The Home Checkup

The best way to keep your dog healthy is to notice it becomes a problem. And the best way to do that is to give your dog a complete once-over every week. That way you will pick up subtle changes that may indicate all is not as it should be.

Do a physical check all over her body. You should also find out how her heat and lungs are functioning. This doesn’t mean that you need to hang out with a stethoscope around your neck. You don’t need fancy accessories to take your dog’s pulse, check her breathing and circulation, and make sure she’s getting enough fluids. If you do it regularly, you will know what is normal and what is not quite right.

Taking her Pulse:
Your dog’s pulse tells you how her heart is doing, and if it’s normal, then she’s doing just fine. If it’s unusually fast or slow, that’s a sign that she isn’t feeling so good.

To take her pulse, you’ll need to get a little friendly. The idea is to find the femoral artery, because that’s where the pulse is strongest. It’s on the inside of the upper thigh (on the rear legs), and you’ll be able to feel it either when your pet is standing or when she’s lying spread-eagled on her back. The artery is usually fairly prominent. Put one or two fingers on it and count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get the beats per minute. The rate depends on the size and age of a dog.

A dog’s normal pulse can vary a lot, depending on the kind of breed she is. Generally, larger dogs tend to have slower heart rates than smaller dogs, but the normal heartbeat for average size dogs ranges from between 60 to 150 beats per minute. Ask your vet to tell you what heartbeat you should expect for your dog, and remember that the beats should always be strong and regular and never feel weak or erratic.

Another way to check your pet’s heart rate is simply to put your hand on her chest just behind her left elbow – effective if you’re having trouble finding the artery. The heart gives a double beat, so what you’re feeling for is a lub-dub rhythm.

Checking your dog’s breathing is another great way to find out how she’s doing. To check her breathing, count the number of breaths she takes each minute. Watch the rise and fall of her chest to get your count. Depending on her breed, she will probably breather between 10 and 30 times a minute. If she seems breathless or the breath is rapid when she’s at rest, take her to the vet.

This is a seemingly simple task, but it can get a bit tricky if your dog is a partner, huffer or wheezer. Distracting her with a toy will sometimes quiet the panting. If it doesn’t, don’t feel bad. Many vets have faced the same problem.

Your dog’s heart may be beating but it’s only doing the whole job when the blood is getting around to all the tissues in her body. You can actually make sure the blood’s going where it should by checking what vets call the capillary refill time. Life the lip from the side of her mouth and press firmly (but gently) with your finger on the gum above the canine tooth. When you release the pressure, there should a pale spot that becomes pink again within two seconds as blood quickly refills the capillaries. If it’s pale for longer than two seconds, there is a problem with your dog’s circulation and you should see your vet right away.

Fluid Levels:
A critical part of your home checkup is making sure your dog has enough fluids in her body. Dogs that get dehydrated – it could be from overheating, for example, or from an internal problem such as disease – can go into shock, and that’s an emergency. To check for dehydration, gently grab some skin over your dog’s shoulder, then carefully pull and twist it before releasing. If she has enough fluids, her skin will be very elastic and will snap back into position in a second or two. If she is dehydrated, the twist will persist, creating a “Tent” in her skin that takes longer to slip back into place.