Your dog’s heart rate is an important vital that you should keep an eye on to make sure that nothing is wrong with their health. However, not a lot of pet owners track their dog’s heart rate on a regular basis – so if your pooch is showing other symptoms of distress, in general, at least try to measure their heart rate at home.
In today’s article, we’re looking at everything you should know about the normal heart rate of dogs – from what’s too high or what’s too low to how you can check it before you get to the veterinary hospital.
Normal heart rate for dogs
In all species, the heart rate can be defined as the number of heartbeats that can be counted for every minute that goes by. While people have an average of 60 to 100 beats per minute, dogs can have anything between 60 and 140 beats per minute.
The heart rate in canines can also vary depending on the exact breed. Small dogs tend to have a heart rate between 100 and 140 beats per minute, while their large and giant counterparts can have a heart rate of 60 to 100 per minute.
Your dog’s heart can also have an irregular heart rhythm, which can be a combination of too fast and too slow – which is commonly found in cardiac conditions. Arrhythmias can be caused by various factors and can even be physiological, so some breeds, such as Great Danes and Saint Bernards, might have arrhythmia just as a feature.
Some symptoms of arrhythmias range from fatigue and dizziness to breathing difficulties, weakness, or fainting.
How to check your dog’s heart rate
You can use a stethoscope if you have one at home and actually count the number of heartbeats that you detect for a whole minute, but there’s an easier method that any pet parent can rely on.
Simply place your hand on your dog’s chest, on the left side, where a raised elbow can touch it, and then measure the number of heartbeats per 10 seconds or 15 seconds. Then multiply that number by 6 or 4 so that you get the measurement for the whole minute.
Another convenient area where you can feel the pulse is the depression in your dog’s inner upper thigh – you will be using your pet’s femoral artery to measure the heart rate in this case.
Low heart rates – What you should know
A too-low heart rate can be caused by complications such as hypocalcemia or hypomagnesemia or actual conditions such as hypothyroidism, pericarditis, or various neurological or respiratory diseases that make it impossible for the heart to continue to function normally.
Some signs of bradycardia range from slow breathing and fainting to loss of muscle coordination and lethargy or seizures. Also, these animals do not do well when it comes to exercise resistance.
Get your dog seen by a vet if you measure their heart rate and realize it is too low.
High heart rates – What you should know
A rapid heart rate can be the result of physiological factors, such as agitation or intense physical exercise. But if it tends to happen often, the dog might have a certain health issue.
Rapid heart rates can occur in many conditions, whether that be actual cardiac complications or congenital defects that lead to tachycardia.
Tachycardia can also be caused by gastrointestinal health problems, spleen and pancreas conditions, as well as drug overdoses. If your dog has a too high heart rate for a long time and they aren’t diagnosed and treated, they could lose their life.
How are heart rate abnormalities treated?
When you take your dog to the animal hospital, the vet will try their best to diagnose the condition itself and whatever caused the irregular heart rate, no matter if it’s too low or too high.
Several diagnostic methods that can be used in this sense range from an ECG to imaging techniques like cardiac ultrasonography (echocardiography) or X-rays. In specific cases where a lesion isn’t determined, the dog might even be performed a cardiac catheterization, although this procedure isn’t widely used these days compared to those we have previously mentioned.
Once the exact cause is determined, there are medications that work both ways – both for bradycardia and for tachycardia.
Antiarrhythmics have to be administered depending on the exact portion of the heart that is causing the change in the rate (ventricular or supraventricular arrhythmias). These drugs are also categorized in different classes.
A couple of examples of Class IA drugs are procainamide and quinidine, while Class IB drugs are represented by lidocaine or phenytoin, along with others. Class IC drugs are not used in veterinary medicine at this time.
Class II drugs are considered B-blockers, which you might have heard of before if anyone in your family might have taken blood pressure or cardiac medication before. The two best-known drugs in this category are atenolol and propranolol and they are both now used in cats and dogs for arrhythmias (both ventricular and supraventricular), hypertension, and other health conditions, including hyperthyroidism in cats, for example.
As for Class III drugs, they are mostly utilized to treat heart failure, especially in animals that do not seem to be responding to any other treatments. Amiodarone, for instance, is a first-line medication for dogs that can lose their life on account of having severe arrhythmia or atrial fibrillation.
In the end, picking the right medication depends on your dog’s exact diagnosis and what your veterinarian recommends. Heart medications are not over-the-counter drugs, so they always have to be prescribed by a vet. Making sure that your dog gets their medication on time can always prevent severe complications.