The quicker a problem is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be. If your dog’s coat requires daily grooming, this is an ideal time to give him a quick check; but even they don’t require regular grooming, try to get into the habit of running your hands over them to be aware of anything unusual that wasn’t there before. Here are some tips for a five minute home health check for your dog:
Check toenails for tears or splitting; toes should not be so long that they are pushing upwards as this can put strain on tendons and ligaments. Grass seeds can get stuck between toes so it’s important to check. Pads should also be checked for cracking.
It’s the area we all dread but it must be done! It should be clean and free of soiling, especially if you have a breed prone to matting. Look out for any tiny white segments (like small rice grains) around the rear end; they are a sign of worm infestation. If you have an un-spayed females should be monitored for any foul-smelling discharge.
Coat and skin
Whatever the type of coat your dog has, it should look and feel healthy, and be free of matting or soiling, nor should it show areas of hair loss. Part the hairs and look at the skin underneath; it should move easily over the underlying tissue, feel warm to the touch, not cold and shouldn’t show any flakes. Check of itchy, red patches if you’ve noticed your dog licking, chewing or biting certain areas.
Run both hands along the sides of your dog’s body; you should just be able to feel his ribs under a thin layer of fat. Weigh him once a month to monitor weight loss or gain; this will also be beneficial when it comes to working out worming doses.
Look inside the ear flaps and down into the ear canal, both should appear clean and pale pink in colour, not sore and red. Watch out for nasty-smelling wax or yeast discharges; if your dog scratches or paws a lot at his ears or frequently shakes his head in irritation they may have an ear infection.
Eyes should be bright and clear, without any cloudiness of the cornea. A tiny amount of ‘sleep’ in the corners of the eyes is normal but pus-like discharge is not. Tear staining of the fur at the corner of the eye can be a sign of blocked tear ducts.
The gums should be salmon-pink, but may change colour if your dog is unwell. Paleness can be due to anaemia, a blue tinge could be a circulatory problem, while yellow is a sign of jaundice. There should be no soreness or bleeding. Press the gum with the ball of a finger; it should go pale briefly, returning to its normal colour again within two to three seconds. Open the mouth and take a good look at all the teeth. They should be whiteish-yellow and free of calculus build-up. The breath may smell doggy, but shouldn’t be offensive. Although some breeds drool a lot, your dog shouldn’t be salivating or panting excessively.
Contrary to the old wives tale a cold, wet nose isn’t necessarily a sign of good health! Watch out for crusty deposits, clear or pus-coloured discharges, and in particular bleeding.
Lumps and bumps
These may appear anywhere on the head, limbs or body. Existing ones should be closely monitored for any change in size or feel (soft, firm, hard or lumpy). Measure them to provide a more accurate guide rather than just trying to gauge it by eye. It’s also worth observe your dog working, playing, exercising, relieving himself, eating and drinking, to see if the issue affects his routine.
Being aware of your dog’s health and changes is part of being a responsible owner. Changes in temperament, such as becoming more introverted, irritable or even snappy can be a sign of a physical problem. It’s a good idea to make a note of all the changes that have occurred with your dog and how long each has persisted for when you visit your vet so you don’t forget anything important.