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Do-It-Yourself Physical Exam for Your Dog

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

Know the normal color of your dogs mucous membranes.

Know the normal color of your dogs mucous membranes.

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.

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.

DIY Exam for Your Dog

What to ExamineWhat 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)

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.

Five Things You Need to Examine

Here is what to examine on your dog.

1. Eyes

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 if 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.

2. Ears

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, flaky, etc. Look into the ear canal without trying to put anything inside.

If the ears smell, have 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 to your regular clinic. Ear problems are annoying but usually 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.

How Do I Finish the Exam?

Here is how you should end the exam of your dog.

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.)

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Read More From Pethelpful

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 heartbeat. 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 to 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.
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.

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 any 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

Question: 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?

Answer: From what you are describing your dog has an oro-nasal fistula. You can see a picture of what this looks like at

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


Sandy on October 25, 2018:

My dog is a small dog and has many warts. Is there a home remedy instead of surgery. She has approx. 20.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on July 21, 2013:

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! :)

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 28, 2012:

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 from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on November 26, 2012:

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?

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 26, 2012:

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?

sangeeta verma from Ludhiana India on November 25, 2012:

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.


Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 24, 2012:

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 on November 24, 2012:

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.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 23, 2012:

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

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on November 23, 2012:

VERY useful. Tweeted, pinned, shared all around.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 17, 2012:

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.

Rhonda Humphreys from Michigan on September 17, 2012:

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

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 07, 2012:

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 from Europe on July 07, 2012:

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.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 24, 2012:

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 on June 24, 2012:

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 from Alabama on June 24, 2012:

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?

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 24, 2012:

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 from Alabama on June 24, 2012:

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.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 24, 2012:

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

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on June 24, 2012:

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 from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand. on June 24, 2012:

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.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 23, 2012:

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 on June 23, 2012:

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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