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General dog health tips

Prevention is always better than cure and your dog's health and wellbeing is no exception! Every month you should check your dog carefully and systematically for possible early signs of illness. Just remember that some dogs are very good at hiding ill health or pain, so you need to be vigilant.

Health check list:

  • Body condition
    - You need to become familiar with performing regular body condition scores on your dog. When you run your hands over your dog, you should be able to feel and (depending on breed/coat length) sometimes see their ribs relatively easily, with only a slight covering of fat. There should be a well-defined hourglass waist when viewed from above and the belly should slope upwards from the chest towards the hindlegs. Performing regular body condition score checks on your dog, will enable you to notice any changes that may occur over time and alert you to possible weight loss or gain, which can sometimes indicate underlying health problems and should always be checked by your vet.
  • Ears
    - Your dog's ears should always be clean and without any thick brown or green waxy discharge. There should also be no redness, itchiness or offensive smells. For thinly-haired dogs or those with white-tipped ears, consider using sunscreen lotion to prevent sunburn (which can lead to skin cancer). Some long-eared breeds in particular benefit from regular ear cleaning with special ear cleaners as recommended by your vet. The ear is a very delicate and sensitive area and as the eardrum can be easily perforated it is never recommended to probe with cotton buds into the ear canal. If your dog starts to hold his head to one side; rubs one side of his face along the carpet/grass or is always shaking his head, we recommend you take him to your vet for a thorough ear examination.
  • Eyes
    - Eyes should be bright and clear, with no signs of runniness, redness or soreness. Your dog should not squint or shy away from light (as though looking at the light hurts the eyes) and if you notice him bumping into objects all of a sudden, we recommend you take him to your vet for a thorough exam.
  • Nose
    - There should be no crusting on the surface of a healthy nose, nor should there be any runny or thickened discharges or bleeding. Noses can change from black to pink and back again, but it is always worth asking your vet if you have any concerns. It is also worth noting that a healthy nose doesn’t have to be very cold or wet!
  • Mouth
    - Bad breath is not just a cosmetic or social problem - we all know dogs with bad breath can be less than pleasant company! Bad breath can indicate an underlying digestive or kidney problem. Or more commonly it is an indication of bacterial overgrowth/plaque on the teeth/gums, which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. This in turn can potentially lead to organ problems if left untreated. Teeth should be white/cream with no excess tartar, which looks thick and brown. The gums should be a healthy pink (or black depending on skin pigmentation) and not red, swollen or bleeding. Look out for dropping food, reluctance to eat, excess salivation, clawing at the mouth or bad breath as a sign of mouth problems. You should always ask your vet to check your dog’s teeth every time you visit and ideally get your dog used to having his teeth brushed twice a day with special doggy toothpaste.
  • Skin & Coat
    - Your dog's skin can be pink or black depending on the pigments common to that breed or the individual genetic history. It should be free of crusting; itching, scaling, black/white spots and infected or hot and inflamed areas. The coat should be thick (depending on breed) and shiny with no broken hairs, bald patches, dandruff or fleas. Hair can be shed all year round, but it normally sheds the most in summer and autumn - so you'll need to regularly groom the coat and invest in a good vacuum cleaner! Some breeds like poodles don't shed, although they do need regular grooming.
  • Nails
    - These should be smooth and can either be white or black. Nails that are roughened and flake or break easily may require veterinary attention. When checking your dog’s nails, don’t forget to check their dew-claws. These are not always present, but can be found on the inside of the leg just above the paw. Some dogs have them on the front legs only; some have them front and back; and some don't have any at all!
  • Digestion
    - Keep an eye on your dog's appetite and always know what you are feeding and what everyone else in the family may be feeding! Make any dietary changes a gradual process, normally over the course of 7-10 days. Occasional eating and regurgitation of grass can be normal, but generally there should be no vomiting, reluctance to eat or difficulty experienced when eating food. Stools should be a consistent brown colour of solid texture, without any straining, blood or mucus (clear jelly) passed. If you notice any changes in appetite or digestion this may be normal, but it could also indicate an underlying medical problem, so it is always recommended to seek veterinary advice.
  • Thirst
    - If your dog suddenly becomes very thirsty or starts drinking more than usual without excessive exercise, it can indicate an underlying medical problem and you should consult your vet.
  • Attitude
    - Your dog's general attitude to life can tell you a lot! If you notice the head and tail are down and he seems quieter and less playful than usual, it can mean your dog is feeling under the weather. Poorly dogs can also skulk in corners, dig holes in the garden to lie in or sometimes appear unusually aggressive for no apparent reason. If you're worried or notice any unusual changes, always ask your vet for advice.
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