Do It Yourself At Home Physical Exam for Your Dog

Know the normal color of your dogs mucous membranes.
Know the normal color of your dogs mucous membranes. | Source
A healthy eye.
A healthy eye. | Source

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 closer 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:

A healthy mouth. Do this every week and your dog will be used to it.
A healthy mouth. Do this every week and your dog will be used to it. | Source

DIY Exam for Your Dog

What to Examine
What You Might Find
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
Normal is 101.5 degrees fahrenheit
Overall Condition
Flaky or greasy skin, any bumps or excessive hair loss, severe weight change
Where to place the stethoscope to listen to the heart.
Where to place the stethoscope to listen to the heart. | Source

What Do I Need To Examine?

1. Eyes: I am not sure if the eyes really are the window to the soul—they definitely are 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 for further evaluation.

2. Ears: Lift up the ears and look at the skin before looking inside. You will know what normal is for your dog and they should look normal, not 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 cleaning them with vinegar but will probably need to take her into your regular clinic. Ear problems are annoying but not an emergency.

3. Mouth: 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.

Weight loss or gain should be evaluated every week.
Weight loss or gain should be evaluated every week. | Source

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 your 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, and of course no fleas. Your dog's temperature should be about 101.5 degrees and if it is over 103 or under 99 she is very sick and needs further care right away.

A weekly exam may not make your dog happy, but it will keep her healthier.
A weekly exam may not make your dog happy, but it will keep her healthier. | Source

Do I Still Need To Take My Dog To The Vet?

Even though 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. Not for vaccines or heartworm tests, as many of them suggest. 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.

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Comments 23 comments

sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 3 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

Very good advice for pet owners. We do need to check on our pets often, they can't tell us how they feel. We need to pay attention to any changes in their appearance and behavior as these are how they let us know that something is not right. I thank you and my "puppies" thank you for your wonderful advice! Voted up and useful! :)

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

The gums can definitely change color with age, which is why it is so much better for you to examine your dog every week. If you see a sudden change you can let your vet know, as to him it might appear normal, something that had happened gradually.

Thanks for the great comment.

hisandhers profile image

hisandhers 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Great hub! We always check for subtle things cues in humans that something isn't right, but it can be easy to forget that even a slight change in the behavior or appearance of your dog may be an indicator of a bigger problem.

I did have a question about the gums though- my vet said it was normal for dogs to experience some discoloration of the gums as they age- is this true for only certain breeds perhaps?

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Do you mean the conjunctiva (the red skin around the globe of the eye) becomes red when you tie him out? Is he pulling a lot on his leash when you are doing this?

I really do not understand why he would explain it as worms, but there is no way to tell for sure without an exam. If the dog is really irritated, is there another vet in your town where you could get a second opinion?

geetbhim profile image

geetbhim 3 years ago from Ludhiana India

Hi DrMark1961!

This hub is really useful for all the pet owner, voted up!

My dogs eyes becomes red when I tie him, he try to pull himself, is there any thing to worry my vet says he is having worms, and each time he use de-wormer, I am worried about that and try to leave him open not tied, can you suggest something, it is only 4 month old lab.


DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Good question! I think it is always the neck; maybe we are just used to seeing how loose the skin is at that point.

Sorry about your nail. Dumb rock.

Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

What a great hub! I think the early detection aspect pays dividends: The dog's condition isn't allowed to deteriorate further, resulting in less discomfort or pain for the dog and perhaps avoiding a more costly crisis intervention for the owner.

Regarding the hydration check...can you pinch the skin anywhere or is the back of the neck the preferred site. A word of warning to others: I broke a nail performing a hydration check on my pet rock.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Hi Rebecca thanks for sharing. It is always great to see you visiting!

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

VERY useful. Tweeted, pinned, shared all around.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Thanks Rhonda. I really want every pet owner to take advantage of this info, both to save on vet visits when not needed and to get in quicker when it is important.

RhondaHumphreys1 profile image

RhondaHumphreys1 4 years ago from Michigan

What a wealth of information. thank you for this hub!! Voted up,useful and interesting.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Hi Trisha if dog owners were to perform a physical exam at home every week they would be willing to take their dog to the veterinarian more often and when it was still early. For example, when intervetebral disc disease on a dachshund is caught early (the paws just dragging) it might respond to an anti-inflammatory injection. If the dog is not brought in until she is dragging her back legs around she is most likely going to respond only to surgery, if she responds at all. The same holds true for tumors, changes in the heart, abnormalities in the skin, etc.

Thank you for stopping by.

TrishaEJones profile image

TrishaEJones 4 years ago from Europe

This does seems useful, but the last thing you want is to find out you overlooked something, so I think the safest bet is to take it to veterinarian.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

I just published a hub on "Manipulating Your Puppy", giving more details on opening the mouth and getting the puppy ready for the physical exam. Hope it helps.

DoItForHer 4 years ago

I looked in Waffy's mouth and she had a tiny piece of bark or something stuck in her gums. Not a serious problem, but am sure she is now more comfy.

wetnosedogs profile image

wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

DrMark, That is good to know about the birds. Something else I didn't know. She was bringing them in to have a good snack in the living room. Oh, the joys. I will keep on eye on her outside though. She figured it out I don't want the poor things in the house and she is always nosing around outdoors for something. It's the lab mix in her.

In case you need an idea for a hub-how do you unclamp a dogs' jaw when they don't want to open it?

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Thanks wetnosedogs I always appreciate your comments. The dead birds always seem to get stuck in the upper palate, so if she does resume that habit make her open her mouth, even if she doesn´t like it!

wetnosedogs profile image

wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

Admirable hub. Great information here. My dogs are pretty good at behaving for me when they are out of sorts. They seem to know and want me to know when they need extra TLC. I have to chuckle though at opening my dogs mouth, especially my youngest. She would bring in dead birds. Then I started checking her mouth before she came in. That went ok for a while, she opened her mouth freely. Then one day she had enough and clamped that jaw shut and you know how that is. However we did get rid of the bringing in dead birds problem.

For her, it'd have to be a game because that girl can't sit still for nothing. The other two dogs would just eat up the extra attention.

Your hubs are always so informative. I am always learning something here.

I shared this.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Thanks for your comments. Please get the stethoscope. It is well worth the small cost and you might catch something early.

Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

Excellent hub and with great information for dog owners. I check their teeth, ears, eyes, skin but nothing else really as I didn't know how. But I will definitely give this a try.

Great hub + voted up!

natures47friend profile image

natures47friend 4 years ago from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand.

Very informative, well laid out with great photos. We used to have dogs and if I had known this then it would have been useful. They both lived to 17 odd years.

Awesome hub and voted up.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

That is really something you should get the dog used to from the time when she is a little puppy; if you can´t open the mouth at least roll up the gums and check the mucous membranes and outside of the teeth. I have seem foreign objects stuck in the mouth (upper palate) and if the owners were able to open the mouth regularly the problem could have been taken care of much sooner.

lovedoctor926 4 years ago

These are very good suggestions. Voted up useful. As far as opening my dog's mouth like that, he probably wouldn't let us do it, but we can try.

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