Do-It-Yourself At-Home Dog Checkup

By Dr. Becker DVM

Dr. Shea Cox of Bridge Veterinary Services in northern California, writing for The Bark, offers a do-it-yourself (DIY) dog checkup in seven simple steps, to which I added a few notes of my own:1Do-It-Yourself At-Home Dog Checkup

Dr. Shea Cox of Bridge Veterinary Services in northern California, writing for The Bark, offers a do-it-yourself (DIY) dog checkup in seven simple steps, to which I added a few notes of my own:1

 

  1. Your dog’s temperature should be between 100 and 102.5 degrees F. Take her temp using a digital rectal thermometer by lubricating the end with a bit of coconut oil and gently inserting it about 1 inch into the rectum of a small dog, and about 2 inches if your dog is larger. If it doesn’t slide in easily, don’t force it.
  2. You can check your dog’s pulse by locating the femoral artery inside her thigh. Use your fingers to gently feel for the roll of the artery and a pulse. Then just as you would when taking your own pulse, count the number of beats over a 15-second period and multiply that number by 4.

Dogs’ heart rates cover a wide range, but 80 to 120 beats per minute is considered normal for most dogs. Larger breeds, especially canine athletes, sporting and working dogs, tend to have slower pulses than small breeds and puppies.

 

  1. Starting at your dog’s head, take a careful look at his nose, which should be smooth and soft to the touch, and clean. (It doesn’t necessarily have to be cool or moist, by the way. Healthy dogs sometimes have dry, warm noses.)

 

Next, check his eyes, which should be bright, moist and clear, with little or no discharge. The pupils should be the same size, and the whites should be white (not yellow, pink or red), with just a few visible blood vessels. His ears should be clean, dry and odorless (or nearly).

His gums should be a healthy pink color and moist. There should be no lesions or swelling in his mouth, and no bad breath. His teeth should be free of tartar and plaque, the tongue clear and the roof of the mouth clean and free from debris.

  1. Moving down to your dog’s chest, notice how he breathes. His chest should move in and out without effort, and the breaths should be rhythmic. Unless he’s panting or is a flat-faced (brachycephalic) breed, his breathing shouldn’t be audible.

The normal resting respiration rate for dogs is 15 to 30 breaths per minute. If your dog is sleeping, his rate will be closer to 15 breaths per minute. If he’s excited or anxious, it will be on the higher end of the range. Small dogs tend to have faster breathing while at rest than larger dogs.

  1. Next, take a careful look at your dog’s skin, which is actually the largest organ of her body and can give a pretty accurate picture of her overall health. Her skin should be soft and smooth with no lesions.

There should be no redness or rough spots, and very little odor. Her coat should be soft, shiny and smooth (unless she’s a wirehaired breed).

  1. Check to insure your dog is well-hydrated. You can do this by gently lifting the skin of her neck or back into a “tent” and releasing it. It should quickly return to its normal position. If it returns slowly or remains in the shape of a tent, she may need more drinking water or moisture in her diet.

Now to the torso. Put your hands just behind her ribs and gently press on her tummy. If she’s just had a meal, you may feel a fullness on the left side of her stomach just under the ribs, which is normal.

Evaluate her muscle tone and weight. If you feel she’s carrying extra weight, you’ll want to address the issue with more exercise and feeding a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet.

Check for heat and swelling over her body, and test the range of motion of the joints, which should move freely, without resistance or difficulty.

Moving your hands over her body toward the rear, feel for lumps, bumps and masses; signs of discomfort; or distention of the belly that may warrant further investigation by your veterinarian.

If you notice an unusual lump, bump or wart during your DIY exam and you don’t think it warrants immediate attention, it’s a good idea to start a body chart for your pet. Draw a simple diagram of her body and note whatever you’ve found in the appropriate place on the drawing.

Be sure to include exactly where it was found, when you found it, how big it is and whether you’ve noticed it changing. If you notice a lump that has grown bigger or changed appearance a day or two later, make an appointment with your vet.

Finally, examine her toes, nails and the pads of her feet. There should be no debris between the toes, the nails should be clipped to a comfortable length and the pads of her feet should contain no cuts or sores.

I need Diane’s lotion bar please!

If you examine your dog regularly, you’ll quickly become familiar with what’s normal and what’s not. Performing regular at-home exams is a simple and very effective way for you to keep a close eye on your canine companion’s health.

 

Vet Checks- What’s is all about?

