Healthy dog is a happy dog, and we’ve put together some interesting facts about your dog’s body to make sure your best friend is fighting fit.
Most vets are more than happy to offer an annual health check and puppies under 12 months are often seen more frequently. Even if you have no concerns a regular check up helps your dog get used to the vet’s environment and can be a great opportunity for socialisation and proofing all those things you learn in training.
Like muzzle training, if your dog has lots of happy and positive experiences at the vets they are less likely to feel anxious or worried if they are injured or under the weather.
Body checking your dog on a regular basis will help you discover what is ‘normal’ for your dog. So you’ll easily spot any changes to their coat, lumps and bumps, sore spots, breathing or heart rate.
Assessing your dog’s vital signs:
It is important to know the basics when it comes to your pet’s vital signs. This can help you assess your pet in an emergency and better prepare you when sharing information with the vets.
The normal temperature of your dog should be around 100.5F-102.5F which is 38-39.1 ֯C
Maintaining an appropriate core body temperature of a dog is an essential for life. Being too hot (hyperthermia) or too cold (hypothermia) can cause significant health issues.
Vets will always take a dog’s temperature rectally so it’s a good idea to include a tail lift and hands around the dogs backend in your body check. This will help your dog become used to someone touching the base of their tail, and that it does not always meaning a thermometer is coming!
You should also know what external (environmental) temperatures are too hot or too cold for your dogs to be in.
The normal respiratory rate for your dog while resting should be around 10-30 breaths per minute.
Observe either the chest or ribcage area as it rises and falls but ensure you aren’t counting panting. Count the number of breaths in 15 seconds and then multiply that by 4 which will give you the respirations per minute (RPM). If you are struggling to see the chest accurately, hold a mirror in front of the nostrils and do the same process.
Be sure to also note any effort, abnormal rhythm and / or sounds. A breath that sounds very hard to make or uneven is an indication that your dog needs immediate medical attention.
The heart rate will depend on the size and weight of the dog but on average a small dog should have a rate of 80-130 beats per minute and a large dog should have a rate 60-100 beats per minute.
There are 4 main places where you can check your dog’s pulse/heart rate:
- On the ribs right behind the left or right elbow
- On the inside of the hind leg where the leg meets the rest of the body
- On the underside of either front paw, slightly above where the middle paw pads end
- On the back of either the dog’s hind legs, just below the ankle
Count the number of beats that occur in 15 seconds and multiply that by 4 which will give you the number of beats per minute (BMP). The main way to assess the pulse is to place two fingers over the femoral artery on the inside of the thigh. Make sure you practice assessing your dog’s heart rate in a non-emergency setting. This will then help you feel comfortable and confident locating the pulse if an emergency were to arise.
Capillary Refill Time (CRT):
The normal capillary refill time is less than 2 seconds.
Carefully lift the upper lip and gently press on the gum with either your thumb or finger. The gum will blanche white and you need to measure how long it takes to return to the original colour.
Teethe checks are another great addition to the body check because this is a common check done by vets. Be gentle with teething puppies but get all dogs comfortable with human lifting their lip and touching their teether.
Never put your hands inside the mouth of an injured, distressed, or aggressive animal.
Gums of normal colour should be pink and moist.
Carefully pull back your dog’s upper lip and examine the gums. They should be pink and moist but some dogs may have black pigmentation which is normal. Assess the colour of the tongue will help if the gums aren’t able to be seen.
Feeling the gums is as important, they should be moist. If it is dry, sticky, or tacky, it can be a sign of dehydration.
Abnormal gum colours requiring emergency veterinary attention:
- White/pale gums- sign of shock or low blood cells
- Blue (cyanosis) gums- sign of low blood oxygen (hypoxia)
- Very dark red gums- sign of heat stroke, sepsis (blood infection) and potentially carbon monoxide poising
- Yellow (jaundice) gums- sign of liver or kidney problems or destruction of red blood cells, this colour may be seen on the skin as well
- Petechia (little bruises on the gum or other areas such as inner ears or abdomen areas)- sign of severe anaemia, blood loss or other critical situations
The normal hydration time should be less than 1 second.
