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9-Step Health Check

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
9-Step Health Check

Monitor your dog’s well-being by adding a quick and simple health check to his grooming routine.

Regular veterinary exams are vital to your dog’s wellness. In between visits, you can keep tabs on her health at home by giving her this simple 9-step check-up during grooming sessions. All it takes is ten minutes, once a month.

While you brush your dog, examine his coat, skin, teeth and eyes. Knowing what he looks like in good health will help you quickly identify any changes. health

1. Start by weighing him. Your vet can tell you what the normal weight range should be for your dog. You can also check out his breed description in our Breed Directory for an ideal range. Try to keep him within those parameters. You may not notice his weight creeping up, so weigh him when you do your monthly check-up.

If you have a smaller dog, weigh yourself first, then pick up your dog and weigh both of you together. Subtract your weight from the total. The difference is your dog’s weight. If he’s too big to lift, drop by your vet’s office and ask to use their “walk-on” scale. Record his weight and compare it to last month.

If he’s overweight, he may need more exercise and/or a change in diet.

2. Look at your dog’s coat. One of the biggest indicators of health is coat condition. Is the hair shiny or dull? Shine indicates oil — a good thing, although too much can mean a problem. A dry, dull coat with brittle hair may point to poor nutrition or a mineral deficiency. Dogs require certain amino acids, minerals and the right amount of protein in their diets to produce and maintain a healthy coat.

3. Every dog benefits from regular brushing. If you establish a regular grooming routine, you’ll notice any changes in the quantity of hair your dog sheds. His particular breed may be subject to “seasonal shedding” during the spring and fall. If he starts shedding more frequently it could indicate a change in health.

4. While you’re brushing, take a look at your dog’s skin. Is it dry and flaky with dandruff? Dry skin can result from over-bathing or allergies. Is the skin hot or red in areas? If he has a thick, heavy coat, he may have “hot spots”. Dogs may also get a rash if the skin is damp for a long time.

5. As you examine your dog’s skin, keep an eye out for any lumps or abscesses. Don’t panic if you do find a lump. It’s very common for dogs to develop lumps as they age or if they’re overweight. Many lumps are lipomas, which are harmless fatty tumors. It’s always a good idea, though, to have any lump checked by a vet. health

An abscess will look red or swollen and may have a discharge of pus. It can be caused by a foreign body penetrating the skin (your dog may have been scratched by a cat, stung by a bee or have picked up a thorn).

Things like lumps and abscesses can be difficult to see if your dog has a thick coat so it’s best to “let your fingers do the walking”. Use your fingers to gently feel the entire length of your dog’s body. If you feel anything you’re not sure about, part the hair and have a look at his skin.

6. Does your dog scratch a lot? It could be a sign of dry skin or allergies. More and more dogs are becoming sensitized to allergens and environmental irritants. Your vet can help you determine if it’s an allergy and pinpoint the cause. It’s not normal for a dog to scratch continuously. It’s a sign something is wrong.

7. Have a good look at your dog’s mouth and teeth. His gums should be a healthy pink colour and not red or swollen. The teeth should not have any tartar build-up. Plaque and tartar will eventually weaken the tooth’s structure and cause decay. Once the tooth is compromised, bacteria can enter your dog’s bloodstream and cause kidney, heart or liver problems. Dental decay can also give your pet “doggie breath”. Avoid dental decay by regularly brushing your dog’s teeth (use doggie toothpaste only) and/or using a dental spray to prevent and loosen tarter.

8. Now take a look at your dog’s eyes. Watch for excessive tearing (you may see wet patches running down either side of his muzzle from the corners of his eyes). Depending on the breed, some tearing may be normal. What’s not normal is a coloured discharge or redness around the eyes or lids. Many dogs suffer from seasonal allergies just as people do. Redness or tearing can also be caused by an injury to the eye or an ingrown eyelash.

9. One of the most overlooked areas on your dog is his ears. If he’s scratching his ears compulsively, there’s a problem. Get in there and take a look. If your dog has upright ears you may only need to check periodically. But if your dog has floppy ears that hang down over the ear opening, you need to look in on a regular basis (especially if he’s had ear infections before).LIttleBoy-Yorkie_dreamstime_m_28465634

Some chronic ear infections are caused by allergies. Your dog can also have very small ear canals that don’t allow earwax to drain properly. The ear should not have a strong odour, the skin should be a healthy colour and texture, and there should be no coloured discharge.

Once you get used to doing this monthly check-up, it’ll become second nature. And the more you do it, the more you’ll know what’s normal for your dog and what might signal a change or problem. Your dog will thank you for it!

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