Pet Factsheets

How to calculate sleeping respiratory rates

When an animal develops heart failure fluid can build up in or around their lungs. We know that an early sign of this fluid build-up is an elevation in breathing rate (due to the fluid in/around the lungs reducing how much oxygen your pet can take in with each breath). It has been shown in multiple scientific studies that counting breathing rates at home can be used as an early indication of this fluid build-up. Breathing rates will help you decide when your pet needs veterinary attention. This factsheet tells you how to monitor your pet’s breathing rate and what you should do if you are concerned.

Why should I calculate my pet's breathing rate?

If you have been asked to count your pet’s breathing or respiratory rate (SRR or RRR; sleeping/resting respiratory rate) at home then it’s likely they have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure (a build-up of fluid in or around the lungs due to heart disease) or are at risk of developing congestive heart failure in the future. An increase in your pet’s breathing rate can be the first sign that fluid is accumulating and this can often be detected before they start to have more severe breathing difficulties.

How do I calculate sleeping breathing rate?

Always try and do this when your pet is asleep. You can calculate your pet’s breathing rate by counting how many breaths they take over a minute. You can also count over fifteen seconds and multiply by four. One rise and fall of the chest is one breath. You should be able to visualise the rise and fall of the chest without touching your pet but if not then you can put a hand on their chest and feel the rise and fall, as long as touching them doesn’t disturb them.

How often should I do this?

The frequency with which you should count a rate depends on how severe your pet’s disease is. Your vet may give you some guidance on this but if not then counting once daily should be adequate.

When should I do this?

Ideally you should only count the breathing rate when your pet is sleeping. It can also be counted when they are resting, as long as they are calm and relaxed, but this measurement can be more variable. Avoid counting the rate if your pet has been exercising recently, is excited or is panting as the rate is likely to be increased at these times.

What is the normal sleeping breathing rate?

Normal sleeping breathing rate for a dog or cat is 30 breaths/minute or less. Normal resting breathing rate may reach 40 breaths/minute. By counting your pet's sleeping breathing rate frequently you will get an idea of what is normal for them so an elevation above this, even if it doesn’t reach 30 breaths/minute, may indicate a problem. In fact, if you get used to counting the breathing rate in your pet when it is well an upwards trend in the number over a couple of days can be an early warning sign that congestive heart failure is imminent.

What should I do if it is raised?

If the rate is increased you should repeat several measurements over a few minutes (provided you pet is still sleeping) and if it remains elevated then you should contact your vet immediately.

What will my vet do if it is raised?

If your pet's sleeping breathing rate is elevated it’s likely your vet will want to examine them. They may perform an x-ray and/or ultrasound to see if there is a build-up of fluid in or around the lungs. If this is the case your pet may be hospitalised for a few days for treatment to remove the fluid. Occasionally less severe cases can be sent home the same day with oral medications to help remove the fluid, or an increase in dosage if they are already receiving medication for congestive heart failure.

Apps

There are several apps available that can help you to count and record your pet's sleeping breathing rate. These can be very useful, especially to track upwards trends in the breathing rate over a few days. The graphs they generate can also be emailed to your vet for their records. They include:  

  • Heart2Heart Canine RRR App from Boehringer Ingelheim 
  • Uplife from Vetoquinol 
  • Cardalis Dog Heart Monitoring from Ceva Santé Animale