An increase in pet’s respiratory rate while sleeping is a very important early indicator that the pet may be developing congestive heart failure. Detecting this indicator early can help limit how sick the pet will get, reduce the chances that the pet will have to stay in the hospital, and also help reduce the costs associated with heart failure treatment.
In general, all dogs and cats, with or without heart disease, have a sleeping respiratory rate of less than 30 breaths per minute. It is important to start monitoring pets with moderate to advanced heart disease that have a high risk of developing congestive heart failure. Respiratory rates are typically recorded once daily. Once a pet has gone into congestive heart failure and is on diuretics, it is best to monitor their respiratory rate once to twice daily.
Wait until the pet is sleeping. It is important that cats are not purring when you count their respiratory rate. A breath is when the chest has moved up and back down. Use your watch or phone to time 30 seconds, then count how many breaths occur in 30 seconds. Next multiply the number of breaths that you counted in 30 seconds by 2 to get the number of breaths in 1 minute. Count the sleeping respiratory rate once to twice per day for a week while you are learning.
If the pet’s sleeping respiratory rate is over 30 breaths per minute, repeat the count a few more times over the next hour to be sure it is a consistent finding. If the pet’s sleeping respiratory rate increases more than 25% from the normal baseline for that pet, that is also considered an increased respiratory rate. If the respiratory rate is consistently increased, then contact your family veterinarian or cardiologist for a recheck. There is a free smartphone app that can help you keep track of you pet’s home respiratory rate. Search the app store for ‘your dog’s heart resting respiratory rate.’