Easy 10 Point Home Health Exam for Your Pet
Although annual veterinarian visits are important, it's your job to monitor your pet's health throughout the year. A home exam can be performed easily and regularly. Start at the sharp end and work down to the tail.
You might not have an otoscope or swabs to check your pet's ears like your vet can, but you can find early changes by simply looking at or smelling the ears. The inside should be clean and the same color as the pet's skin. Redness, excessive grease, or strong odor means there is a problem and veterinary attention is needed. Scratching and shaking the head are clues there is a problem.
Look for any discharge, scabs, scaling, or color change on the nose. Changes can be important. But there is little truth in saying that an animals nose should be wet. It can be wet or dry depending on the temperature and climate. Changes on the nose can mean skin conditions or internal changes in the body, so don't ignore them.
Your own eyes are a fine tool to examine your pet's eyes. They should be clear and bright and the conjunctiva (the fleshy tissue surrounding the eyes) should be pale pink. Any cloudiness or redness in the eye needs veterinary attention. Some dogs discharge a lot from the corners of they eye, without the eye itself being red. Excessive discharge is a concern, also if there is crusting or irritation about the eye, get the eyes checked. Cloudiness in the eyes can be a normal wear-and-tear product of aging, but it can be delayed or prevented by using appropriate herbs and antioxidants. Cats sometimes discharge at their eyes too, and they can also have red conjunctiva. Some of these cats can be carrying and spreading viruses even though they have been vaccinated.
You can tell a lot about the health of an animal by looking here. Are all the teeth here? Does the breath smell? Can you see pearly white teeth or are they discolored with yellow or brown scale? Are the gums pink or is there a red line? Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats. Many people think it's okay for pets to have smelly breath. But the problem lies deeper than the mouth. When the gums are inflamed, it means bacteria are there. Bacteria can get into the bloodstream and travel to the heart, kidneys, or other organs and affect the general health of your pet over a long time.
Skin and Coat
Your pet should have a clean coat. Run your hands through and feel the texture. It should be appropriate for the breed, but soft and good to touch. Excess oil, dandruff, or smell, or hair coming out, means a problem. Examine the skin between the toes, under arms, and in the groin region, as well as under the tail. The presence of any rashes, redness, pimples or scales means the skin is not healthy. Seek help from your veterinarian. Frequently, poor skin health is caused by allergies or hormonal problems. So topical treatments are helpful but not usually effective.
Next to dental disease, excess weight or obesity is the most common disease. So be completely honest with yourself (and your pet). Stand over your pet and look down. Can you see a clearly define waistline, curving inward before the hips? Can you gently feel the ribs under the skin? And for cats in particular, can you feel a fatty tummy? Your pet is at risk if it is overweight, even if it seems to be in good health now. Any person that has put their pet on a diet will tell you about the increase in energy and vitality that their pet displayed.
Cats have an ability to carry excess weight without looking fat. They hide it in an abdominal fat pad, which will swing from side to side as they run (for food). So even if your kitty looks perfect to you, decide on a body score for your cat, and see if the standards tell you something else!
Limb and Muscle Check
Your pet should not be sore when you touch it all over its body. Gently bend each leg back and forward at each joint. Compare one side to the opposite side. Are there differences? Watch your pet walk and jump. Any stiffness, soreness, or not wanting to be touched is something to be concerned about. Don't wait until your pet is lame or grumpy - have your veterinarian check out any problems sooner rather than later. These can be signs of arthritis or muscle or tendon injury. Acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and herbs can be helpful
Now it's time for an all-over check. Run your hands over your pet's body and gently feel for any lumps or bumps, warts or cysts, or growths. These can be sneaky and grow slowly or appear literally overnight. Get lumps checked! They may be an early cancer or benign lump, but either way, early attention will keep the risks low. Check the nipples and mammary glands, even if your pet is male. And if your dog has testicles, become familiar with what is normal. Anything unusual, lumpy, or hard needs to be checked by your veterinarian.
Observe your pet urinating. They should not have trouble. Any straining, strong odor, or change in color or frequency and amount of urine should be checked out. You can also have your veterinarian order you some urine dipsticks, which can be used to check your pet's urine every now and then. Better still, have your veterinarian check the urine as a part of your regular health check.
Finally, watch your pet have a bowel movement. Constipation or loose stools mean something is not right. Consider taking a sample and dropping it off at your vet's office for testing. The stool should be firm enough to pick up easily, should be dark in color, and should be the same from one day to the next. Poor stool quality can be a sign that the diet is not right or that the digestive tract health is not what it should be.
Taken from The Pet Lover's Guide to Natural Healing for Cats & Dogs, Barbara Fougere, BVSc