You don’t have to be a veterinarian to give your dog a medical checkup that could save his life and shorten unnecessary suffering. Since no one knows your dog as well as you, the medical checkup you give your dog can provide critical health information. You can notice a change in your pet’s behavior, like sudden excessive eating, thirst or lethargy. Giving your dog a medical checkup can alert you to new lumps or strange odors. Many dog owners have implemented a weekly medical checkup into their petting time, consequently catching medical problems early. Here are the tips for giving your dog a medical checkup from head to tail.
Give Your Dog’s Eyes a Medical Checkup
Some dog breeds produce excessive tearing of the eyes. When giving your dog’s eyes a medical checkup, consider the amount of tearing in relation to what’s normal for your dog. Allergic reactions can cause excessive tearing, but so can a more serious condition. A medical checkup of your dog’s eyes can reveal a corneal legion. This can happen when your dog over-scratches his watery eyes. A corneal legion can be painful and may lead to complications and even blindness. Give your dog’s eyes a medical check up to determine the cause of excessive watering, thick discharge, or lumps of secretion at the corner of the eye. Begin by washing your dog’s eye with a saline solution. If the eye continues to seem irritated, continue the medical checkup in the sun. If your dog squints excessively, take him to the vet. It’s a good idea to cover his head to prevent the pupil from dilating in the sun and causing additional pain in case of a corneal legion.
Give Your Dog’s Ears a Medical Checkup
Dog ears are more likely to collect dirt than human ears and are, therefore, at a higher risk of infection. This risk is even higher in dog breeds with long, drooping ears. To give your dog’s ears a medical checkup begin by smelling them. You should learn to recognize the healthy scent of your dog’s ears. If the scent is unpleasant, this could be a sign of bacterial or fungal infection. Incorporate cleaning the ears into your medical checkup. Don’t use a Q-tip, for fear of over-penetration. Instead, use a moist paper towel wrapped around your finger. If you see any redness or little brown flecks, these too can be signs of an infection. Even if your dog isn’t scratching his ear much, the medical checkup can alert you that something with his ears is beginning to move away from health.
Give Your Dog’s Teeth a Medical Checkup
Get your dog used to having your fingers in his mouth. Feel your way around the gums for any points of tenderness. Most dog gum color is pink. Any variation from the normal color can indicate health problems such as insufficient circulation, anemia or hydration issues. Next continue the medical checkup by looking at your dog’s teeth. You may have to do this in segments as your dog keeps closing his mouth, but that’s just fine. Look for any black spots on the teeth that may indicate severe tartar or even painful cavities. If your dog develops low appetite suddenly or will only eat soft foods, this may be an indication of dental health problems. (Note: dogs should have professional teeth cleaning every other year. You can find affordable vets for cleaning your dog’s teeth by starting your search with the Humane Society. Here’s how I did it.)
Give Your Dog’s Spine and Lungs a Medical Checkup
Just moving your fingers gently over your dog’s spine can lead you to discover sore spots. To give your dog a medical checkup of his spine, have him sit with his back to you. Then work your fingers in a slow massage from his neck down to his tail. See if the dog flinches at all. Continue the medical checkup by passing your hands along your dog’s ribs and confirm that she is breathing evenly at 20 to 40 breaths a minute, and, once more, showing no signs of discomfort. A medical checkup of the spine can help you discover a ruptured disc or painful inflammation in the spine. A medical checkup of the ribs can help you discover abnormalities in breathing or irregular heart rate.
Give Your Dog’s Fur a Medical Checkup
Dog fur can become painfully tangled, or it can trap thorns and twigs that can work their way down to the skin, causing pain. Give your dog a medical checkup all over his body, feeling for knots or foreign bodies in the fur. Left untreated, knots can spread and limit your dog’s movements by causing pain in certain positions. Knots can be removed with dog clippers, or with a sharp pair of small scissors. Always keep the side of the blade of the scissors against your dog’s skin, cutting at a flat angle to your dog’s body. Work in a well illuminated area and take your time.
Give Your Dog’s Skin a Medical Checkup
At the same time or immediately after giving your dog’s fur a medical checkup, do the same for his skin. Look for any sore spots or lumps. Though not every lump should give you cause for alarm, lumps should be monitored. In older dogs chances of cancer are higher and the dog should be taken to a vet immediately. In younger dogs, many lumps are nothing more than balls of fat deposits. These can be easily tested by your vet for malignancy. A needle extracts fluid from the lump, and the fluid is then examined under a microscope.
Give Your Dog’s Paws a Medical Checkup
Dog paws are especially sensitive to debris that can collect inside the hollow cavity of the paw. To give your dog’s paws a medical checkup begin by slipping your finger between his paw cushions and feeling for any small stones, twigs or debris that might have glued to the fur with tree sap. Next, feel between the toes themselves, to search for any twigs or other sharp objects that may have become lodged there. Left untreated, a small pricking twig can work its way deeper and cause pain, infection, and long-term obsessive licking (Lick Granuloma).
Give Your Dog’s Stomach a Medical Checkup
Feel your dog’s stomach for any signs of tenderness. Keep your hand over the stomach for 30 seconds during the medical checkup to feel for movement in the stomach. Normal bowel operations will lead to movement or noise. You can lean your ear over your dog’s stomach and have a listen. It’s a good idea to check out your dog’s stool, to make sure it indicates healthy bowel movements.
Give Your Dog’s Anus and Genitals a Medical Checkup
It’s not as bad as it sounds, and it is important. Make sure that your dog’s anus is always clean. In most dog breeds some fur trimming is necessary to prevent feces from clinging to fur and creating irritation or even blockages. Use pet fur clippers to trim the fur safely without cutting the soft tissue around the anus. Make sure that the anus is not inflamed or red. In female dogs continue the medical checkup around the vulva. Just make sure no feces has clung to the fur there, and look for any signs of redness. If your dog is licking herself frequently, this could be a sign of a urinary tract infection or a yeast infection. For males, make sure no stool or debris has clung to the genitals.
If at any time you suspect a health issue in your dog, take his temperature with a well-lubricated thermometer slipped one inch into the anus. Normal dog temperature reading is between 100.4 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything higher can indicate infection; although illness is still possible without a fever. Getting to know your dog through regular medical checkups will equip you to recognize health problems as they first appear. Your dog will be healthier for it, and suffer far less pain and discomfort. Finally, discover steps for easy grooming every dog needs, as well as tips for healthy dog paws.
Source: The author has many years experience raising dogs and is currently the owner of 4 rescue dogs. In addition, many ideas for this article were inspired by the wonderful dog magazine, Dogs USA, 25th Anniversary Edition, “Head to Tail”, pp. 93-99.