A pet with heart disease may have an increase in both the breathing rate and or breathing effort. An animal’s breathing pattern may be easily monitored at home. Each breath may be seen as the chest rises with inhalation and falls with exhalation—one cycle of inhalation and exhalation equals one breath. To determine the breathing rate, simply observe your pet in a calm situation and count the number of breaths per minute. Alternatively, count the number of breaths taken in a 30 second period (you’ll need a watch with a second hand) and then multiply this number by two to get the number of breaths taken per minute. The normal breathing rate for dogs and cats with well-managed heart failure is less than 35 to 40 breaths per minute, and a very slow breathing rate (less than 20 breaths per minute) is seen in some animals.
It is also important to measure the breathing effort of a pet; that is, how hard he or she is working to breathe. If a pet is breathing with greater effort than normal you may see the abdominal muscles (stomach region) moving forcefully in and out with each breath. The chest wall and ribs will move further with each breath. Additionally, the dog or cat might breathe with an open mouth, have their cheeks billow out with each expiration, stand with legs in a wide stance, or neck outstretched. Cats are well known for their ability to hide their own breathing difficulties, so this may be hard to see. A cat may just not “look right”, it may interact less with owners, hide in a closet, or just not act like themselves. If you notice increased breathing effort then please call us so we can evaluate the heart and lung health. Additional note:
Respiration: Evaluate the rate and effort of respiration.
Although normal respiratory rates vary depending on breed, temperature, and weight, a presentation at the 2009 ACVIM forum indicated that a resting respiratory rate higher than 35/minute in a dog (at home) is highly suggestive of heart failure. Accuracy can be further improved by determining a baseline respiration rate and watching for subsequent increases in individual dogs. When the resting respiratory rate increases by 25% to 50% or is above 35/minute, a diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure should be considered.
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