One of the biggest responsibilities of being a pet parent is taking care of our furry children🐈.
That means, at the very least, knowing what's normal so we can know what's abnormal, what it means, and whether or not it's an emergency that needs immediate attention.
I know what you might be thinking: define normal, right? 🤔
Any cat parent knows that for many cat-related things, there may not be a standard for normal. For example, what may be normal for one cat may be abnormal for another. Even in multi-cat households 🐱🐱🐱.
However, when it comes to health, there are definitely some aspects that have standards. Especially when it comes down to the heart💗, the most vital organ. This week I will discuss everything related to your cat’s normal resting heartbeat💓.
Do you know what the normal heart rate for our furry feline friends should be? Or, do you have a clue of what it means if it's outside of the normal range?
Routine at-home physical examinations can help cat parents stay on top of their cats’ heart health. A normal resting heart rate is a good indicator of your cat’s overall health👩⚕️.
Learning about your cat’s heartbeat, especially if you have an aging cat or one with heart disease💗, can give you a head start on recognizing an issue. This is a topic I hold close to my heart as my two angel cats Sosa and Randa suffered from heart disease late in their lives.
At home routine physical examinations can help cat parents stay on top of their 🐱cats’ heart health⚕️. Let's dig into some of the most frequently asked questions about this and other feline vitals.
A normal resting heart rate for a cat is between 120 to 140 beats per minute (bpm).
You may find conflicting information all over the internet concerning this range. For example, as you will see in the demonstration video below, veterinarian Lindsay Butzer (DVM) discusses the normal heart for a cat as being 180 - 200 beats per minute. We decided to follow the information provided by Merck Veterinary Manual.
Generally, the average heart rate for a cat is much higher than a human heart rate. For reference, the normal resting heart rate for a human is generally between 60 and 100 bpm.
Fun fact: Our doggy friends have a resting heart rate more similar to ours, 70 to 120 bpm.
Cats that are sleepy, cozy, and dozing in a comfortable sunbeam are likely to be on the lower end of the scale. Conversely, cats that are angry, scared, anxious, or have just gotten done playing are likely to be on the higher side of the scale.
It’s a good rule of thumb to check your kitty’s heart rate while they are resting to get a consistent reading. There are several ways you can check your cat's heart rate.
Option 1: Put your hand on their chest, just behind their front right leg. This is roughly where the heart is on a cat, so you should be able to feel the beating of their cute little heart. Depending on how active or squirmy your cat is, you may only be able to count beats for around 15 seconds; if they're calm and restful, you can count for a full minute. If you can only count for 15 seconds, of course, multiply the number by four to get something close to their heart rate.
Option 2: In the same location as noted above, put your ear to their chest so you can hear their heart beating. This only works with cats that don't mind both you being up close and personal to their underside and cats that aren't likely to squirm away when you put your face up to theirs. Be mindful that you likely won’t be able to heart a heart beat if you kitty is purring.
Option 3: You can also take their pulse on their primary leg artery, the femoral artery. You can find this vein on the inside of the hind legs, up near where the leg meets the body. Feel around and gently press, looking for the place where you can feel their pulse. Once you locate it, count beats for 15-60 seconds and adjust accordingly.
Option 4: Buy an inexpensive stethoscope. I’ll admit, I bought one when my now angel Sosa was 18 going on 19. I used it to better hear her heartbeat and to keep an ear on her breathing.
In my opinion, this is the easiest and most effective option of all. If you go this route, make sure you get a stethoscope made specifically for pets, then bring it to the next vet appointment to ask your vet how to properly use it.
Check out this 30-second demonstration on how to check your cat’s heartbeat by Dr. Lindsay Butzer DVM:
In all cases, it can be helpful to keep a stopwatch or other timer on hand.
You may also find it useful to multitask by petting your fur baby with your other hand so they stay calm and allow you to feel for their heartbeat. Obviously, some cats don't like being touched so intimately, so this can be tricky.
How Often Should You Check Your Cat's Resting Heart Rate?
This can depend on the reason why you're checking.
Under normal day-to-day life, it can be a good idea to check your cat's heart rate at least weekly though for the average person, this is an unlikely expectation. Keeping a log of heart rate and other vitals can be a good idea to help diagnose any issues and when they start.
Some vitals are harder to take than others, so taking the heartbeat can be done more frequently, even several times a day. If you have a cat that doesn't mind being touched, it's a simple matter to take a heart rate measurement periodically and note whether or not it's outside the normal range.
If you're putting your cat on a new medication, or if you think they're stressed, injured, or sick, you might want to take their vital signs more often. This way, you can notice quickly if they're having trouble or if they're experiencing side effects.
Remember, too, that a "normal" range is contextual. Consider the following for example, if your cat has been running back and forth for half an hour, but their heart rate is still in the 140s, it could be a sign of something wrong.
Similarly, if they've been napping and you check their pulse only to find it on the high end of the range, they could have issues you need to deal with.
Neither one is cause for an emergency vet trip, but it can be worth calling your vet to mention it and schedule an appointment if they think it's necessary.
If your cat is averse to being handled in a way that allows you to check their pulse, you'll likely want to work on it over time.
Be gentle with physical affection and reward them with treats when you can, so they associate touch with care, and build that trust until they allow you to stay long enough to get a good count.
What if Your Cat's Heartbeat Is Too Fast?
A fast heart rate is not itself a problem, but it can be a symptom of a problem.
