The Savvy VetTech

Tips for Tackling the TPR

by Cathy Barnette - July 19, 2021 at 10:11 AM
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VTP01-2As a vet tech, one of your many responsibilities will be helping the veterinarian see appointments. In many cases, you will be the first to enter the exam room, in order to obtain the patient’s history, assess the TPR, and perform a brief triage exam.

Since this is a routine that you will be performing nearly every day, it makes sense to give some thought to how to do it correctly! 

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First, let’s review the three components of the TPR: 

  • Temperature
  • Pulse
  • Respiratory rate 

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While most practices are still taking rectal temperatures on the majority of patients, you may encounter some practices that skip this step in an effort to make veterinary visits less stressful for their patients. Some practices use an ear thermometer, while others simply avoid taking temperatures in healthy patients. It’s important to ask your veterinarian what they prefer.

A dog or cat’s pulse is typically assessed by palpating the femoral artery, on the medial aspect of the hindlimbs. (In horses, the pulse is often assessed using the maxillary artery, on the inside of the jawbone.) Count the number of beats in fifteen seconds, then multiply by four. Alternatively, you can count the number of beats in ten seconds and multiply by six. 

The respiratory rate can be assessed through observation. In fact, you might choose to assess this before you even touch the pet to assess temperature and pulse. Nervous dogs often pant in the exam room, limiting your ability to obtain an accurate respiratory rate. 

So, once you know how to assess a TPR, how can you make this process as tolerable for the client and pet as possible?

1. Use food rewards

Most dogs (and even some cats!) are food-motivated. Use this to your advantage! When you need to do something unpleasant (such as taking a pet’s temperature), have the client give treats to distract the pet. Something sticky like peanut butter, which can be spread on a tongue depressor or even smeared on an exam table, has the added perk of taking a while to eat, keeping the pet immobile and distracted for a longer period of time. 

Before giving any treats (especially peanut butter), be sure the client doesn’t have any food allergies. Also, keep in mind that treat preferences vary. Keep several options handy, so that you can try something else if your first treat offer doesn’t work. 

2. Explain everything that you are doing

In most cases, you will be requesting the owner’s assistance to help you assess the TPR. Instead of just telling the owner what to do or how to hold, explain the process and your findings. Give a brief explanation of what you are checking, as well as their pet’s results and how they compare to normal values. Don’t draw any conclusions from the information (that’s the vet’s job!), but point out abnormalities that the vet is likely to address. This can help clients see the value of the process, get more out of the experience, and prepare themselves for the vet’s recommendations.

3. Don’t be afraid to get help

Although the TPR is often performed with the client restraining their pet, you may encounter a situation where you need more help. Not every pet will readily tolerate a rectal thermometer with minimal restraint! If you encounter a pet that is giving you trouble, get help. You could find a vet assistant to help you or you may elect to wait until you and the vet return to the room together. Either way, don’t be afraid to stop the process if the pet is becoming stressed. The last thing you want is for you or the client to become injured. Additionally, every stressful visit will make the pet even more anxious about future visits. 

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Practice makes perfect! 

It’s natural to feel a bit intimidated the first time you enter an exam room alone. Take your time, think about your goals in the exam room, and focus on making the process as pleasant as possible for the client and the pet. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. Within a short period of time, this entire process will become second nature.

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About Cathy Barnette

Cathy Barnette is a practicing small animal veterinarian, freelance writer, and contributor to XPrep Learning Solutions. She is passionate about both veterinary medicine and education, working to provide helpful information to veterinary teams and the general public. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature with her family and leading a Girl Scout troop.

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