The concept of basal metabolic rate (BMR) was developed to compare the metabolic rate of animals and initially was important in a clinical context as a means of determining thyroid status of humans. It was also important in defining the allometric relationship between body mass and metabolic rate of mammals. The BMR of mammals varies with body mass, with the same allometric exponent as field metabolic rate and with many physiological and biochemical rates. The membrane pacemaker theory proposes that the fatty acid composition of membrane bilayers is an important determinant of a species BMR. In both mammals and birds, membrane polyunsaturation decreases and monounsaturation increases with increasing body mass and a decrease in mass-specific BMR. The secretion and production of thyroid hormones in mammals are related to body mass, with the allometric exponent similar to BMR; yet there is no body size-related variation in either total or free concentrations of thyroid hormones in plasma of mammals. It is suggested that in different-sized mammals, the secretion/production of thyroid hormones is a result of BMR differences rather than their cause. BMR is a useful concept in some situations but not in others.