Updated: Feb 18
Knowing your dog has a clean bill of health going into the start of a new year will give you peace of mind that all is well, which is especially important as we move into the remaining winter months ahead.
All dogs, but older dogs in particular, may well benefit from a health check because if they are in the process of developing a disorder, their immune systems may potentially become compromised. Catching things early means that a condition can be diagnosed, and appropriate treatment may be started much more quickly. In fact, many vets advise performing a health check every 6 months for our seniors, as waiting a year in-between boosters can actually be quite a long time for an older dog.
Basic head-to-tail health checks that can be done at home include checking the following:
Eyes should be clear of any coloured discharge. Conjunctiva should be a nice pink colour, not red and inflammed. If you have a middle aged to senior dog and notice any sign of cloudiness in the eye, this could mean that cataracts are developing, and their eyesight may be compromised. Check that there are no new growths around eyelids or conjunctiva that need to be investigated by a vet. Little growths have the potential to rub on the surface of the eye and irritate your dog or could be something a little more sinister.
Any abnormal discharge coming from one or both nostrils? Little polyps growing in these areas may need checking by a vet.
Is there a wax build up in the ear canal, or an unpleasant odour coming from your dogs ear? Is the ear pinna (flap) looking inflamed? Is your dog doing a lot of ear scratching, head shaking or rubbing the side of its head along the carpet and holding it on one side? Does your dog object to you touching the ears because they are sore? This could be because there is an infection brewing. Sometimes if another dog in the house begins to pay attention, and starts licking the dog’s ears, it may be because they are attracted to the smell. Licking of the ears can make the infection worse.
Teeth & Gums
A dog with dental disease will most likely have halitosis, so the bad breath will be a giveaway that something is not right in the mouth. The back molars tend to be where the tartar and dental calculus build up the most. A common sign of gingivitis is a distinct red line along the gums at the tooth margin, and if the case of gingivitis is advanced, the entire gum may be a bright red colour, inflamed, and sore. This will be painful for the dog to eat, especially if on a dry kibble, and they may start to go off their food.
Skin and Coat
A healthy coat will be glossy (unless, of course, your dog is a wire haired breed like a Border Terrier). A glossy coat is also a sign that the dog is on a suitable diet. A bit like ourselves, if we are on a poor diet this shows in our skin. If there is excessive dandruff (dead skin cells) it may be worth looking at a better quality dog food that contains decent amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, which benefit skin and coat health.
Other things to be looking for in the skin are any growths. As dogs age they may develop lipomas, which are fatty lumps, but any lumps are worth veterinary attention to rule out a cancerous growth.
Are there any signs of fleas in the coat? This also a good time to double check that they are up to date with flea and worm control.
Skin and coat checks can be combined with grooming sessions. Make them fun and rewarding for the dog and get to know what is 'normal' for your dog.
Weight & Body Condition Score
Your dog should have a visible waistline when viewed from above and you should be able to feel the ribs as you run your hands across either side of the chest. However, you shouldn’t be able to see the ribs. To judge whether your dog is the correct weight for their body condition, scoring is the best way to assess fitness, as we don't have a set of veterinary scales at home and specific breed weight ranges can vary.
Is your dog coping okay on walks and in cold snaps? Be sure to pay special attention to the very young and senior citizens. It may be time for the older dog to have 3 shorter walks throughout the day, rather than an hour or half-hour at either end of the day.
Is your older dog struggling to get up and mobile? Perhaps pad out their bedding a bit more or invest in more of an orthopaedic type bed which usually contains something like memory foam. It may be time for a maintenance pain relief program if a vet check reveals a diagnosis of arthritis is developing.
Food & Water Consumption
After checking your dog's weight and/or body condition score, it may be time to swap up your dog’s food to the next life stage that may be better suited to your dog's age. Feeding amounts may need to be adjusted if calorie consumption needs to change.
Has your dog’s water consumption increased through the day? This could be the early warning signs of renal disease in an older dog.
Have their habits changed in any way? Are they going more often? Is the stool more often loose rather than formed? Any blood or mucus on a frequent basis? Like skin and coat condition, get to know what is 'normal' for your dog - especially if different members of the household walk the dog.