Performing a DIY Physical Exam on Your Dog

Take a hands-on approach when it comes to your dog’s health in between regular vet appointments.

We wish that our dogs could speak up and tell us what’s wrong when they’re not feeling well. That’s why it’s so important to book and keep regular vet visits—it’s the best way to catch health problems in the early stages. However, we know that it’s not feasible to take your dog to the vet every time you think there may be a problem. That’s why you need to take your dog’s health into your own hands by performing a DIY physical exam on your dog at home.

Performing an At-Home Exam

It’s okay that you don’t have all the fancy equipment and laboratory tests that your veterinarian’s clinic has. There are some simple at-home things you can do for a DIY physical exam. Follow these steps to perform a physical exam on your dog:

  1. Check your dog’s pulse and heart rate. Find your dog’s pulse by touching the femoral artery on the inside of his thigh. Count the number of pulses for 15 seconds and then multiply that by four. A normal heart rate for a dog is usually between 80 and 120 beats per minute (this number is variable with smaller dogs and puppies, as they have higher heart rates than large and active breeds).
  2. Take your dog’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. First, Lubricate the end, and then insert it—about 1 inch for small dogs and 2 inches for large dogs. A dog’s normal body temperature is between 100°F and 102°F.
  3. Take a good look at your dog’s head, including his nose, eyes, ears, and mouth. Your dog’s nose and eyes should be clear of discharge, ears clean and dry, and gums pink and moist.
  4. Watching your dog’s chest rise and fall to check his breathing. It should move easily and rhythmically; if not, then you is having breathing trouble. The normal rate of respiration is between 15 and 30 breaths per minute.
  5. Rub your dog’s belly to feel for any abnormalities. His stomach is located in the left section, just under the ribs, so you may feel an enlargement there if your dog has recently eaten.
  6. Run your hands slowly and gently over your dog’s body to check for lumps, patches of uneven fur, and painful areas (he may yelp if you find a sensitive spot). You can also check your dog’s hydration level by pinching the skin behind his neck. If it bounces back quickly he’s hydrated, if it stays or bounces back slowly, he’s dehydrated.

This simple at-home exam shouldn’t replace regular visits to your veterinarian, but it can be a supplement to your dog’s regular veterinary care. In addition to regular vet visits, you should observe your dog on a daily basis, getting to know his normal behavior and habits as much as possible. Subtle changes in behavior or eating habits are often the first indication of a problem so, the better you know your dog, the better you’ll be able to identify a problem.

Meet the Author: Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.

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