a diet as the cat may have too much body fat for you to discover its pulse rate.) Using a watch with a second hand, count the beats during a 15-second period of time; multiply the number of beats by 4 to get the beats per minute (BPM).
To accurately take the temperature on your cat, you will need a rectal thermometer and lubricant (such as Vaseline, KY Jelly). Apply the lubricant to the rectal thermometer and gently insert it in your cat's rectum. A cat's normal temperature is between 100 and 102.5 degrees. It is not uncommon for a cat's temperature to be elevated at the Vet's office due to stress.
Watch your cat when it relaxing and standing. Count the number of times the abdomen and chest wall move in 60 seconds. Normally, a cat takes 15 to 25 breaths per minute.
When Is It An Emergency for Your Cat?
As we know, humans as well as animals, can survive a while without food, but they always need water. Cats are secretive animals and do not often show just how sick they are until it is much too late. Therefore, when we discover how sick our pet is, we struggle with "do we need to take the cat to the emergency veterinarian or not"? One way to answer that question is to check for dehydration. Dehydration is a serious and potentially life threatening condition as there is an excessive loss of water and electrolytes (minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium). Dehydration can cause physiological things to happen (i.e., major organs begin to fail, body temperature drops, shock, etc.) and the cat could die.
The major causes of dehydration in cats are:
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea;
- Sickness – going off its food AND water and therefore not consuming enough fluids;
- Excessive urination due to a medical condition (diabetes and renal failure);
- Lack of available fresh, drinking water;
- Blood loss;
Signs of dehydration can include:
- Sunken eyes;
- Dry mouth;
- Poor skin elasticity (see below to view a simple test for this);
- Increased heart rate;
There are a couple of sure fire ways to check for dehydration in a sick cat. Knowing if a cat is dehydrated may make the difference between a trip to the emergency vet or if it can wait until regular business hours at your own veterinarian.
Skin Turgor Test
As shown in the video link, pinch the skin (between the shoulder blades) gently lifting up as far as it will go. If the skin quickly springs back onto the spine, the cat is hydrated. If the skin stays pinched together and/or falls back to the spine slowly, the cat is dehydrated. The more severe the dehydration, the slower the skin takes to retract.
A veterinarian needs to see a dehydrated cat as soon as possible necessitating a trip to the emergency veterinarian hospital. NEVER put off having a dehydrated cat seen by a veterinarian or the cat could die. If a kitten is dehydrated, a veterinarian should be seen immediately, as they do not have the body fat (energy stores) that adult cats have and could fade away quickly and die (within 24 hours).
Capillary Refill Test
This test can aid in testing the cat's blood circulation and can indicate dehydration, heart failure or shock. Lift the cat's upper lip and press the flat of your finger against the gum tissue. Remove your finger and you should see a white mark on the gum where your finger was. Using a watch with a second hand, time how long it takes for the pink color to return to the white spot. In a healthy cat, it should take about 1 -2 seconds to return to pink. If the pink color is slow to return or the gums are pale (instead of pink), the cat needs IMMEDIATE veterinarian care!