It can be difficult to understand when your dog is unwell. You see them every day, and as they can’t tell you that they’re feeling under the weather, it makes it particularly tricky for dog owners to be able to check on their dog’s health.
While you may visit your vet occasionally for routine, general care, many months can pass without having a professional and expert health check of your dog. To help pet owners feel more informed about checking their dog’s health during the months between visiting the vet, we’ve put together a helpful Dog Health Checklist. Our list of veterinary advice will help you take every step to maintain your pet’s health and to know how to identify any signs of them being unwell as soon as they become ill.
How to check your dog’s general health at home
How to check your dog’s body weight
Canine obesity is, unfortunately, one of the most common nutritional disorders seen in dogs, which is why it is important to check their weight. It can be difficult to tell if big, fluffy dogs have lost or gained weight as they have more fur, whereas, with short-haired dogs, weight gain can be more noticeable over time. Often, naturally, lean dogs are mistaken for being underweight, which can lead to owners overfeeding them.
To check if your pet is under or overweight, place your hand on the side of their body; you should just be able to feel their ribs if they’re at a healthy weight. The belly should not sag, and your dog’s waist should be visible between your dog’s ribs and hips. If a dog is underweight, their pelvis will be prominent and ribs visible.
Overweight dogs may seem reluctant to go out for a walk or lag behind. Alternatively, if a dog is underweight, they could lack in stamina and low in vital nutrients.
Are there any changes in your dog’s appetite?
Keep a close check if you notice any changes in your dog’s appetite. There are various illnesses associated with a lack of appetite, some of which include teeth and gum problems, digestive issues, stress or an underlying infection.
Checking your dog's digestive health
Changes in your dog’s digestion also indicate signs of being unwell. Check for noticeable signs such as diarrhoea and vomiting which can be the result of a change in food, infection, or a stomach upset.
How to check your dog’s teeth
Dental disease is one of the main causes of a change in your dog’s appetite. Dental disease can make it painful for your dog to chew their food as they may have an infection in their teeth or gums, which can lead to bad breath.
To prolong the quality of your dog’s oral hygiene, check their gums regularly. They should look a healthy pink or black, and teeth should look nice and white, and not covered in thick, brown tartar.
How to check your dog’s skin and coat
The quality of your dog’s skin and coat is a major indicator of your dog’s overall health. As covered in our Dog’s Skin Problems page, there are various infections and diseases which can irritate your dog’s skin and affect their mood.
Check that your dog’s fur is free of any redness, fleas, lumps or ticks. Excessive itching and bald patches can also indicate a skin problem. A dog’s skin should look clean and pink, and healthy fur should look shiny and silky.
Check your dog’s ears, eyes and nose
Check your dog’s ears weekly to ensure they’re clean, look a healthy pink, have no wax, smell or discharge. Some dog breeds, such as Spaniels, are more prone to a yeast or bacterial infection and therefore require more attention to the health of their ears. Dogs tend to shake their head or scratch often as a sign of an ear infection.
A dog’s eyes should look bright, clear and have no discharge. Redness is a warning sign of ill-health: get in touch with your vet straight away if your dog’s eyes look irritated.
A healthy dog will normally have a cool, clean and moist nose. A dog’s nose can change colour, from black to pink, so monitor what is ‘normal’ for your dog. Bleeding, crusting or discharge are also signs of your dog being unwell.
How to check your dog’s feet and nails
Check your dog’s pads aren’t cut, torn, and are clean. Their nails should be cut back regularly while being careful not to cut the ‘quick’, as this could result in clipping the dog’s nerve, causing them discomfort. Healthy nails shouldn’t split, look rough or break easily.
Further signs your dog may be unwell
All dogs are unique and have their own personality – it’s what we love so much about them! If you notice anything different about your dog’s behaviour, this can be an indication that they’re not feeling themselves. An unwell dog may be less energetic than usual, reserved from their owners and laze about the home.
If you notice any changes in your dog’s health and behaviour, keep a diary to take note of any particular trigger of when these symptoms are more prominent. If you can provide the vet with any additional information, this is a huge benefit to help them provide a full and accurate diagnosis during your appointment.