VETERINARY CLINICAL EXAMINATION - Temperature, Respiration and Pulse of Animals


This includes an examination of the patient for temperature, respiration and pulse.

Temperature- The temperature of the body as measured by a clinical thermometer reflects the balance (steady-state) existing between heat production and heat loss. Any deviation in this value results in abnormality The body temperature is measured by the use of short blunt bulb clinical thermometer, which records the temperature from 36C (97°F) to 42.5°C (108°F).

Procedure -

1) Shake the thermometer vigorously so as to bring down the mercury the column below the lowest point.

2) Lubricate the bulb end of the thermometer with liquid paraffin or soap.

3) Insert the thermometer with a rotary action through the anal sphincter in to the rectum.

4) Ensure that the bulb of the thermometer makes a contact with the mucous membrane of the rectum.

5) Keep the thermometer in place for 1-2 minutes.

6) Take out the thermometer and clean with cotton and read.

7) Record the reading on graph paper to prepare a curve.

When recording of temperature is not possible from the rectum because of atony of the anal sphincter or rectal paralysis, it can be taken from the vagina in case of the female which is 1F higher than in the rectum.

In all healthy animal temperature varies during the day is at the lowest in the early morning and somewhat higher in the middle of the day and peak (up to 1.5F) in the late afternoon. This is known as diurnal variation. The normal temperature range in different spp. is given in the table.

Hyperthermia- Is the simple elevation of the temperature beyond the critical point.

Hypothermia - Is subnormal body temperature occurs in Shock, milk fever, acute ruminal impaction of cattle, circulating collapse, toxemia, extremely cold environment, etc.

Feveror pyrexia- Is the state where both hyperthermia and toxemia are present eg.-infectious diseases.

The following are the different type of fever -

1) Simple fever - The temperature rises remain high with variation less than 1C (2F) for several days and then falls as the animal recovers or dies. When temperature subsides within 24-48 hours it is called transient fever eg. ephemeral fever.

2) Continuous fever- The the temperature remains high for a longer period than simple fever eg. Tick borne fever.

3) Remittent fever- The temperature rises and falls by more than 1C (or 2F) at short and irregular intervals.

4) Intermittent fever - There are short attacks of fever lasting for 2-3 days interspersed with non febrile intervals usually forming a regular pattern.

5) Recurrent fever - This takes the relatively prolong attacks of fever with nonfebrile periods of about similar duration.

6) Atypical fever - This takes an irregular course. This is by far the commonest type of fever seen in animals.

Pulse- Examination of pulse helps clinicians to know the status of the circulatory system. The pulse is usually taken by placing the ball part of one or more fingers on the skin over the selected artery and applying gentle pressure until the pulse wave can be detected. The pulse is recorded for 1 minute. There are different sites for recording pulse in different species of animal.

Cattle - Facial artery on the lateral aspect of the mandible (external maxillary artery, middle coccygeal artery (about 10 cm below the anus).

Horse- Facial artery (external maxillary artery), median artery (at the upper extremity of the foreleg on its medial aspect).

Dog, sheep, goat, and calf- Femoral artery (the medial aspect of thigh)

Pig, poultry and rabbit- Direct palpation of the heart.

While examining pulse following characters of the pulse should be noted -

Rate / frequency:(no of beats per minutes) The pulse rate is dependent on the heart alone and is not directly affected by a change in the peripheral vascular system. The normal resting pulse rate in different species are given in the table. The physiological factors that affect the pulse rate in normal animals are species, size, age, physical condition, pregnancy, lactation, parturition excitement, exercise, eating, and environmental temperature.

Rhythm: It is assessed by time intervals between the peaks of a series of successive pulse waves.

Regular or irregular rhythms are possible.

Regular irregularity or intermittence at constant periodicity e.g. partial heart block.

Irregular irregularity or intermittence e.g. ventricular extrasystole, atrial fibrillation.

Amplitude (quality ): It is determined by the amount of digital pressure required to obliterate the pulse rate. Alteration in the pulse quality is attributable to variations in stroke volume of the heart. Based on the quality of pulse, pulse maybe of the following types:

a) Large strong pulse - The artery is abnormally distended at each pulsation. The amplitude is greater than normal and the wave is not readily obliterated by digital pressure e.g. interstitial nephritis in dogs, acute laminitis in a horse in median artery athletic animals because of ventricular hypertrophy.

b) Small weak pulse - Artery is poorly distended and pressure wave is readily obliterated by finger pressure.

e.g. myocardial asthenia, mitral incompetence, aortic stenosis.

c) Soft pulse - Pulse wave is poorly developed and easily obliterated e.g. toxemic or septic disease.

d) Unequal pulse - The individual pulse wave varies in amplitude and therefore in strength e.g. sinus arrhythmia, extra systolic arrhythmia.

e) Alternate pulse- In this case a strong wave alternate with a weaker one e.g. severe cardiac weakness.

f) Water hammer or Corrigan's pulse - The pulse wave rises rapidly until the artery is overdistended and then collapses equally quickly e.g. insufficiency of aortic valves or patency of ductus arteriosus.

g) Wiry pulse - This pulse is hard and at the same time small. It happens when there is a certain amount of vasoconstriction e.g. acute peritonitis, acute pleurisy, intestinal volvulus (running down pulse).

h) Thready pulse - The pulse is small and easily obliterated. It indicates an unfavorable prognosis. In this case pulse rate increases gradually but amplitude decreases.

