First Aid for Dogs ~ Basic Examination

I can’t emphasise enough how useful it can be to learn how to do a basic examination of your dog at home.

If you know what is normal for your dog, then it can be much easier in an emergency, or any situation, to know if they are unwell.

Some examples of the times when you may need to do a basic examination are:

  • Your dog is not eating or is unwell
  • You suspect your dog has been in a fight
  • Your dog has been missing for any length of time and has returned

There are five key vitals or signs to check with your dog – their temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, Colour & Capillary Refill Time, and Weight.

1. Temperature

The normal temperature for dogs is roughly 38.5 +/-5.

A thermometer should be placed approximately 2.5cm inside the rectum. (photo here)

(photo here)

Possible causes for an increased temperature – infection, inflammation, stress, pain, toxicity, heat stroke, cancer, hyperthyroidism

Possible causes for a decreased temperature – hypothermia, low glucose, shock, infection causing chills

2. Heart Rate

Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and times that number by 4 (or in 30 seconds and x2). You can do this by placing your hand over your dogs heart on the left side of their chest or by placing a stethoscope in this region.


  • Large-breed dogs (Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, and similar size breeds over 25kg) have a normal rate of 70 to 120 beats per minute.
  • Medium dogs (Border Collies, Cocker Spaniels and other breeds weighing 12 to 25 kg) have a normal rate of 80 to 120 beats per minute.
  • Small dogs (Miniature Poodles, Boston Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers and other breeds between 5 and 12kg) have a normal rate of 90 to 140 beats per minute.
  • Toy dogs (Chihuahuas, Maltese and Yorkshire Terriers, and others under 5kg) have a normal rate of 100 to 160 beats per minute.

Puppies have faster Heart Rates of up to 180bpm

An increased HR can be a sign of heart disease, pain, shock, hyperthyroidism (cats), fever, anemia, excitement (+ others)

A decreased HR can be a sign of heart disease, respiratory disease, hyperthermia, toxicity (+ others)

3. Respiratory Rate

Normal range 15-30 (but panting doesn’t count)

An increased or decreased Respiratory Rate can be a sign of respiratory disease, heart disease, pain or other aliment.

4.  Colour and Capillary Refill Time

Capillary Refil time (CRT) is the time it takes blood to refill the small vessels after pressure. It can be assessed by gently pressing on your dogs gums until they are white, then roughly counting the number of seconds it takes before they turn pink again. It should be virtually instant, but certainly less than 2 seconds. If it is longer than 2 seconds could indicate blood loss, shock, heart disease or dehydration. It is potentially a VERY serious sign to have a delayed CRT. (photo to go here)

5. Weight

ENSURE you regularly weigh your dog and record this in a record book.

Weight loss may be the first sign of a health problem in your dog.



Once you know what is normal, you will be able to know more accurately when there is a problem.

Regularly scan your dog for lumps or wounds. Check for overgrown nails.

If you do regular physical examinations of your dog you are more likely to be able to detect problems.

Note – The basic examination should only be an assessment of how quickly you need to see a vet. There may be things that are missed on a basic exam that only a vet will pick up, for example, problems within the abdomen, heart murmurs etc.

Kerry Martin

Kerry is 'Top Dog' here at Puppy Tales. With her own adored dogs, she completely gets that your four legged furry buddy is absolutely part of the family. That they sleep on the bed, that you want to take them everywhere, that you plan holidays so they’re included & that their presence makes your life incredible.

Join the Puppy Tales Pack!

Join now for:

All to help you live the best life with your dog!
We promise not to use your email for spam!

Join the Puppy Tales Pack for your
FREE Downloadable template to create your Dog's Bucket List

We hate SPAM & promise to keep your email address safe.

Get The

'Halloween Dog Treat'

Recipes emailed to straight to you :)

We hate SPAM & promise to keep your email address safe.