Sleeping and Resting Respiratory Rates in Managing Heart Failure in Dogs and Cats

May 22, 2015 (published) | January 24, 2018 (revised)
Photo by Sharon Shriver

If your veterinarian diagnoses your pet with congestive heart failure (heart disease leading to fluid in the lungs), you will probably be asked to monitor the response to medications by measuring your pet’s respiratory rate at home. This is best done when the pet is sleeping, but can be done while the pet is quietly resting. Studies are finding that measuring the sleeping respiratory rate (SRR) is a sensitive way to tell if your pet's heart failure is being well controlled by drugs or not. When the drugs are working well, the pet should be feeling good, but more importantly, the SRR should be between 10 to 25 breaths per minute; in most cases, it will be less than 30 breaths per minute. If the SRR increases or exceeds 30 breaths per minute, it might indicate that there is fluid building back up in the lungs. Your veterinarian will generally recommend you return to the clinic to confirm this is the case, or they might instruct you to increase the dose of diuretics.

How to Measure SRR

SRR and RRR (resting respiratory rate) should be obtained when the pet is comfortable, in a comfortable environment that is not too hot or cold, and not after any exertional activity. If sleeping, the pet should be in a deep sleep, not in a twitching or dreaming state.

The respiratory rate should be counted for a full minute if possible, although 30 seconds is often sufficient. One breath is made up of two components: breathing in (inspiration or inhalation) and breathing out (expiration or exhalation).

These videos show two dogs and a cat either sleeping or resting quietly. The counter records each breath over a full minute. Watch these to understand how this is done.

Canine Sleeping Respiratory Rate

Feline Sleeping Respiratory Rate

Canine Resting Respiratory Rate

There’s an App for That!

Free App that can be downloaded from the Apple Store: Ceva’s Cardalis RR app

These allow you to measure the respiratory rate by tapping the screen of your smartphone or tablet in time with the breathing. You can then email the results to your veterinarian, and make treatment decisions with the advice of your veterinarian.

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