Over the years, you’ve probably taken your dog to the vet more times than you can count on one hand. For any new pet owners, though, it can be hard to discern if your pup needs an appointment or if he’s perfectly healthy—especially if you can’t hear him complain as humans do. That’s why we recommend giving your dog a DIY checkup at home every once in a while just to be sure that he’s feeling fine and that there aren’t any issues with his health that you may not have noticed before.
The Eye Exam
Dogs have a much more limited field of vision than humans do. They also have different proportions between their eyeballs, ears, and muzzle. Before you take your dog in for an exam, it’s good to know what type of vision problems he may be experiencing. To start your examination, try looking at your dog’s eyes with his head held high and low. Do his pupils appear larger or smaller? Shine a light into his eyes from different angles; does one eye appear smaller than the other? Does he blink when you shine the light in his eyes? The last thing to check is whether your dog has any discharge from his eyes. Is there any visible redness or cloudiness? Take him to the vet if you notice anything unusual!
As you can imagine, your dog’s sense of smell is much better than yours. To examine your dog’s sense of smell, first, introduce him or her to an item that he or she has never smelled before. Try smelling it yourself and see if your dog seems interested; if so, rub some of it on his or her nose. After letting him sniff for a minute or two, take it away so that he knows there’s something special about it. Introduce another scent. Let him have a few minutes with this one as well, then take it away as well. A quick way to do this is by rubbing one scent on the bottom of the other foot. Another option is placing the second scent in an envelope or sealed plastic baggie and putting it under their chin while they’re investigating the first odor – they’ll be able to detect both smells at once and will focus more attention on them because they know there’s something interesting happening.
Before moving forward with any sort of treatment, it’s important to give your dog a thorough sensory exam. Not only will you notice any external ailments that are immediately present, but you’ll also get an idea of how he handles himself daily, which will come in handy during future exams. How does your dog react when someone is standing close to him? What about when you move towards his head? Does he pull away or does he lean into the touch? These reactions may not seem significant, but they can help indicate issues like anxiety or fearfulness.
The first thing you’ll want to do is check your dog’s mobility. To assess her range of motion, try bending her head down as far as it will go toward her back legs, then try bending her head up as far as it will go toward her belly. Flexing your dog’s elbows and spine can give you an idea of whether she has arthritis or issues with those areas. If your dog appears uncomfortable while in these positions, speak to your vet about pain management options that might be appropriate for her age and health. If you’re unable to feel any bones under the skin when palpating around the hips and hocks (the point where the rear leg meets the body), your pup may have hip dysplasia, which requires more frequent vet visits than normal.
The first thing you’ll want to do is place your hand on your dog’s chest. If his heartbeat feels unusually fast or slow, it could be an indication of underlying heart problems. If you don’t feel any heartbeat at all, try another location (the neck is usually easiest). Is his heartbeat regular? Irregular? Thready? Regular with a faster than normal pulse rate? These are all things you should note. Other signs of heart problems include coughing, difficulty breathing, panting in hot weather, being more tired than usual after moderate exercise, and fainting.
The next step in the examination would be checking for lumps or bumps in various places on the body: under the tail near the anus; behind the ears; under the armpits; around the genitals; and inside the mouth.
Digestive System Exam
Have you noticed your dog having problems with digestion? There are several signs that your dog may have digestive issues. It’s important to note these symptoms because many of them point toward serious health conditions. If you notice any of these signs, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. Call first thing in the morning as they may be able to squeeze you in if it’s an emergency. These can include vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, or constipation. Additionally, changes in stool color and consistency can also indicate a problem. A lot of times dogs will go through periods where their stool will change from one day to the next so it’s not always an indication that something is wrong but if there is no other explanation for this (i.e., diet change) then it might be worth mentioning to your vet when you see them next time.
Urinary Tract Exam
If your pup is peeing in unusual places, or his urine appears cloudy, murky, or smelly—or if he keeps relieving himself over and over again—he could have a urinary tract infection. You can’t see an infection by looking at him, but you can use your ears and nose to check his pee for abnormal signs: If it’s foamy or pinkish-red (as opposed to clear), he might have some sort of problem with his bladder. A bacterial culture test will determine the exact type of bacteria causing the infection. The vet will give you antibiotics that are safe for your dog and also easy on your wallet.
General Wellness Tips
Your dog needs to receive regular checkups, but it’s also critical that you can recognize signs of sickness so you can ensure an on-time diagnosis from your vet. Keep your eyes open for any changes in behavior or weight, as these could be signs of illness. And, as always, if you notice anything unusual about how your dog is acting or feeling – whether at home or out on walks – take them straight in to see their vet. Most common dog health problems are curable with the right treatment, so don’t wait until they become more serious before seeking help. To do your quick check-up at home, start by looking into your dog’s eyes. Check their pupils – they should be the same size and black. Next, feel around his neck to make sure there are no enlarged lymph nodes; then feel under his chin for swelling. You should also press down firmly on either side of his rib cage to check for pain or tenderness.