By Dr. Becker and Diane Weinmann

dog with vet
dog with vet

When you take your dog or cat for a wellness exam, do you have any idea what your veterinarian is looking for as he or she pokes, pushes, prods and palpates your pet? My educated guess is, probably not! I know I don’t have a clue….but I do ask and you should too!

While some vets are quite forthcoming and explain what they’re doing and why each step of the way, others are considerably less communicative.

Of course, some clients aren’t especially interested in the details of their pet’s physical exam. But if you’re curious about what your vet is doing and learning about your pet during an exam, I encourage you to ask questions. If an answer you receive is confusing, ask for clarification and don’t feel shy about asking what is normal and what is not!

Your Dog’s or Cat’s Physical Exam

The physical exam is a critically important part your pet’s wellness checkup. All body systems should be assessed to check for any abnormalities.

During the physical exam your vet should also check a pet’s weight, muscle tone, and joint range of motion, and measure the animal’s current status against past exam findings as well as norms for the breed, age, and gender.

The following chart provided by dvm360 with Dr Becker’s additions, may help you better prepare for your next veterinary wellness visit with your dog or cat.1

Body Part What Your Vet Is Looking For
Mouth ·         Signs of periodontal disease in teeth and gums

·         Bad breath

·         Tooth wear

·         Fractured teeth

·         Plaque accumulation patterns

·         Tongue coat and color

·         Gum hydration and color

Neck ·         Irregularities or changes in size of lymph nodes and thyroid gland

·         Cervical range of motion

·         Muscle tension from collar

Eyes ·         Signs of disease

·         Discharge

·         Squinting or tearing

·         Abnormal movement or reaction to light

·         Clouding of the lens

·         Iris health and irregularities

·         Eyelid, corneal, and sclera (the white part) health

·         Changes in vision

Ears ·         Signs of an ear infection (pain, tenderness, redness, swelling, yeasty smell, discharge)

·         Excessive wax

·         Color of the pinna (flappy part)

Heart ·         Weak or abnormal heart sounds

·         An abnormally fast or slow rate

·         Irregular beats or murmurs

Lungs ·         Wheezing, crackling, or other abnormal lung sounds
Abdomen ·         Any irregularities in the margins of the liver, spleen, kidneys, and bladder

·         Masses or tumors

·         Thickened intestines

·         Mammary chain abnormalities

Base of tail ·         Abnormalities in anal glands

·         Fecal mats

·         Evidence of soft stools

·         Growths

·         Parasites, like tapeworm segments and flea dirt

Legs ·         Limited range of motion in all limbs

·         Signs of pain or discomfort

·         Grinding sound in joints

Coat, skin, and nails ·         Poor overall quality of coat

·         Lumps and bumps

·         Warts and skin tags

·         Rashes

·         Areas of hair loss or excessive dander

·         Matted or saliva-stained fur

·         Fleas or ticks

·         Calluses

·         Ingrown, overgrown, or flakey toenails

·         Dehydration

Holistic vets will also palpate the vertebrae down the spinal column, assess joint range of motion and health, assess the body according to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), ayurvedic or homeopathic principles, and assess pain or guarding behaviors as well as areas of tension, heat or cold.

This list is very comprehensive and most, if not all, of these areas are checked when I perform an acupressure session. The outcome or findings from checking these areas on your pet will help determine how to proceed with the acupressure session and what points will require work.

