As a cat parent learn and remember following vital signs and how to measure them that can help you determine if your furry friend needs help:
- Heart rate: 140-220 beats per minute
- Temperature: 100F-103F
- Respiratory rate: 20-40 breaths per minute, in resting state
- Hydration Status: Pink, moist not dry skin that should span back against body instantly
- Capillary Refill Time: less than 2 seconds
How to measure?
For heart rate, sense and count heart rate using the vein at the hind legs for 15seconds and multiple by 4.
For temperature, get a decent digital (rectal) thermometer with smaller tip that is kept separately for your cat(s). Always wipe it clean and dry using alcohol (get unscented after-shave) before and after its use. Use vaseline or KY jelly to lubricate the thermometer to minimize pain for your cat. Before taking the temperature, scruff your cat or make a cat burrito using a towel. Lift your cat's tail and insert the thermometer about one inch into the cat's rectum slowly (never force). Wait for some time, your thermometer should beep. Record the temperature, wash the thermometer using water and rub alcohol, dry and store it safely.
A temperature lower than the normal range leads to hypothermia which can be fatal. Temperature higher than the normal range leads to hyperthermia that can damage your cat's internal organs.
For breathing rate, look at your resting cat's abdomen and chest, count number of movements in 60 seconds (avoid the 15s x 4 method to be accurate).
For hydration status, check your cat's gums, skin and eyes. They should appear moist and not dry. Try to pull your cat's skin behind the neck, it should snap back quickly if hydration status is good, otherwise the skin will take time to snap back its place.
For capillary refill, press the gums of your cat and see how quickly it goes from pale to pink.
When to seek help?
If the vital signs are not in the normal range please reach out to your vet for consultation. If your cat is showing other signs of illness such as loss of apetite, lethargy, loss of muscle control etc. it could be an emergency already.
The page on health has more details around feline health and issues.