Respiration - It denotes both physical and chemical processes that enable an organism to exchange gasses with its environment. The respiration should be examined when an animal is in standing position.

Recording of respiration helps -

  • To assess respiratory tract function.

  • To Know the prognosis of various disease conditions.

The rate (frequency), type, rhythm, and quality (amplitude) of respiration should be noted during the examination.

Rate - Respiratory rate can be defined as the number of respiratory cycles per minute. The state of normal quiet breathing is called eupnoea. The clinician should stand behind and to one side of the animal so that both thoracic and abdominal areas can be viewed. The animal should be observed from both sides. The rate may be counted by observation of the movement of ribs or nostril, by feeling the nasal air movements, or by auscultation of the thorax or trachea. Increased respiratory rate with or without an increase in the amplitude of the movement is called hyperpnoea. The increased respiratory rate with a reduction in the depth of movement is called polypnoea. Complete cessation of breathing is called apnoea. Increased respiratory rate is seen in excitement, after exercise, exposure to high environmental temperature or humidity, fever, various respiratory diseases, cardiac diseases, and anemia.

Decreased rate (oligopnoea) is observed in space-occupying lesions of the brain, congenital hydrocephalus. stenosis of the upper respiratory tract and uremia.

Factors affecting rate of respiration:

Species : Respiratory rate varies from species to species. Excitement, exercise, fear, stress increases respiration rate.

Climate : High environmental temperature and humidity increases respiration rate.

Age : Young and small animals have higher respiration rate.

Body condition: Obesity increases the respiration rate.

Type - It is assessed by noting the way in which the respiratory movements are shared between the thoracic and abdominal walls.

Thoracic/Costal - Thoracic muscles are predominantly involved in the process of respiration. It is observed in healthy dogs and cats.

Thoraco-abdominal/Costo-abdominal - Both thoracic and abdominal muscles are equally involved in the process of respiration. It is normally seen in horses.

Abdominal - Abdominal muscles are predominantly involved in the process of respiration. It is observed in healthy cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats.

Wholly Thoracic respiration is observed in ascites, ruminal tympany, peritonitis and disorders of the diaphragm.

Wholly abdominal respiration is observed in pleurisy, tuberculous pleurisy severe pneumonia, lung emphysema, pulmonary edema, traumatic pericarditis and pharyngeal obstruction.

Rhythm - Normal respiratory cycle has three-phase.

Inspiration, expiration and apnoea, of equal length, although expiration often takes slightly longer than inspiration.

The respiratory rhythm should be examined for the following abnormalities

a) Prolonged inspiration - This is seen in obstruction of the upper respiratory tract – e.g. Nasal granuloma.

b) Prolonged expiration - e.g, pulmonary emphysema, parasitic pneumonia, anaphylaxis.

c) Pause - Is reduced or absent in most diseases of the lungs.

d) Dropped respiration - The following are the different types of dropped respirations.

e) Cheyne-stokes respiration -  In this case a period of respiratory arrest (apnoea) for 15-30 sec followed by a gradual increase and then a gradual decrease in the amplitude of movements. e.g,-advanced renal and cardiac disease, severe toxemia, pulmonary insufficiency, and space-occupying lesion in the brain.

f) Biots breathing - It is characterized by an alternating period of hyperpnoea and apnoea, the period often being of unequal length -eg meningitis, encephalitis, heatstroke and poisoning.

Syncoptic respiration: It is characterized by apnoea (pause) followed by hyperpnoea (deep breathing) which gradually becomes shallow till apnoea develops. This is a serious condition indicating irreversible damage to respiratory center.

Quality of respiration-

Depth - The depth of respiration is determined by noting the movement of the ribs and abdominal muscles. Any kind of exercise increases the depth of respiration because of temporary hypoxia.

In deep breathing (hyperpnoea) the movement of both the thoracic and abdominal walls are clearly visible. Very deep respiration is said to labored it occurs in dyspnea. In dyspnea, there may be a change in rate, rhythm, type, or depth of respiration.

Dyspnoea maybe of inspiratory or expiratory or both depending on whether the difficulty arises at inspiration, expiration, or both phases.

Inspiratory dyspnoea- is seen when there is interference in the entry of air into the lungs or transfer of oxygen to the blood or tissues e.g. stenosis of air passage, bronchopneumonia, pulmonary edema and congestion, pleurisy, HCN poisoning, pericarditis, shock heatstroke, grain overload and acidosis.

Symptoms of inspiratory dyspnoea are - Dilatation of nostrils, extension of head and neck, the opening of the mouth, costal type of respiration, depression of intercostal muscles, forward movement of the body during each inspiration, and prolongation of inspiration.

Expiratory dyspnoea - Occurs when the escape of air from the lungs is impeded e.g. pulmonary emphysema.

Clinical signs of expiratory dyspnoea are -

1. Development of a groove in the anterior part of the flank along the line of costal arch so-called heaveline.

2. Double expiratory lift involving abdominal muscles.

3. Prolonged expiration.

4. Pumping of the anus.

5. In dogs, the lips and cheeks may be blown outwards.

Intermediate dyspnoea- Is seen in pneumonia, cardiac diseases, severe anemia acidosis, space-occupying lesion of the brain.

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By-Dr. Jitendra kumar sahu (B.V.Sc & A.H.)

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