Health & Wellness

Got A Sick Dog? How To Check Your Dog’s Vital Signs: Gums, Pulse & Temperature

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By Carrie

One myth is that you can tell if a dog is sick by checking how wet or dry the dog’s nose is.


It is commonly believed a wet dog nose that is cool to the touch indicates a normal healthy dog state, whereas a warm & dry dog nose indicates fever or sickness.

However, if your dog has a wet nose it may simply be due to the humidity outside.  Or, if your dog has runny eyes due to normal dog allergies, this may cause your dog to also have a wet nose.

A dry nose alone isn’t the best indicator of sickness either.  Instead, it’s the combination of a dry dog nose with other symptoms that veterinarians use to diagnose a sick dog.

So, you can’t always trust the wet/dry dog nose theory!

If you think you have a sick dog, the best way to tell is to check your dog’s vital signs:

  • the color of gums
  • heart rate or pulse
  • temperature

Here’s how to tell if you have a sick dog by checking your dog’s vital signs…


How To Check 3 Dog Vital Signs

Each of the following dog vital signs has a “normal” range for healthy dogs.

If your dog’s vital signs do not fall within the normal range, then you need to call your vet.

    1. Gums – A dog’s normal gum color is pink.
      How to check your dog’s gums:  Lift up your dog’s lip and look at the color of the gums under the lip and above the teeth.  If your dog’s gums are dark, blue, red or white you may have a sick dog — call your vet.


    1. Pulse – A normal dog’s heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute for medium-large dogs (30+ lbs) and 100-160 beats per minute for small dogs (less than 30 lbs).
      How to check your dog’s heart rate:  Hold your hand against your dog’s chest and count the number of heartbeats for 15 seconds.  Multiply that number by 4.  This gives you the total number of beats a minute.  If the number is much greater (or less than) the number of beats per minute for your dog’s size (listed above), call your vet.  A dog’s irregular heartbeat could mean several different things.  That said, dogs do not have heart attacks — like humans do — because of anatomical differences in how blood is supplied to the heart muscle itself.


  1. Temperature – A normal dog’s body temperature is 101.5 F.
    How to check your dog’s temperature Use a digital thermometer.  First, lube the thermometer with KY Jelly or Vaseline.  Then, lift your dog’s tail and insert the thermometer about 1-inch into your dog’s rear end and press the button.  Wait for the beep, then make a note of your dog’s temperature.  If it’s over 102, call your vet.

Now, watch as a veterinarian checks each of those 3 dog vital signs in this video:

Only Your Vet Can Truly Diagnose & Treat A Sick Dog

If you’re unsure whether you have a sick dog or not and you can’t take your dog to the vet, then at least call your vet.  You may be able to get a vet’s diagnosis over the phone.  Sometimes, you can even get a prescription for treatment from your vet over the phone!

I just recently had a sick dog on my hands.  When I called my vet, I told her that my dog’s gums were darker than normal.  My dog was shivering a lot and was just not acting like herself.  She was even favoring one of her hind legs.

The vet said to check under my dog’s eyelids.  To do that, I had to pull the top eyelid up to the point that I could see the color underneath.  If the color was white, it would have been cause for concern and I would have had to take her straight to the vet’s office.  Luckily, the color was pink, so the vet had me give her part of a baby aspirin and keep an eye on her.  After taking her to the vet for a visit, I found out that my dog hurt her lower back.  She probably did this while outside playing in the snow and ice.

Here’s everything you need to know about dog first aid and how to be prepared ahead of time, in case an emergency ever arises!d