Dog’s Heartbeat. Why It’s Different Than Yours

Introduction

A dog’s resting heart rate can range from 60 to 160 beats per minute, depending on their size and breed. That means that the average healthy dog’s heart could beat over 100,000 times per day! In this article, we’ll explore how your dog’s heart rate differs from a human’s, what factors impact it, and how to monitor your dog’s heart health.

We’ll cover key topics like:

  • Average heart rates during rest, exercise and recovery
  • How size and age affect heart rate
  • How to check your dog’s heart rate at home
  • Indicators that may require a vet visit
  • Tips for improving your dog’s cardiac health

Understanding your dog’s cardiovascular system can help you keep their ticker in tip-top shape!

Average Heart Rate

A dog’s resting heart rate is much faster than a human’s. The average resting heart rate for an adult human is 60-100 beats per minute (bpm), whereas a dog’s normal resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 160 bpm depending on their size and age (Beys Vermont).

Smaller dogs and puppies tend to have faster heart rates ranging from 120-160 bpm, while larger breeds typically have slower heart rates of 60-100 bpm. According to veterinary experts, the normal resting heart rate ranges for dogs by size are (ToeGrips):

chart showing normal dog heart rate ranges by size

  • Small breeds: 90–140 bpm
  • Medium breeds: 70–110 bpm
  • Large breeds: 60-90 bpm

A dog’s heart rate also declines as they age. Young puppies can have heart rates from 160-220 bpm in the first few weeks of life, which declines to the adult normal range by 4-6 months old (Dixie Animal Hospital).

During Exercise

A dog’s heart rate increases significantly during physical activity or exercise. According to research, a sled dog’s heart rate can reach over 300 beats per minute during an endurance race (Wyatt 1974). This is considerably higher than the normal resting heart rate of 60-160 bpm for most dogs.

dog exercising - running

Dogs bred for high athletic performance like sled dogs have different cardiac adaptations that allow their hearts to pump faster safely. Their hearts have higher cardiac outputs, allowing more oxygenated blood to reach the muscles during exercise (Shull et al. 2021). However, the safe maximum heart rate depends on the individual dog and its fitness level.

For the average non-athlete dog, heart rates above 200 bpm during exercise may be approaching unsafe levels. Dog owners should monitor their pet’s breathing and energy during activity. Difficulty breathing, weakness, or collapse signal the heart rate is too high for that dog.

Recovery time

After exercise, a dog’s heart rate takes time to return to normal levels. This is known as heart rate recovery. The amount of time it takes for a dog’s heart rate to return to normal depends on several factors like fitness level, breed, and age [1].

In general, the fitter the dog, the faster the heart rate recovery time. Highly athletic dogs like Greyhounds can return to normal heart rates within 30-60 seconds after intense exercise. Out-of-shape dogs may take 5 minutes or longer for their heart rate to fully recover [2].

Heart rate recovery times also vary by breed. For example, Labrador Retrievers typically have faster recovery times than English Bulldogs after the same workout. This is likely due to differences in cardiovascular health and athletic capabilities across breeds.

Lastly, older dogs tend to have slower heart rate recovery times. As dogs age, their cardiovascular system becomes less efficient. Therefore, it takes longer for an older dog’s heart rate to return to pre-exercise levels compared to younger dogs.

Effects of Size

Smaller dogs tend to have faster resting heart rates than larger breeds. On average, small dogs have a resting heart rate between 100-140 beats per minute, while large dogs average 60-100 bpm (https://bluebuffalo.com/articles/dog/small-breed-vs-large-dogs/). This is because smaller dogs’ hearts beat faster to circulate blood and oxygen through their smaller bodies and shorter blood vessels.

In addition to a faster resting rate, small dogs’ hearts also recover quicker after exercise compared to large breeds. A study found that heart rates in smaller dogs like Chihuahuas and Miniature Poodles returned to normal within 5 minutes after exercise. Meanwhile, larger dogs like Greyhounds took around 10 minutes for their heart rate to recover (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20553373/).

The size of a dog’s heart is proportionate to their body size. Smaller hearts don’t need to work as hard to pump blood through a smaller body. Larger hearts have bigger chambers and more cardiac muscle to circulate blood and oxygen efficiently to larger bodies. So while heart rates differ between sizes, a healthy heart functions optimally for each dog’s needs.

Impact of age

As dogs mature from puppies into adults, their heart rates gradually slow down. Puppies can have heart rates from 160-200 beats per minute, while adult dogs average between 70-120 bpm depending on their size. This decrease in heart rate happens as the heart grows larger and more efficient at pumping blood. According to one study, dogs under the age of one had significantly higher heart rates than older dogs

As dogs reach senior ages, their risk of developing heart disease and congestive heart failure increases. Breeds like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, and Boxers are genetically prone to heart conditions. Older dogs may develop valve problems, irregular heart rhythms, weak pumping ability, or an enlarged heart. If a senior dog’s heart rate is persistently elevated above normal ranges, it can signal underlying cardiac issues that require veterinary attention.

