dog cat how to do examination of a pet

How to do a simple examination of your pet

Getting your pet used to being examined is really important and can help to get them used to being examined by your vet or being handled by a groomer, for example. It can also mean that you might pick up on early health concerns that might otherwise not be noticed until they have their yearly health check and vaccination at your veterinary clinic.

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When examining your pet: first, find a clear space where you and your pet are comfortable; make sure that your pet is relaxed and will not be distracted or stressed by other animals. However, do not put yourself at risk during the health check; only do a clinical exam if your pet is not likely to get nervous and try and bite you. As you check your pet, note down any changes or questions that come up, as these may be useful clues or things to discuss when you next speak to a vet.

Questions to ask yourself:

Is your pet bright and happy in themselves? Do they get enthusiastic about exercise or walks, meal times, you coming home etc? Have you noticed a change in their attitude? Are they eating, drinking and toileting normally? Can they still lie down, sit and stand easily? If your pet is having difficulty with these every day tasks, or you have any questions or concerns about their general health and wellbeing, then make an appointment with your vet or one of the FirstVet vets to discuss what you can do to help. Here is some further advice on ageing dogs and dogs with arthritis.

What to check:

Give your pet a once over - run your hands under your pet's chin, down along their neck and then along their body. You are feeling for any lumps within your pet’s skin layer and under their skin for example their lymph nodes under their chin, their mammary glands and around their bottom. You are also assessing their coat for flea faeces (small black specks) and other parasites, and checking their skin for any signs of irritation.

Waistline - your pet should have a nice hourglass figure. You should be able to feel their ribs easily and see their waistline from above. Doing a monthly body condition score of your pet is a useful method for keeping track of your pet's condition and monitoring whether they are losing or gaining weight.

Eyes - are their eyes bright and is the white area (sclera) white? If you notice that their eyes are red, bloodshot or have any discharge then contact your vet or FirstVet to make an appointment. A small amount of clear or creamy white mucus in the corner of their eyes is normal, but if it is yellow or green then your pet needs to have their eyes examined. A small amount of clear discharge in the corner of their eyes can also be normal.

Heart - you can often feel your pet’s heart when they are lying down. It should have a regular rhythm. The heart rate will depend on the size of your pet, and typically is slower in larger breeds. Dogs have a resting heart rate of between 70 and 120 beats per minute, whilst cats have a resting heart rate of around 140-180 beats per minute. Getting used to what is normal for your pet will allow you to pick up on early changes.

Nose - their nose should be pale pink and very slightly moist. It should not be cracked or dry in appearance. If there is nasal discharge that is yellow or green in colour, or thick, then contact your vet for advice. The normal breathing rate at rest for a dog is 10-35 breaths per minute and for a cat is 15-30 breaths per minute.

Ears - their ears should not smell and should be a nice healthy pale pink colour. If there is excessive wax present, an odour, they looked inflamed or they seem irritated by them, then seek advice from a vet.

Teeth - when you lift up your pet’s lips you should see nice healthy white teeth with only minimal tartar on them. Their gums should be pink and moist. Try to check all the way to the back of the mouth on each side to look for a build-up of plaque and fractured teeth. If there is a strong smell to their breath (halitosis), their gums are red and inflamed (gingivitis), their teeth are discoloured, or there is any discharge around the gum line, then a vet should examine your pet’s mouth. This will identify what the cause of the problem is and what treatment should be recommended.

Feet and nails - check your pet's nails regularly to ensure that they are not getting too long and that they are not starting to curl round. Make sure that you check their dewclaws (thumb-like digit) on the inside of their legs as well as the other nails. Check their pads for splits and wounds, and look in between their toes for matted hair, grass seeds, and inflamed skin etc.

When to seek veterinary advice

  • If you notice any changes with your pet that you would not normally expect, or if you have any questions or concerns about your pet's health and well being.

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