The degree of parasympathetic heart rate control, PC, was defined as the decrease in average heart period (RR interval) caused by the elimination of parasympathetically mediated influences on the heart while keeping sympathetic activity unchanged. By reviewing published results on the interaction of sympathetic and parasympathetic heart rate control, the prediction was made that PC should be directly proportional to VHP, the peak-to-peak variations in heart period caused by spontaneous respiration. In sevel chloralose/urethan-anesthetized dogs the vagi were reversibly blocked by cooling, and PC (the difference between average heart period before and after cooling) and VHP (without cooling) were determined under a variety of conditions that included a) increasing vagal activity by elevating the blood pressure b) sympathetic blockade, and c) parasympathetic blockade. The relationship between VHP and PC was linear with an average correlation coefficient of 0.969 +/- 0.024 (SD) and a PC-axis intercept of 15.2 +/- 25.9 ms. In each dog the correlation coefficient between VHP and PC was higher than between VHP and the average heart period (avg correlation coef: 0.914 +/- 0.044). These results suggest that the degree of respiratory sinus arrhythmia may be used as a noninvasive indicator of the degree of parasympathetic cardiac control.