While your veterinarian will likely want to see your dog or cat periodically to check on progress, recheck some tests, and make adjustments to medications, you can help in monitoring at home. If you can keep track of breathing rate and effort, as well as medication administrations and appetite, you can help your veterinarian decide how to adjust medications. Our monitoring form can help you to keep track of these key items.
Monitoring Breathing Rate and Effort
Pets with heart disease may have an increase in breathing rate and/or breathing effort. An animal's breathing pattern may be easily monitored at home. Each breath is observed as the chest rises as your pet breathes in (inspiration) and falls as your pet breathes out (expiration)—one cycle of inspiration and expiration equals one breath.
To determine the breathing rate, simply observe your pet in a calm situation (ideally, when they are resting or sleeping) and count the number of breaths per minute. Alternatively, count the number of breaths taken in a 30 second period and multiply by two to get the number of breaths per minute.
The breathing rate for a normal dog or cat is usually less than 32 to 35 breaths per minute – and it can be as low as 12 breaths per minute in some animals. The breathing rate gets faster when fluid accumulates in the lungs due to congestive heart failure. When congestive heart failure is well controlled, most dogs and cats have a breathing rate of less than 35 breaths per minute. The breathing rate should always be checked when an animal is at rest or sleeping. Dogs in a hot environment will pant, and the breathing rate during panting is usually faster than 35 breaths per minute. In cats, purring causes both extra effort for breathing and a faster breathing rate. So, before checking the breathing rate, you should make sure that your dog is not panting and that your cat is not purring.
An example of a healthy dog breathing normally at rest
An example of a small dog with moderate dyspnea
An example of a large dog with moderate to marked dyspnea
An example of a cat with mild difficulty breathing
It is also important to measure the breathing effort of a pet; that is, how much work does it take for your pet to take a breath. You can evaluate the breathing effort by watching the motion of the ribs and the belly muscles with each breath. If a pet is breathing with greater effort than normal, you may see the stomach muscles moving forcefully in and out with each breath. The chest and ribs will move further with each breath. Additionally, the pet might breathe with an open mouth, have their cheeks billow out with each expiration, stand with legs in a wide stance, or have their neck outstretched.
Rapid (more than 35 breaths per minute) or labored breathing may require adjustment of medication. Contact your veterinarian to discuss this. For Tufts clients, if your animal’s breathing rate is above 35 to 40 breaths per minute when they are at rest, especially if your pet has extra belly wall motion while breathing, you should give an extra dose of furosemide. If difficulty breathing persists after the extra dose of furosemide then a visit to the emergency service is recommended.
Monitoring the ECG at home: KardiaMobile/AliveCor®
Monitor your pet’s heart rate at home with the Kardia or AliveCor heart monitor. This device connects to your smartphone to provide an electrocardiogram (ECG) of your pet’s heart rhythm whenever you want. The information can be easily sent to your veterinarian and provide helpful information about your pet’s heart condition.