Do-It-Yourself Physical Exam for Your Dog (5 Things to Check at Home)
Why Examine Your Dog At Home?
If every dog owner were to learn what was involved in a physical exam, they would watch their dogs more closely and take them in for an examination by their veterinarian as soon as necessary. Veterinarians wouldn't expect to make their living off of giving vaccines and heartworm tests, owners could pay for what was necessary, and the pets would benefit by being taken care of when needed.
I don't expect every dog owner to be an expert at a physical exam, but here are a few things you can check at home and simple steps you can follow to decide when it is time to take your dog in for further treatment. This physical exam will not take you more than five minutes, and you should do it every week.
DIY Exam for Your Dog
What to Examine
What to Watch Out For
Pupils dilated, different sizes, or eyes sunken back
Inside of ear red, yellow, flaky, stinky, with excessive wax or pus
Ulcers, foreign bodies, or problems with the teeth
Abnormal lung sounds, abnormal heart sounds or beat
Swellings, lumps, or bumps
Anything over 103˚F or under 99˚F (101.5˚F is the normal temp for dogs)
Flaky or greasy skin, any bumps or excessive hair loss, severe weight change
What Do I Need To Examine?
I am not sure if the eyes really are the window to the soul, but they are definitely the window to a dog's overall status. You do not need to purchase an expensive ophthalmoscope to evaluate your dog's eyes; just look at the globe, shine a flashlight into the eyes to see if the pupils are responsive and the same size, see if the eyes seem sunken or the skin under them is pale or discolored. If you notice any abnormalities at all, you should take her to the vet for further evaluation.
Lift up the ears and look at the skin before looking inside (you will know what normal is for your dog). The ears should not look yellow, swollen, dry and flaky, etc. Look into the ear canal without trying to put anything inside.
If the ears smell, have a discharge, or are discolored, you can try wiping them with diluted vinegar if no other ear issues exist, but you will probably need to take her into your regular clinic. Ear problems are annoying but usually not an emergency.
This is an important part of the home physical examination that you really should perform often enough for you and your dog to be comfortable. Your dog should be used to you opening her mouth and, since you are not going to hurt her, will not object.
The gums should be pink and moist. The teeth should be white and free from tartar. If you notice any changes to the teeth, it is not an emergency, but if the gums are not pink, you need to get her to the vet right away.
How Do I Finish the Exam?
4. Chest and Abdomen
All dog owners should purchase a stethoscope. They are inexpensive and only take a few minutes to get used to. Listen to your dog until you find the heart and count how many times it is beating per minute. (A big dog might have a heartbeat of 60 times per minute, a little dog at 160, so you should check this and write it down every time you examine your dog, while she is healthy.)
Find the artery on the inside of the back leg and press down on it to count her pulse. The number should be the same as the heart beat. If either of these is not what you are used to, or if her pulse is so weak that you cannot find it, go ahead and get her in to be checked.
While you are listening to her heart and feeling her pulse, you can also run your hands over her belly and feel for any lumps or abnormal swellings. If your dog is in pain when you push on her belly, something is wrong and you need to get her into a vet as soon as possible.
5. Temperature and Overall Condition
I put this down as number five because you will be checking the temperature when you get to the back end of the dog, but you need to be evaluating the overall condition as you go along.
- The nose should be moist and clean (never running and never flaky).
- The skin should be dry but not flaky.
- The hydration status should be normal (if you pull up on the skin and it goes back slowly, your dog is dehydrated).
- There should not be any unusual lumps or bumps.
- There should be no fleas.
- Your dog's temperature should be about 101.5˚F. If it is over 103 or under 99, she is very sick and needs further care right away.
Do I Still Need to Take My Dog to the Vet?
Yes. Even if you evaluate your dog's health at home, you should still take her in once a year and have her checked out by your veterinarian. You should take her in because she ages so much more rapidly than we do and may present subtle changes that your veterinarian can recognize.
As your dog ages, she may develop mild changes in the joints, early heart disease, mild periodontal disease, or many other changes that you might not notice in a home exam but can be identified in the clinic. If you catch a problem early, she may not need to start treatment and may respond to alternatives (like diet changes) that will make her more comfortable and help her live longer.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
My dog always has yellow stuff running out of one side of his nose. When I looked in his mouth I found a big hole. What should I do?
From what you are describing your dog has an oro-nasal fistula. You can see a picture of what this looks like at https://pethelpful.com/dogs/dog-runny-nose
You will still need to take your dog to the vet. The discharge from his nose is probably from a long standing infection that will need to be treated. Your vet can discuss closing the fistula with you.
© 2012 Dr Mark