How to Examine Your Pet at Home: A Step-By-Step Guide

Estimated Reading Time 4 minutes
How to Examine Your Pet at Home: A Step-By-Step Guide

Performing simple exams on your pet at home is important for several reasons. It can help prepare them for examinations performed by your vet, as well as handling by the groomer or other care provider. These exams may also help you identify early health concerns that might otherwise go unnoticed until your pet’s yearly veterinary check-up.

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Before starting your exam, find a safe, comfortable space where your pet is relaxed and free from distractions. Use caution if your pet is stressed or in pain; she may be likely to accidentally scratch or bite you. As you check your pet, make note of any changes or questions that come up. These may be helpful clues or things to discuss with your vet.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • Is your pet acting like herself? Is she bright and alert?
  • Have you noticed a change in your pet’s attitude? Are they enthusiastic about going for walks? Does your pet greet you at the door when you get home?
  • How is your pet’s appetite? Is he eating and drinking normally?
  • Is your pet urinating and defecating normally?
  • Can they sit, stand, and lie down easily and comfortably?

If your pet is having trouble with these every-day tasks, or you have any questions or concerns about their general health, contact your vet or one of our FirstVet vets right away.

What to Check:


  • Run your hands along your pet’s body - under the chin, along the neck, then down their trunk and legs.
  • Feel for any lumps on or under the skin, along the mammary glands, and around their bottom.
  • Look for evidence of fleas or other parasites on the skin or coat
  • Check the skin for wounds or signs of irritation


  • You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs easily and see their waistline from above.
  • Your pet’s waistline should have a nice hourglass shape.
  • 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.


  • Look at the color of your pet’s eyes. The white area (sclera) should be white. If you notice increased redness or yellowing of the sclera, contact your vet or FirstVet to make an appointment for your pet.
  • The eyes should be bright and free of discharge. (Note that a small amount of clear discharge in the corner of the eye can be normal.)


  • You can often feel your pet’s heart when they’re lying down or standing still.
  • The heart should have a regular rhythm.
  • Heart rate depends on the size of your pet and is typically slower in larger breeds.
  • Dogs have a resting heart rate between 70-120 beats per minute.
  • Cats have a resting heart rate between 140-180 beats per minute.
  • Getting used to what is normal for your pet will help you pick up on early changes if they occur.


  • The nose should be slightly moist or dry.
  • Check for cracked or ulcerated skin around the nose.
  • If your pet has yellow or green nasal discharge, it’s time to contact your vet.
  • The normal respiratory (breathing) rate for dogs is 10-35 breaths per minute.
  • The normal respiratory rate for cats is 15-30 breaths per minute.


  • The ear flap and ear canal should be clean and free of debris.
  • Look for signs of redness, inflammation, or pain.
  • If there is excessive wax, dark discharge, or foul odor, seek veterinary advice for your pet.


  • Lift your pet’s lips to examine the teeth.
  • You should notice healthy, white teeth with minimal tartar.
  • Your pet’s gums should be pink and moist.
  • If your pet will allow it, try to open their mouth and examine their tongue and roof of the mouth.
  • Schedule a veterinary visit if you notice that your pet has bad breath, broken or discolored teeth, red inflamed gums, or wounds in the mouth.

Feet and Nails

  • Check your pet’s nails regularly to ensure they aren’t overgrown or broken.
  • Remember to check the dewclaw(s)!
  • Examine your pet’s pads for cracks or wounds.
  • Look between their toes for matted hair, grass seeds, wounds, or inflamed skin.

When to Seek Veterinary Advice

You’ve done a great job examining your pet! But if you still have questions or concerns about their health, contact your vet right away. Call your vet or contact FirstVet if you notice any abnormal findings, like those mentioned above.

Read more:

How can I test my dog’s hearing?

What You Need to Know About Vaccinating Your Dog

Common Skin Parasites in Cats

Need to speak with a veterinarian about examining your pet at home or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

Published: 9/3/2020
Last updated: 10/27/2021

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