The Importance of Resting Respiratory Rate
The Resting Respiratory Rate (RRR) is simply the number of
complete breaths taken in one minute of resting or sleeping. An
increase in your pet’s RRR can be an early clue to
the progression of significant cardiac or respiratory diseases.
Checking your pet’s RRR is fortunately incredibly easy to do
at home, with no special tools needed.
- Resting Respiratory Rate (RRR) is not the same as Respiratory Rate (RR). To count RRR your pet must be sleeping or resting quietly. The non-resting respiratory rate of your pet can be much higher due to activity, stress, or excitement.
- Observe your resting pet’s chest as it expands and contracts with their breathing. Wait for your pet to exhale completely, and take note of what their chest looks like at this starting point. Continue to watch, and once they have inhaled and exhaled completely, you may count one breath.
- To determine RRR, simply count the number of complete in-out breath cycles in 30 seconds, and multiply by two. Make a note of your pet’s baseline score. Your veterinarian will appreciate your forethought!
- If your pet has chronic respiratory or cardiac disease, you should get into the habit of routinely measuring RRR. This “canary in the coal mine” can literally save your pet’s life! Ask your vet how often you should check RRR.
- In general, dogs and cats should have an RRR between 15-30 breaths per minute. Some pets will have lower rates, but this is not a concern as long as your pet is otherwise active and acting normally.
- RRR that is consistently greater than 30 breaths per minute is considered abnormal, and you should contact a veterinarian as soon as possible even if your pet is acting normally.
- Your pet might be in or very close to a cardiac or respiratory crisis if the RRR is higher than 30 per minute and you observe any of the following symptoms:
- Increased breathing effort (labored breathing)
- Coughing or gagging
- Abnormal color of gums or other mucous membranes (learn more)
- Lethargic, depressed or withdrawn attitude
- Collapsing or fainting
- Decreased appetite
- Exercise intolerance
- Restlessness, agitation, and having difficulty finding a comfortable sleeping position
- A change from your pet's typical sleeping position to a more “Sphinx” like position
- Open mouth breathing (in cats only!)
- Hind leg lameness or weakness (in cats only!)
- If your pet has a chronic respiratory or cardiac disease and you are monitoring RRR, you can find free smartphone apps to assist you with reminders and recordkeeping.
- Cats should not be purring when you count their RRR.
- If you notice higher than normal RRR in your pet:
- If your pet has no history of respiratory or cardiac disease and is acting totally normal, count the RRR a few more times over the next few hours to see if your finding is consistent. If so, contact a veterinary professional ASAP.
- If your pet does have a history of respiratory or cardiac disease, contact a veterinary professional right away. Do not wait.
- If your pet has chronic respiratory or cardiac disease, a slow steady increase in RRR can be a significant sign of declining health, even if the rate is still within the normal range of 15-30. This is why it’s so important to get a baseline score and conduct regular checks thereafter.