Gently pinch the skin the head and in between the should blades and lift and immediate release. The skin should snap back against the body in less than 1 second if your pet is properly hydrated.
Learning about normal behaviours and vital signs for your dog is so that can help notice that little bit quicker when something isn’t right. Detecting little things before they grow and become much worse is crucial.
‘Normal’ will vary from individual to individual so practicing observing your dog. Familiarise yourself with their day-to-day activities and habits. Get a feel for their normally body languages especially while they are walking and running. The main signs to monitor include:
- Mood- are they less active? Grumpier? Confused?
- Energy levels- suddenly not wanting to play. Getting more hyperactive?
- Movement- stiffer when rising in the morning? Sore after exercise?
- Body weight- weight gain? Weight loss?
- Appetite- less interested in food. Suddenly ravenous all the time?
- Thirst- are you filling the water bowl more often than you used to?
- Skin- a new lump? Is there an itchy/inflamed area?
- Urination/defecation- changes in habitats? Frequency? Appearance?
- Breathing- Noisy? Shallow? Faster?
The great news is that it only takes a couple of minutes to check your pet’s vitals and it’s easy. The more you do it the better as it gets you familiar with your dog’s ‘normal’ vitals and it also gives you confidence to ensure you can do it in an emergency.
Practice these on your pet while they are healthy, calm, and relaxed as it makes it easier to spot if something is wrong, especially in an emergency situation.
Recording your body check results is often best. In a situation where you feel a new lump or bump or change in behaviour you can compare previous checks, especially if you suspect there is something wrong.
Training your healthy dog to love medication:
One of the biggest issues with successfully treating animals is making sure the owners can medicate their pet. It can be quite difficult to medicate your animals but there are many different methods.
Many dogs will take most medication in tablet form with food such as peanut butter, cream cheese, liver pate, etc (granted your dog doesn’t have any dietary restrictions) because they are sticky and it’s a good way to hide it.
We’ve seen some dogs who get so excited by training that when the pill is offered as a reward for a ‘sit’ or other cue they gobble it up without thinking about it.
Some vets will sell ‘Pill-pockets’ which is a treat that you can pull apart and hide medication inside. Please advise your vets if your dog has any known allergies or if there are certain foods that don’t settle with them. Also, if it’s your first time medicating an animal, ask the vet to demonstrate it to you as it may help.
It may help to make a calendar or checklist to ensure you write down when the medication needs to be administered and when it has been. It is especially helpful to have a visual reminder if there are multiple of you in the household but also if you are giving more than one medication. If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ring your vet for advice.
After administering the pill, follow with water as this will encourage them to swallow.
Medication with eye drops or ear drops can be another source of novelty for dogs. Especially as they are likely to be sore in those areas. For that reason we would regularly practice a ‘mock’ drop in the body check where we gentle open the eye or lift the ears.
If they are used to us touching those areas anyway then when the drops come it’s much less likely to worry them.
Healthy Dog Body Condition Scoring
Dogs come in all different shapes and sizes, but weight alone cannot determine whether they are healthy or not. Feeling and looking at your dog’s overall shape will help determine whether they need to put a bit of weight on or whether they may need to lose a few kilograms.
By using a chart, you can determine what stage your dog is at.
1-3 = Underweight
Ribs, spine, shoulders, pelvis, and bones that lie close to the surface are easily visible even from a distance. There is no detectable body fat and obvious loss of muscle tissue. Clear waist when viewed from above and abdomen tucks up behind the ribs when viewed from the side.
4-5 = Ideal
Ribs, pelvis, shoulders and the very top of the spine are visible and the ribs are easily felt. There is an obvious waist and abdominal tuck. No fat can be felt.
6-9 = Overweight
The ribs can easily be felt and have only a little fat covering them. The waist can be seen behind the ribs from above and the tummy tuck can be seen from the side profile.