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Taking Vital Signs at Home: A Double-Edged Sword

It might seem that taking a cat’s vital signs can help you determine whether he’s in a state of emergency. “But,” says Tufts Cummings School emergency and critical care veterinarian Armelle de Laforcade, DVM, “I worry a little about people trying to determine the seriousness of a situation by themselves because it can be tricky.” For instance, you may find upon taking a cat’s temperature that he doesn’t have a fever, but a cat can still be quite sick in the absence of an elevated temperature — especially if he’s not eating or urinating.

That said, here are a couple of vital numbers:

Temperature (taken with a rectal thermometer made for cats) Normal: 100–102.5 degrees F. (A sick cat’s temperature can be too low as well as too high.)

Pulse rate. About 160–180 beats per minute. Take a cat’s pulse by cupping your hand over his chest. Feel for the heartbeat, count how many beats there are in 15 seconds, then multiply by 4.

Another way to check a cat’s health is to look at his gums. Make sure they’re pink. If they’re white, make an appointment with your veterinarian. It means the cat’s tissues aren’t getting as much oxygen as they should.

But the best thing an owner can do to assess her cat’s health is simply to be in tune with her pet. You know your animal, Dr. de Laforcade says. “If you feel like something's wrong, you're probably right."   

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