“What is a normal pulse rate on my dog?”
“What is a normal temperature in a cat?”
“Is my pet sleeping too much?”
These are simple and common questions that pet parents ask themselves. Surprisingly, maybe, there is no simple answer. What is considered “normal” depends first and foremost on the context. To answer the first question, for example, we need to know the signalment (age, sex, breed, and medical history) and the current condition of this dog (geographic location, activity level, surrounding environment and interactions, and more). Whether a certain pulse rate is “normal” or “abnormal” depends on the dog’s signalment – puppies have higher rate than adults, small dogs have higher rates than large, etc. – and also depends on the circumstances. For example, a dog that is running and playing should have a higher pulse rate than a resting dog; a resting dog in a hot environment should have a higher pulse than a similar dog in a cold room.
It would be wrong to draw health and wellness related conclusions based on independent vital sign data without considering the big picture, which is the personal and surrounding circumstance of that individual.
“Normal” reference values are published nonetheless in the professional literature. These reference ranges assume a standard context or condition when taking the measurements. Otherwise, we will be comparing apples and oranges. For example, the normal pulse reference range assumes the pet is rested in room temperature without any outside stimulus. Obviously, not all dogs are in such an environment at all times.
It is therefore imperative that when we attempt to interpret the medical meaning of pulse data, temperature data, and all other medical data for that matter, we also consider data coming in from other sources or sensors to give us a better view of the context, or the circumstances, in which the pet is in at the time of the measurement. This is the first step of how we transform mere data into meaningful and valuable information.