First, think about what your cat has been doing recently. If they've been running around, playing, chasing your ankles or the other cats in the household, or even doing something stimulating like watching birds out the window, their heart rate may be elevated.
It's the same way that we get excited, or our heart rates increase when we exercise. Your kitty is fine; they've just been enjoying themselves and expending energy.
On the other hand, as pointed out in the previous section, if their heart rate is over 200 beats per minute and all they've been doing is napping, there may be a health issue at play.
Moreover, if their heart rate is above 220 and they haven't been engaged in play recently, or if it's significantly higher than a previous check, you should discuss the finding with your vet.
Come to your vet armed with any other symptoms. In particular, you might check for:
Blue discoloration of the mucous membranes in the mouth.
Difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, irregular breathing, or labored breathing.
If your fur baby has a rapid heart rate, you should call your vet and be prepared to bring them in for an emergency check-up and examination.
In cases where their heart rate is too high or is elevated for too long, your vet may want to perform some tests. These tests may include an electrocardiogram (EKG) to monitor heart performance, imaging, and even blood tests to look for signs of disease.
It's worth noting that many vets don’t have the tools or expertise to perform an EKG in office and will refer you to a pet cardiologist. Curious about what happens at a vet cardiology appointment? Check out my experience here.
What if Your Cat's Heartbeat Is Too Slow?
Healthy cats tend to have lower heart rates. When the body has to struggle to function, whether because of illness or disease, stress, or temporary problems, the heart has to pump faster to keep the body working. Thus, a slower heart rate is generally better.
That said, a slow heart rate even when exercising, or a very slow heart rate when resting, can be a sign of a problem. Called bradycardia, a slow heart rate can indicate issues such as:
You'll want to look for other symptoms, such as passing out, lethargy, very slow breathing, and exercise intolerance. You may also notice seizures.
Again, you should call your vet and be prepared to bring your fur baby in for an examination. Your vet will run tests like the ECG, imaging, and a blood panel to look for possible reasons why your fur baby is having troubles.
Generally, a slow heart rate is either a sign of a healthy, active cat or a cat with underlying problems, and it will return to a normal range when those problems are addressed.
What if Your Cat's Heart Rate Is Irregular?
In a cat’s body, there are two nodes, part of the nervous system, that are responsible for sending regular signals to the heart to contract.
These nodes normally operate on a regular basis, but in times of distress, illness, or because of defects, might misfire. This can lead to skipped beats, irregular beats, and other variations in heart rhythm.
Irregular heartbeats can be an arrhythmia, or they can manifest as a heart murmur or another potential disease. Even a regularly spaced heartbeat can be "bad" if the beating fires in the wrong order, putting undue stress on the heart.
Important to note here is that occasional, sporadic irregular heartbeats are not necessarily a sign of something bad.
“Irregular heart rhythm, or cardiac arrhythmia, is important to take note of but is not always a serious condition. An irregular heartbeat occurs from time to time when a cat is under stress, nervous or scared. Some breeds, like Persians, Maine Coon cats, and Himalayans, tend to be more prone to irregular heart rhythms than others.” - Rocky Mountain Veterinary Cardiology
Heart problems can be genetic, related to aging, and/or illness. Some breeds are more prone to heart disease such as HCM, so their heart rate and heart function should be monitored more closely.
A taurine deficiency can sometimes also cause this, though taurine deficiency is very rare in cats that are being fed properly.
As with other heart issues, call your vet and be prepared to bring your fur baby in for an examination to see what's wrong and how to fix it.
What Other Vital Signs Should You Check?
In addition to monitoring your cat’s heartbeat, part of a routine at-home physical examination should also include a vitals check. Heart rate is one of the core vitals; the other two are temperature and respiration rate.
“The normal resting respiratory rate for cats is between 15 and 30 breaths per minute. Respiratory rates above 35 breaths per minute in either species should prompt consultation with a veterinarian.” - Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
Cats have small lungs, after all, and need to breathe fairly frequently to get the oxygen they need. As with heart rate, the more active they are or have been, the faster they'll breathe.
Like timing your kitty’s heartrate, counting their breaths while they are resting, even sleeping, is the best way to get a consistent rate.
CRT can be checked by opening your cat's mouth and lightly pressing on their gums. This presses the blood away from the surface and leaves the area white until the blood comes back. It should take no more than two seconds for the blood to return; if it takes longer, or it doesn't return at all, call your vet immediately.
Mucous membranes are the interior surfaces of the mouth, as well as the nose, around the eyes, and other such surfaces. Look for discoloration – they should be a healthy pink – and make sure they're moist.
Finally, you can also check hydration status. A dehydrated kitty is an unhappy kitty, but if they aren't drinking, it can be a sign of any number of problems, including kidney issues, infections, and more. Keep an eye on how frequently your cat is drinking, how often they're urinating, and how elastic their skin is.
There are two main ways to check if your kitty is dehydrated.
The first is to touch their gums. Tacky or sticky gums is a sign of dehydration.
The second is to pinch the skin over their shoulder blades. In a hydrated cat the skin will almost immediately return to its original position. A dehydrated cat’s skin will slowly go from the tented position back into the original position.
What Other Questions Do You Have?
If you have any other questions about the health, the at-home checks, or the other potential things to watch for with our feline friends, please reach out and drop me a line. I'm not a vet, but I'm a friend to animals, and I know plenty about how to keep them happy and healthy.
One more thing, if you are feeling like getting a little special something for your fur baby that is unique, made right here in the USA, 100% pup and cat safe, USDA certified organic and brought to you by a US company, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!
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K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).