Signs of Good Health

It's important to be familiar with the signs of a healthy dog. Then, in the case that something becomes wrong with your dog, you'll notice it quicker and be able to take the proper course of action.
 

These are the general signs of good health to look for in your dog:
 

  • Skin. Healthy skin is flexible and smooth, without scabs, growths, white flakes or red areas. It ranges in color from pale pink to brown or black depending on the breed. Spotted skin is normal, whether the dog has a spotted or solid coat. Check your dog for fleas, ticks, lice and other external parasites. To do this, blow gently on your dog's stomach or brush hair backward in a few places to see if any small specks scurry away or if ticks are clinging to the skin. Black "dirt" on your dog's skin or bedding may be a sign of flea populations.
  • Coat. A healthy coat, whether short or long, is glossy and pliable, without dandruff, bald spots, or excessive oiliness.
  • Eyes. Healthy eyes are bright and shiny. Mucus and watery tears are normal, but should be minimal and clear. The pink lining of the eyelids should not be inflamed, swollen, or have a yellow discharge. Sometimes you can see your dog's third eyelid, a light membrane, at the inside corner of an eye. It may slowly come up to cover his eye as he goes to sleep. The whites of your dog's eyes should not be yellowish. Eyelashes should not touch the eyeball.
  • Ears. The skin inside your dog's ears should be light pink and clean. There should be some yellow or brownish wax, but a large amount of wax or crust is abnormal. There should be no redness or swelling inside the ear, and your dog shouldn't scratch his ears or shake his head frequently. Dogs with long, hairy ears, such as Cocker Spaniels, need extra attention to keep the ears dry and clean inside and out.
  • Nose. A dog's nose is usually cool and moist. It can be black, pink or the same color as the coat, depending on the breed. Nasal discharge should be clear, never yellowish, thick, bubbly, or foul smelling. A cool, wet nose does not necessarily mean the dog is healthy. Likewise, a dry, warm nose doesn't necessarily mean he's sick. Taking his temperature is a better indication of illness.
  • Mouth, Teeth, and Gums. Healthy gums are firm and pink, black or spotted, just like the dog's skin. Young dogs have smooth white teeth that tend to darken with age. Puppies have 23 baby teeth and adults have about 42 permanent teeth, depending on the breed. As adult teeth come in, they push baby teeth out of the mouth, much like they do in humans.
  • Temperature. A dog's normal temperature is 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 39.2 degrees Celsius). To take your dog's temperature, you'll need a rectal thermometer. Put some petroleum jelly on the bulb of the thermometer. Ask someone to hold your dog's head while you lift his tail and insert the thermometer about an inch or so into the rectum. Do not let go of the thermometer. Hold it in until the temperature is read (about 3 minutes for a mercury thermometer), and then remove gently.
  • Heartbeat and Pulse. A dog's heartbeat varies according to size. A normal heart beats from 50 to 130 times a minute in a resting dog. Puppies and small dogs have faster speeds, and large dogs in top condition have slower heartbeats. To check your dog's heartbeat, place your fingers over the left side of the chest, where you can feel the strongest beat. To check the pulse, which is the same speed as the heartbeat, press gently on the inside of the top of the hind leg. There is an artery there and the skin is thin, so it's easy to feel the pulse.
  • Elimination. Clear, yellow urine is an indication of good health. Most adult dogs have one or two bowel movements a day. Stools should be brown and firm. Runny, watery or bloody stools, straining or too much or too little urination warrant a call to the veterinarian.
  • Weight. A healthy dog's weight is the result of the balance between diet and exercise. If he is getting enough nutritious food and exercise but still seems over- or underweight, he may have a health problem. Don't let your dog get fat by giving him too many between-meal snacks. Obese dogs often develop serious health problems. The best way to tell if your dog is overweight is to feel his rib-cage area. You should be able to feel the ribs below the surface of the skin without much padding.

When to call the veterinarian

You should contact your veterinarian as quickly as possible if your dog exhibits any unusual behavior, including the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting, diarrhea or excessive urination for more than twelve hours
  • Fainting
  • Loss of balance, staggering or falling
  • Constipation or straining to urinate
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Persistent scratching at eyes or ears
  • Thick discharge from eyes, ears, nose or sores
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing or prolonged panting
  • Shivering
  • Whining for no apparent reason
  • Loss of appetite for 24 hours or more
  • Weight loss
  • Dramatic increase in appetite for 24 hours or more
  • Increased restlessness
  • Excessive sleeping or unusual lack of activity
  • Limping, holding or protecting part of the body
  • Excessive thirst
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