Looking after your dog’s health
Dog health checklist:
Some dogs are better than others at covering up any aches and pains, so they might have to count on your vigilance to spot any unusual signs. Use the following checklist to complete a thorough examination of your dog, once a month, and you could help pick up any early signs of illness or injury.
Your dog’s body condition
Get to know your dog’s ideal body condition and check that they’re neither overweight nor underweight – a noticeable change in your dog's weight could be a sign of an underlying health condition, so if you spot this, pop in to see your vet for advice.
Being a responsible dog owner includes performing regular dog body condition score checks. Start by running your hands over your dog and use your fingertips to feel their ribs. Their ribs should be relatively easy to feel, with only a light covering of fat and, depending on their breed and coat length, you may be able to see them too. From above you should see a well-defined hourglass waist and, from the side, their belly should slope upwards from their chest towards their hind legs.
Your dog’s ears
Look into your dog’s ears and check for any redness, itchiness or unusual smells - ideally you’re looking for clean ears with no thick brown or green waxy discharge. Some breeds are more prone to ear problems than others; long-eared breeds need regular TLC to keep their ears clean while thinly haired dogs (or those with white-tipped ears) are vulnerable to sunburn. When cleaning your dog’s ears, bear in mind that it’s a very delicate and sensitive part of their body so only use special ear cleaners recommended by your vet and avoid putting cotton buds anywhere near the ear canal, as dogs’ eardrums can be easily perforated. To prevent sunburn, which could lead to skin cancer, dab some sunscreen lotion onto your dog’s ears on hot or sunny days.
If your dog’s always shaking their head, they start to hold their head to one side or they rub one side of their face along the carpet or grass it could mean that they have a dog ear infection in which case we recommend you take them along to your vet for a thorough ear examination.
Your dog’s eyes
When you look into your dog’s eyes you want them to be bright and clear with no signs of redness, soreness or running. Gently point their head towards (but not directly into) a light and see how they react. If your dog squints or shies away, it could imply the light is hurting their eyes. Look out too if you notice them bumping into things all of a sudden. If you spot any dog eye problems, we recommend you get their eyes checked over by your vet.
Your dog’s nose
When you think of a healthy dog you probably imagine they’ve got a cold wet nose, but that’s not a true sign of dog health. What you’re actually looking out for with their noses is a crust-free surface with no runny or thickened discharges or bleeding. You may notice dogs with pink noses as some dogs noses change colour - from black to pink and back again. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about, but if there’s anything about your dog’s nose that does concern you, get your vet to take a look.
Your dog’s mouth
No one wants their beloved dog to have smelly breath, but bad breath in dogs can mean more than just a social problem - it can actually be a sign of a dog illness, such as an underlying digestive or kidney problem. More often than not,a dog with bad breath is down to poor oral hygiene. Bacterial plaque on their teeth and gums can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, and more serious health problems. When you’re looking into your dog’s mouth, their teeth should be white/cream with no excess tartar (thick brown build-up) and their gums should be a healthy pink or black, depending on their skin pigmentation, but never red, swollen or bleeding. Look out for signs of dog mouth problems like dropping food, being reluctant to eat, excess salivation, clawing at the mouth or bad breath and always ask your vet to check your dog’s teeth every time you visit. Ideally get your dog used to having their teeth brushed twice a day with special doggy toothpaste.
Your dog’s skin and coat
Healthy dogs’ skin can be pink or black, depending on the pigments common to that particular breed or your dog’s individual genetic history. To check for any dog skin problems spread their fur with your fingers and check for any crusting, itching, scaling, black or white spots and infected or hot and inflamed areas.
A dog's coat should be thick (depending on their breed) and shiny with no broken hairs, bald patches, dandruff or fleas. A dog moulting is perfectly natural and happens all year round but expect more than usual in the summer and autumn known as moulting season. For their skin and coat health, and your carpets, you’ll need to groom your dog regularly and invest in a good vacuum cleaner! Non shedding dogs like poodle breeds still need regular grooming even thought they don’t shed.
Your dog’s paws and nails
Extreme weather can cause dog paw problems take its toll on your dog’s paw pads, so check them regularly for damage. For example, in the winter their pads can get cut by ice. It’s a good idea to clean your dog’s paws after winter walks as your pet may pick up anti-freeze or gritting salt on their pads, which is toxic to them if they ingest it by licking themselves clean. In the summer there’s a different hazard – the sun. Hot surfaces, including tarmac, can burn your dog’s paw pads so walk on grass wherever possible.
When checking your dog’s nails, you’re looking for them to be smooth and fully formed. They can be black or white, but if you notice any broken or missing nails, or are aware that your dog’s nails are roughened and flake or break easily, you should get them looked at by your vet. Don’t forget to check your dog’s dewclaws too - you’ll find them on the inside of their leg just above the paw. Some dogs only have them on their front legs; some have them on all four while others don’t have any dewclaws at all.
Your dog’s digestion
Dogs are notoriously keen on their food and are unlikely to say no if they’re fed more than once by a different family member! Only one person in the house should be responsible for feeding your dog (even if they delegate occasionally) and that same person should also keep an eye on your dog's appetite and digestion. For example, if your dog needs a change of diet, this needs to be done gradually and in a controlled way over 7-10 days with careful attention being paid as to how it affects their appetite.
Occasional eating and regurgitation of grass can be normal, but other than that you want to take notice of any vomiting, reluctance to eat or difficulty when trying to eat food.
Part of being a responsible dog owner is getting familiar with their number twos – this means checking their colour and texture. Stools should be passed without straining and should be a consistent brown colour with a solid texture. You shouldn’t see any blood or mucus (clear jelly) and any signs of incontinence should be taken seriously. If you notice any changes in your dog’s appetite or digestion this could be perfectly normal, but it could also indicate an underlying medical problem in your dog’s health, so it’s worth mentioning to your vet.
Your dog’s thirsty
If your dog suddenly becomes very thirsty or starts drinking a lot more water than usual without excessive exercise, it could be a symptom of an underlying medical problem or an issue with your dog’s health and you should speak to your vet about it.
Your dog’s mobility
Older dogs can get stiffer joints and their mobility can suffer a lot more. As part of your monthly check, keep an eye on their movement, particularly in damp cold weather or after long periods of lying down or sitting. If you spot signs of stiffness in dogs, make some small changes to your dog’s lifestyle, such as breaking up long car journeys with a stretch of their legs, and speak to your vet about joint support and possible diet changes that might help them feel more supple.
Your dog’s attitude
You’ll know your dog better than anyone, so you’re bound to be the first to pick up on a change of attitude. You can tell a lot from your dog’s body language – for example, if you notice that their head and tail are down and they seem quieter and less playful than usual, it could 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 in your dog’s health, always ask your vet for advice.
Following the tips in this dog health checklist should help you to keep your dog healthy, so that you’re both as happy as can be together!