Vital Signs

Know How to Tell Vital Signs of Your Cat, 
Use Medical Terms, and Understand Blood Values 
and Blood Test Results


The breathing rate and ability of a cat to breathe easily and comfortably, is an indication of how well the cat's heart is functioning.  The rate will show if there are any signs of congestion present, and the overall health of the cat.  Breathing rates for cats with heart disease must be constantly monitored for congestion.  A cat with congestion will breathe at a faster rate than a healthy cat. But a cat that is playing and running will also breathe fast.  Often a cat will breathe fast while sleeping and dreaming.  The best thing to do is to watch your cat and learn when it breathes fast at play, while sleeping, and when it might be sick.   The fast breathing rate should only be for a minute or two before settling into a lower, more normal breathing rate.  Any sustained high rate around 30 or so is a sign of distress. A visit to the vet is necessary and should be immediate.
  • Around 20 - 30 breaths per minute in a cat at rest.  
  • Average normal at rest is 24.  
  • A rate at 30 should only be seen if the cat has been playing or running.  
  • A sustained rate about 30 or more for a minute or longer that does not soon come down to 24 when the cat is at rest, is a dangerous sign that the cat is having breathing difficulty and congestion is increasing.  A trip to the vet is necessary.
  • How to count the breathing rate:  Count how many breaths you cat breathes in 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get a breathing rate per minute. One up and down chest movement is one count. 

Normal temperature in cats
Temperatures indicate the health of the cat.  A too low or a too high temp indicates an illness, a physical difficulty, a virus, or even simply stress if high.  For HCM cats, low temperatures could be an indication of a lack of blood circulating and is a cause of concern.   Owners should have thermometers they use at home just for their pets.

Normal range is 100  - 103 F (37.7 - 39.4 C)
  • If a cat vomits at home and/or at any time seems suddenly quiet or sleeping or lethargic, and if you take a temperature, a temp at 103 or higher means the cat is ill and a trip to the vet is necessary.  
  • A cat might present at the vet's office with a temp as high as 102 or more due to stress. The vet will be able to tell by other physical signs if the cat is really sick or not: if the cat is dehydrated, if the lymph nodes are enlarged, etc.  
  • A temp lower than 100 is also of concern and is due to an illness. Further testing by the vet will be needed to find the cause. 

How to take your cat's temperature:

  • This is really best to be performed with two people, one to hold the cat and the other to take the temperature.  
  • Use a digital thermometer or an ear thermometer, maybe even thermometer covers, and lubricate the bulb tip with petroleum jelly. 
  • Grasp the base of your cat's tail and lift it. 
  • Insert the lubricated end of the thermometer about halfway into your cat's rectum and hold it in place for 3 minutes. 
  • Remove the thermometer, and read the temp.   

How to check your cat's pulse/heartbeat

The heart beat/pulse is an indication of heart function and overall cat health.
  • To check the pulse, feel for the femoral artery which is located close to the surface on the inside of the thigh at the groin.
  • Or feel for the heartbeat by placing your hand under the rib cage to feel for a heart beat.
  • Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and then multiply by 4 to get the total number per minute.

Normal pulse in cats:

130 - 240 beats per minute.  This corresponds to the heart beat but is felt in the artery in the legs and body and is a good indication if the arteries are clear and free of clots.

Understand Blood Values and Your Cat's Blood Test Results

It's very important to understand what are blood chemistry values what they mean individually, how combined they indicate something as important as liver and kidney function, dehydration/hydration, even if an injury or illness exists.  Learn all that you can about the values. Discuss results with your vet. Always have copies on hand at home.

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