Regular at-home physical exams can help you learn what is normal for your pet’s body, and therefore allow you to detect when something is not normal. While it’s still important to take your pet for a professional exam at your vet’s office at least once a year, you can keep watch on your pet’s health in between visits by getting to know what’s normal, and what’s not, for your individual pet.
A healthy weight is both important to your pet’s health and an indicator of their overall health. Each cat or dog has their own optimal weight, depending on their age, build and specific breed. There are a couple of ways to test if your pet’s weight is on the right track. Read our article on weight management here.
You should be able to tell when looking from above that your pet has a visible waistline, but if there are clearly defined ribs, spinal bones or hip bones then your dog or cat may be underweight. If you can’t make out a waistline, then your pet may need to shed some extra kilograms or grams. Read about obesity in pets here on our blog.
Feel your animal’s ribs and spine. You should be able to feel the outline of these bones, but you should also be able to feel a layer of tissue in between the skin and bones. This is healthy, but if you can’t feel the bones, your pet is likely over weight.
A processed diet high in ingredients that quickly convert to sugars and may contain too many or too little of the calories a healthy pet needs. On the contrary, raw and natural foods are easier to digest and can work wonders for your pet’s weight and metabolism in as little as a few weeks.
Your pet’s coat is also a good measure of health – healthy coat, healthy animal! It’s not without reason, as a dog or cat’s coat serves many vital functions – regulating body temperature and protecting against outside germs and infections, to name few. It is easy to tell when a pet’s coat is unhealthy – look for the colouring in their coat to be duller than usual, while also being oily and smellier than usual, carrying an unpleasant “pet smell’. It is important to check your pet’s skin as well, as it may contain lumps and sores or be flaky and irritated. A healthy pet’s coat won’t have odours, and it should look shiny and be soft to the touch. The skin and coat is the largest organ of an animal and as such, skin and coat health is very important. Feeding raw, biologically species appropriate diet has shown to help many skin issues caused by eating an inappropriate diet in dogs and cats. You can read our blog posts regarding allergies to further educate yourself.
Processed commercial diets can upset the balance of acidity in your pet’s mouth, paving the way for infections and bacteria. A healthy mouth should have white and smooth teeth with firm pink gums – or, as some dogs have on their skin, black or spotted areas. Bones are a good way for dogs and cats to clean their teeth all while strengthening their jaws and having fun in the process.
Healthy eyes are easy to spot – they should be shiny and bright, and there shouldn’t be a dark discharge coming from their eyes like tears. If your dog has a dark brown discharge around the eyes or has tear stains, one of these causes may be from food sensitivity. In this case, we often recommend going on an elimination diet. This means narrowing down the diet to one animal source, such as a whole animal duck or turkey diet, for example. For several weeks, your pet would only eat raw food and treats made from a novel protein and nothing else. We find that many of our customers have had success using an elimination diet to help their pet’s health.
A small amount of wax in your animal’s ears is normal, but there shouldn’t be any dark wax, swelling or redness: this signals a problem. The skin should also be clean and ideally light pink in colour inside the ears. If your dog’s ears have a yeasty smell, we recommend using apple cider vinegar both topically and orally paired with a new raw diet. Some dogs cannot digest vegetables as well as other dogs, and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and potatoes are high in sugar which fuels yeast infections. Feeding a diet with no vegetables to help control the yeast growth is a great way to treat the infection. We also recommend adding tripe so that your dog is still getting the vitamins and minerals he or she may be missing from the veggies. If your dog or cat scratches their ears excessively, this could be an allergy symptom related to foods. In this case, we recommend starting an elimination diet – to feed only one animal protein for several weeks. Novel proteins such as duck, turkey, rabbit, or even plain green tripe works well as an elimination diet.
A healthy dog or cat will have stools that produce very little odour and are fairly firm, but not so hard that they are straining. On a raw diet your pets stool will be smaller than if they were on a processed diet. This is a sign that your pet is utilizing more of their foods nutrient’s as they are digesting therefore resulting in less excrement wasted. Read our blog post about poop to gain some insights.
Steps for Performing an At-Home Pet Exam
Dr. Karen Becker published a simple system to follow for home health checks. In her words, perform the exam in a relaxed environment when your pet is not stressed or excited, or after an exercise session or nap (when they’re likely to be sleepy and ready to relax). Put them on your lap, start with the tip of their nose, and work your way to the tip of their tail.
- First check the nose for debris and take note of whether it is wet or dry. Your pet’s nose will not always be wet, it will typically vary from moist to dry throughout the day, depending on your pet’s body temperature, activity level and hydration.
- Then, take a look to see whether there is abnormal eye discharge. Again, you will likely know what is normal for your pet. For instance if your cat or dog never gets eye discharge and suddenly has it, it’s a sign that there could be a problem.
- Next check whether your pet’s pupils are symmetrical and look at the whites of their eyes. Red sclera (the part of the eye that is normally white) could mean inflammation of the eyes.
- If your pet is not accustomed to having its mouth examined, slowly acclimate your pet to facial massages so that you can eventually check their mouth, gums and teeth. When you can, check inside their mouth for lesions, swelling, and bad breath. Their gums should be pink, their teeth free of tartar and plaque, their tongue clear and the roof of their mouth clean and free from debris.
- Next, check the jaw line to see if it feels normal. Check the ears for debris, odor and cleanliness. Brush back the hair and look at the skin and coat. Check for excessive flakiness, lumps and bumps on the sides of the spinal cord, and evaluate muscle tone and weight. If you feel your pet is carrying extra weight I recommend addressing it by increasing activity and feeding a species-appropriate diet (a meat-based, carb-free living food diet).
- Look at their claws and the pads of their feet, there should be no debris between their toes. Check for heat and swelling over your pet’s body, and test the range of motion of the joints; do the joints move freely, without resistance or difficulty?
- Gently Palpate their belly to look for lumps and notice if your pet seems to experience discomfort. This is a good time to also gently check both mammary chains (do this for male dogs, too). Even if you don’t know the names of all the parts you are touching, if you examine your pet regularly you will begin to know what is normal for your companion. When there are changes you will notice them quite quickly because you are familiar with the terrain of his or her body. Also examine your pet’s bottom for cleanliness.
Regular Vet Checks Matter
Whether you’re a new pet parent or you’ve shared most of your life with canine and / or feline companions, your vet is your partner in keeping your fur kids well. To give them the opportunity to do this to the best of their ability, they need to get to know your fur kids and to see him or her regularly. That way they will be quicker to recognize when something isn’t quite right, and will be able to treat it sooner.
Scheduling a regular check-up will build a relationship between you, your fur kids and your veterinarian that will result in your fur kids enjoying a long and healthy life. To find a vet close to you, please check our ever-growing list of vets here.
Additional Articles and Videos
Good reference articles & videos further reading available at.