It’s important for owners to monitor their aging dog’s heart health and watch for symptoms like exercise intolerance, coughing, or trouble breathing which could indicate heart disease. Regular vet checks and diagnostic tests like x-rays, ECGs, and cardiac ultrasounds can catch problems early when they are most treatable.

Checking your dog’s heart rate

You can manually check your dog’s heart rate by feeling for their pulse. Gently place your fingers on the inside of their upper hind leg where it joins the body or on the inside of the upper front leg. Count the pulses you feel for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by 4 to get the beats per minute. According to Normal vitals for a dog | BEVS, a normal resting heart rate for dogs is between 70-120 beats per minute depending on breed and size.

checking a dog's pulse

You can also use a pet stethoscope or heart rate monitor to check your dog’s heart rate. Place the stethoscope bell or monitor sensor against their chest wall just behind their left elbow. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. This will give you an accurate reading without having to calculate the beats yourself.

Contact your veterinarian if your dog’s resting heart rate is consistently over 160 or under 50 beats per minute. An abnormal heart rate can signify issues like heart disease, shock, or thyroid disorders. Your vet can run tests to determine if there is an underlying medical cause that needs treatment.

When to see the vet

There are certain concerning changes in your dog’s resting heart rate that warrant a veterinary visit. According to the Dog Cardiologist, if your dog’s resting heart rate suddenly jumps from the normal range up to 160-180 beats per minute, bring them into the vet immediately, as this can indicate the onset of heart failure.

Additionally, pay attention for any symptoms that may indicate heart problems in your dog. These include coughing, difficulty breathing, getting tired more easily during exercise, weakness or collapse, abdominal swelling, loss of appetite, and fainting. According to the Morris Animal Foundation article “5 Common Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs,” persistent coughing may happen as an enlarged heart presses on the airways. Any of these symptoms should prompt a visit to the vet for evaluation.

Catching heart issues early allows for better management through medication and lifestyle changes. Your vet can check for dangerous arrhythmias through an ECG and may recommend imaging tests like X-rays or an ultrasound to check the heart’s size and function. Don’t delay if you notice potential signs of canine heart disease.

Improving cardiac health

improving dog heart health

There are several ways to help improve your dog’s heart health through diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, medications, and preventative care.

Feeding your dog a nutritious diet is important for heart health. Look for dog food rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, L-carnitine, and taurine. Avoid unhealthy fillers and by-products. Home cooked meals with lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are also great for the heart. Portion control is key to prevent obesity which puts extra strain on the heart.

Regular exercise strengthens the heart muscle and improves circulation. Aim for 30-60 minutes of activity per day with high-intensity cardio sessions mixed with lower impact exercise. Going for walks, playing fetch, swimming, and taking training classes together are all excellent ways to get your dog moving.

There are medications specifically for canine heart disease that your vet may prescribe. Common drugs include ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure, diuretics to reduce fluid buildup, and antiarrhythmic agents to help normalize irregular heartbeats. Providing adequate rest and reducing stress are also important lifestyle factors.

Preventative vet visits allow for early detection and treatment. Annual exams should include listening to the heart and lungs. Additional heart health screens to ask your vet about are chest x-rays, ECG, blood pressure readings, and cardiac ultrasounds. Be diligent about monthly heartworm and flea/tick prevention medication as well.

With a holistic approach focused on nutrition, activity, medical care, and prevention, you can greatly improve your dog’s heart health and add years to their life.

Conclusion

Throughout this article, we’ve explored several key factors that impact a dog’s heart rate and cardiac health. To recap, a dog’s average resting heart rate ranges from 70 to 160 bpm depending on breed, age, weight, and other variables. Smaller dogs and puppies tend to have faster heart rates. During exercise a dog’s heart rate can double or even triple, before returning to normal within 5-10 minutes of rest.

Checking your dog’s heart rate periodically can help identify any concerning changes that may indicate an underlying heart condition. Contact your veterinarian if your dog’s heart rate is consistently over 160 bpm at rest or if it takes longer than 10 minutes to recover after exercise. With proper care and attention, you can keep your dog’s heart strong and healthy for years to come.

As a dog owner, the most important takeaway is to be aware of your pet’s baseline heart rate and monitor any significant changes over time. Listen for coughing, labored breathing, or other signs of heart disease. And maintain your dog’s health through proper feeding, exercise, vet checkups, and loving care.

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