By Arden Moore
Pro Pet Hero Instructor Director and Master Pet First Aid/CPR Instructor
How well do you really know your dog or cat from head to tail? Yes, an annual veterinarian exam is a must for every pet, but it is only the starting point in looking after your pet’s health.
One of the best ways to be your pet’s best friend is to regularly tap into all your senses in inspecting her. Your mission: identify what is normal for your pet and be able to catch early warning signs of trouble before they become major health concerns. That means looking, touching, smelling.
Pay attention to any changes in your pet’s routine – from how much she eats or drinks, her elimination schedule, when and how long she sleeps and her energy level. Changes in any of these can indicate she is not feeling her fit self.
Once a week, pick a quiet time away from distractions and devote 5 to 10 minutes to inspect your dog or cat from head to tail. Jot down any changes so that you can report them to your veterinarian.
Do These Checks Weekly
Here are 10 at-home health checks you can perform on your pet that are fast, easy and effective.
1. Check the eyes. Healthy eyes are bright, with no sign of any red or yellow tinge to the white of the eye (also known as the sclera), or the lining of the eye. The pupils should be symmetrical and should quickly constrict to a bright light and grow larger in a dark room. There should not be any discharge oozing from the tear ducts.
2. Check the ears. Your dog or cat is blessed with keen hearing. Her erect ears can pivot independently and zero in on sounds from varying distances and volume levels. Inspect the outer and inner ears for any signs of redness, scrapes, excessive wax or odor. Be on the lookout for what looks like coffee grounds inside the ear – that is a sign of ear mites.
3. Check the nose. A healthy nose may be black, pink or spotted, depending on the breed. Any nasal discharge should be clear and not excessive amounts. A healthy nose can be slightly wet or dry, but it should not be extremely dry and cracked, or extremely moist with thick mucus.
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4. Check the gums and teeth. Most cats and dogs sport pink gums, a sure sign of health. Gently open your pet’s mouth and assess the gums. They should not be red, pale, blue or yellow. Next, inspect for any signs of missing or cracked teeth or tartar buildup. Finally, take a whiff. You should not detect a foul odor as that could be a sign of periodontal disease or an ailing organ, such as the kidneys or liver.
5. Check your pet’s respiratory rate. When your pet is at rest, her breathing should be even and regular, not labored. Count the number of breaths your pet takes per minute. Make sure she is at rest when you do this. Each respiration equals one inhale and one exhale (look for the chest to rise and fall). A healthy cat’s respiratory rate ranges between 20 and 30 breaths per minute. For dogs, the rate ranges between 10 and 35. You can count the beats out loud for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4 to get the one-minute respiratory rate.
6. Check your pet’s heart rate. With your pet standing, press your open palm against the rib cage over the heart and count how many heartbeats you feel in 15 seconds. Multiply that by 4 to get your one-minute heart rate. For cats, a healthy heart rate ranges between 140 and 220 beats per minute. For large dogs, the range is between 60 and 100 beats and for small dogs, the range is between 100 and 140 beats per minute.
A healthy heart rate for a cat ranges between 140 and 220 beats per minute. For dogs, a healthy heart rate range is based on the size. Large dogs should range between 60 and 100 beats, while small dogs can range between 100 and 140 beats.
7. Check your pet’s hydration status. Gently lift some of your pet’s skin from the back of her neck and release. The skin should spring back immediately. This indicates your pet’s skin has good elasticity and serves as a sign that she is getting enough water and is not dehydrated.
8. Check your pet’s coat and belly. Glide your open palm down the body, from the head to the base of the tail. Then gently glide from the tail to the head. Be on the lookout for any fleas, matted fur, hot spots, bumps or lumps. Also palpate the abdomen to feel for any lumps or skin tags or signs of discomfort.
9. Check your pet’s tail. A tail contains many tiny bones. Dogs and cats use their tail for balance and to convey moods. Gently glide your hand on the tail and look for any cuts, bumps or bald spots. Also check the anal area for any swelling, redness or oozing.
10. Check your pet’s paws and claws. With your pet sitting or lying down, lift up each paw and inspect for any cuts or cracks or redness to the paw pads. Make sure each nail is not too long or curving and don’t forget the dew claws, which are located on the inside of each front paw. Regularly trim your pet’s nails to prevent them from overgrowing and getting stuck into carpet or rugs.
Performing these weekly head-to-tail health checks not only helps you catch a health condition in its early stages, but there are two other pluses. These one-on-one sessions are ideal ways to bond with your pet and you are conditioning your pet to be handled, which can make veterinary appointments, grooming sessions and care from pet sitters or pet boarding staff more accepting by your pet. And don’t forget to finish each session by doling out your pet’s favorite treat.
Learn Pet First Aid
Learn more on ways to keep your cats and dogs safe by visiting http://www.propethero.com. Consider taking our veterinarian-approved online pet first aid/CPR course. Enter this code: CPR – ARDEN MOORE and receive a 10 percent discount! And, if you are interested in becoming a Pro Pet Hero instructor, please click on the BECOME AN INSTRUCTOR button on the home page for more details.