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How to Measure Resting Respiratory Rates in Dogs

Measure resting respiratory rates in dogs

A resting respiratory rate indicates the number of times a dog takes a complete breath (inhale and exhale) within a 1-minute period while at rest or sleeping. The resting respiratory rate (RRR) can also tell you if your dog’s breathing is within the normal range. This is especially important for dogs with certain heart or lung diseases. Continue reading to learn more!

Why do I need to measure my dog’s resting respiratory rate?

Respiratory rate is one of the important vital signs that are monitored regularly in pets diagnosed with heart disease and that have a high risk of developing congestive heart failure. It can help identify the earliest signs that heart disease is developing into congestive heart failure. If your dog has asymptomatic heart disease, your vet may ask you to get your pet’s RRR once a day for a week. Your dog’s breathing rate can also reflect your pet’s response to certain medications.

What is a normal respiratory rate for dogs?

The normal resting respiratory rate of dogs is between 15-30 breaths per minute. This can be higher when a dog feels hot, stressed, or engaged in physical activity, but an increase in the respiratory rate in most of these instances is not something to be worried about.

When the resting respiratory rate consistently exceeds 35-40 breathing cycles (inhale + exhale) per minute you should bring it to the attention of your vet.

How To Measure Your Pet’s Resting Respiratory Rate

The RRR should be measured while your dog is resting quietly or lying down. There’s also the sleeping respiratory rate which is obtained when a dog is sleeping but not in a dreaming state. Generally, the sleeping respiratory rate is lower than the resting respiratory rate. When measuring the sleeping respiratory rate and the resting respiratory rate, your pet should be in a comfortable environment, one that’s not too hot or too cold, and not after engaging in any physical activity or exercise.

The sleeping respiratory rate has been observed in many studies to be a reliable way to tell if a dog’s heart failure is being well-controlled by medications or not. When medications are working well, the dog’s sleeping respiratory rate should be 10-25 breaths per minute. But if the sleeping respiratory rate is more than 30, it might signal fluid build-up in the lungs. If this is the case, you should notify your vet immediately.

To measure your pet’s respiratory rate, use a timer or watch to count the number of times your dog inhales and exhales. An inhale and exhale cycle is equivalent to one breath. Some pet owners count the number of breathing cycles for 15 seconds and multiply it by 4, some count it for 30 seconds and multiply it by 2, while others count their dog’s breathing for a full minute to get the respiratory rate.

If you notice your pet’s resting respiratory rate is elevated without any signs indicating a potential problem, such as coughing or difficulty breathing, recheck it after 30-60 minutes. If it remains abnormal, you should contact your vet as soon as possible.

An increase in your pet’s resting respiratory rate can be an important clue that your pet may be developing heart failure or another condition that will need prompt veterinary attention.

Monitoring the Resting Respiratory Rate of a Dog with Heart Disease

If your dog has been diagnosed with a heart problem, recording the resting respiratory rate is very important. Your vet may first ask you to monitor your dog’s RRR once a day for a week. From your record, the dog’s average RRR can be known and any deviation can easily be noted.

When monitoring your pet’s resting respiratory rate, the average rate during the first week is referred to as the ‘baseline resting respiratory rate’.

Once you have the baseline resting respiratory rate, your vet will ask you to check your pet’s RRR at least once a week and compare it to the baseline RRR.

If the RRR is consistently higher than the baseline rate established during the first week, you should call your vet.

If the RRR is greater than 30 breathing cycles per minute, you should bring it to the attention of your vet. You will be instructed on what to do and whether there is a need to bring your pet to the veterinary clinic immediately or make an appointment.

While in the clinic, your pet will undergo a thorough physical exam, and several laboratory and diagnostic tests may be recommended. The results can provide your vet with important information that could help determine if the increase in your dog’s RRR could be an early red flag that their heart problem has worsened, or if there is a need to re-assess and/or change the existing treatment protocol

If your dog has asymptomatic heart disease, meaning no symptoms have developed yet, your vet will tell you if and when there is a need to start monitoring your pet’s resting respiratory rate at home.

But generally, veterinarians consider it extremely important to start monitoring the home breathing rates of dogs with advanced asymptomatic heart disease with a high risk of progressing to heart failure. Your vet may ask you to take your pet’s RRR once or twice a day.

But if your dog has heart failure and is taking prescribed medications, the RRR should be taken at least once a day.

Signs of Heart Disease or Heart Failure in Dogs

  • The resting respiratory rate is more than 30 breaths per minute
  • Labored breathing
  • Restlessness particularly during bedtime
  • Distinct changes in your pet’s sleeping position
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Poor exercise tolerance
  • Weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Depression or lethargy
  • The dog may not be as interactive as before

There are free smartphone apps that can be used to monitor your dog’s resting respiratory or breathing rate at home. Most of these apps are free and can be used with an android or iPhone. But if you don’t have a smartphone or you prefer to write down your observations, you can simply make a 3-column table - the date is placed on the first column, the observed breaths per minute on the second, and any notes or remarks that you may have, on the third column.

Read more:

Heart Murmurs in Dogs

Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Kennel Cough

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s respiratory rate or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

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