Other Tests Commonly Performed During Wellness Checkups

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • The CBC gives information on hydration status, anemia, infection, the blood’s clotting ability, and the ability of your pet’s immune system to respond. It provides a detailed look at the blood itself and reveals problems such as anemia or the presence of infection.
  • Urinalysis
  • The urinalysis is used to assess the overall health of your pet’s urinary tract, including the kidneys and bladder, and to check for other health indicators such as glucose regulation and liver function. A complete urinalysis measures the function of the nephrons in the kidneys and gives information about your pet’s metabolic and fluid status. The test is also used to evaluate substances in the urine that might indicate an underlying disease process.
  • Thyroid screenDecreased levels of thyroid hormones often signal hypothyroidism in dogs, while high levels indicate hyperthyroidism, commonly diagnosed in cats. Performing a complete thyroid panel is important, as measuring just a T4 may not reveal an underlying thyroid problem.
  • The thyroid screen helps diagnose thyroid disease, which is an especially common ailment in older cats and dogs. T4 (thyroxine) is a thyroid hormone.
  • Glaucoma screen
  • Glaucoma testing measures the pressure in each of your pet’s eyes quickly and painlessly. This is an important test because undetected glaucoma can lead to permanent blindness.
  • Retinal exam
  • This eye test is used to check for evidence of problems deep in the eyes by viewing the structures beyond the lens, through the pupil. The retinas should be healthy and there should be no signs of bleeding, degeneration, inflammation, or detachment.
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • This test checks your pet for hypertension (high blood pressure). Like humans, pets with hypertension are at significantly increased risk for kidney problems, heart disease, blindness, and other complications. Cats are especially prone to high blood pressure.
  • X-raysAbdominal x-rays can be used to assess the liver and kidneys. X-rays best define problems within the skeletal system, such as arthritis and bone tumors.
  • Since many vet clinics don’t have digital x-ray equipment and their x-rays still involve radiation, I don’t typically order them unless the results of other tests indicate a potential problem requiring further investigation.
  • Radiographs (x-rays), if indicated, can also be helpful as part of a pet wellness checkup. If your vet finds abnormalities on physical examination, digital x-rays may be needed to identify the underlying problem. Chest x-rays, for example, can reveal certain things about the heart and lungs.
  • SNAP 4Dx Plus or Accuplex4 (dogs)
  • These tests check for tick-borne illnesses, including heartworm, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis. They should be done once or even twice a year for dogs living in areas where ticks are a problem.
  • FeLV/FIV testing (cats)These viruses can suppress the immune system and lead to secondary infections, anemia, and even cancer. Early identification of viral positive cats gives you the best chance of managing infections optimally. As an involved, hands-on guardian, you are in the best position to make informed decisions for your pet — decisions that may not always agree 100 percent with the recommendations of your veterinarian.
  • Let me give you an example: I went to my vet for my husky, Neko. He was due for his shots and I was prepared to tell the vet what I wanted and why. They seemed surprised but understood that I was prepared for this visit. I discussed the Lepto shot at length with the vet talking about the pros and cons and the how my dog could come into contact with the disease. After careful consideration I decided that they vet’s responses to my questions and the type of area I frequently walked my dog necessitated him receiving the shot. After I agreed and he received the shot I found out that the shot actually only works for approximately 5 different strains of Lepto while there are 50 or more strains to the disease! I was not a happy camper. Needless to say, my dog has not received the shot again. Be wise people, consider carefully. I am not hating on vets – I love them, in fact, some of my favorite people are vets; however, we all have our unique way of looking at health and wellness. Make sure it’s the appropriate choice for your pet!
  • Partnering with your veterinarian in the care of your dog or cat should always be the goal. While it’s true your vet is the degreed veterinary professional in the partnership, you know your pet better than anyone, and are therefore the primary advocate for your animal companion. Tell your vet what you have observed, any behavior changes or anything you can think of that could make a difference to the quality of life your pet may have.
  • When it makes sense (like if you’ve just rescued a kitty or your cat has never been tested), these tests are run to check for the presence of the feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses. These viruses can suppress the immune system and lead to secondary infections, anemia, and even cancer. Early identification of viral positive cats gives you the best chance of managing infections optimally.Partnering with your veterinarian in the care of your dog or cat should always be the goal. While it’s true your vet is the degreed veterinary professional in the partnership, you know your pet better than anyone, and are therefore the primary advocate for your animal companion. Tell your vet what you have observed, any behavior changes or anything you can think of that could make a difference to the quality of life your pet may have.

    As an involved, hands-on guardian, you are in the best position to make informed decisions for your pet — decisions that may not always agree 100 percent with the recommendations of your veterinarian.

    Let me give you an example: I went to my vet for my husky, Neko.  He was due for his shots and I was prepared to tell the vet what I wanted and why.  They seemed surprised but understood that I was prepared for this visit.  I discussed the Lepto shot at length with the vet talking about the pros and cons and the how my dog could come into contact with the disease.  After careful consideration I decided that they vet’s responses to my questions and the type of area I frequently walked my dog necessitated him receiving the shot.  After I agreed and he received the shot I found out that the shot actually only works for approximately 5 different strains of Lepto while there are 50 or more strains to the disease!  I was not a happy camper.  Needless to say, my dog has not received the shot again.  Be wise people, consider carefully.  I am not hating on vets – I love them, in fact, some of my favorite people are vets; however, we all have our unique way of looking at health and wellness.  Make sure it’s the appropriate choice for your pet!