Monitoring Your Dog’s Health

posted: 05/15/12
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To monitor your dog's health, do a quick scan during your weekly grooming session. Check his whole body, from nose to tail, and look for signs of illness such as matted fur, swelling or unusual discharge. Nose secretions should be clear, and his pulse -- taken by pressing your fingers on the inside of his upper thigh -- should fall within the range of 50 to 130 beats per minute, depending on the breed. In addition, check for dehydration by twisting the skin of his shoulder. A healthy dog's skin will snap right back.

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Behavioral Signs Your Dog is Sick

- He is lethargic.

- He acts depressed.

- He does not want to play or go for walks.

What to do?

While some signs of illness are general and can be indicators of any number of dog diseases or acute problems, other symptoms point to specific, common maladies. Mark everything you see and hear down in your dog's medical diary, and get to the vet as soon as you spot a problem. If you take your dog for a checkup every year and generally keep up with normal preventive care, you'll usually be able to nip any problems in the bud.

Abdominal pain or hardness

  • Problem: Blocked bladder, severe constipation, pregnancy, intestinal problems, pancreatitis, peritonitis
  • What to Do: Consult vet immediately.

Changes in eating or drinking habits

  • Problem: Stress or a variety of disorders
  • What to Do: Consult vet; if dog hasn't eaten for 24 hours, see vet as soon as possible.


  • Problem: Allergies, upper and lower respiratory diseases, lung parasites, foreign bodies, heart disease, heartworm, abnormal windpipe
  • What to Do: Add water or fiber (bran, pumpkin) to food, or add petroleum jelly to food with vet's OK. If condition persists, visit vet.

Dark residue or foul odor in ears, or dog shaking head or scratching ears

  • Problem: Ear mites, ear infection, inhalant and food allergies, foreign objects trapped in ear
  • What to Do: Consult vet within 24 hours.


  • Problem: Stress, change in diet, food allergy, intestinal infection or parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, parvovirus, coronavirus
  • What to Do: If symptoms persist for more than a few days or are severe, accompanied by signs such as weakness, vomiting or lethargy, consult vet at once.

Difficulty breathing; wheezing

  • Problem: Same as coughing, plus heart problems
  • What to Do: Consult vet immediately.

Difficulty urinating; blood in urine

  • Problem: Urinary tract infection or irritation; stones, tumors
  • What to Do: Consult vet immediately.

Excessive scratching or licking

  • Problem: Fleas, mites, skin disorders, allergies, wounds
  • What to Do: Check for and eliminate fleas. Relieve itch with cold, wet towels. Otherwise, consult vet within 24 hours.

Excessive thirst and urination

  • Problem: Diabetes, kidney or hormone disorders, uterine infection, high blood calcium
  • What to Do: Give plenty of water. Consult vet within 24 hours.

Foul breath

  • Problem: Dirty teeth, gum infection, abscesses, mouth tumors, foreign object between teeth
  • What to Do: Brush dog's teeth and feed dry food. If symptoms are severe or persist, consult vet.

Inflamed eyes or eyelids

  • Problem: Eye infection, allergy, injury, glaucoma, corneal ulcers
  • What to Do: Consult vet immediately.

Loss of appetite (anorexia)

  • Problem: Stress, gastrointestinal or other disorders
  • What to Do: If dog hasn't eaten for 24 hours, see vet as soon as possible.

Loss of balance or coordination; weakness

  • Problem: Injuries, blood loss, brain or spinal trauma, poisoning, inner ear disease, tumors
  • What to Do: Consult vet immediately.

Pale gums and mucous membranes

  • Problem: Anemia, heart disease, septic shock
  • What to Do: Consult vet immediately.

Sneezing; runny nose or eyes

  • Problem: Cold or upper respiratory system infection, allergies, foreign object in nose, nasal mites or tumors
  • What to Do: If problem persists for more than a few days or if dog stops eating, consult vet immediately.


  • Problem: Food allergies, intestinal problems, stress or many other disorders
  • What to Do: If symptoms persist for more than a day or are severe, accompanied by signs such as weakness, diarrhea or lethargy, consult vet immediately.

Weight loss

  • Problem: May indicate many different disorders
  • What to Do: Consult vet for diagnosis within 24 hours.
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When to Call the Vet

There are many common canine ailments, some more likely to afflict certain breeds than others. Although vaccinations will generally keep your dog safe from infectious diseases such as canine distemper, parvovirus, Lyme disease and rabies, there are times when disease will get through your vigilant filtering and prevention system. You should always be on the lookout for signs of illness, no matter how many booster shots your dog gets.


Parvo is a disease that damages your dog's intestinal lining, and is often fatal to young or unvaccinated dogs.


Fever, weakness, a poor appetite, depression followed by vomiting and severe diarrhea

What to do?

Take your dog to the vet ASAP. Because parvo is picked up via the stool of an infected dog, keep your dog away from the feces of others. Dogs with coronavirus, a much less serious problem, will also show these symptoms, and might also have bloody stools

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a highly contagious and dangerous health condition in dogs. So make sure your dog is vaccinated.


Loss of appetite, nose and eye discharge, neurological problems such as drooling, head shaking and even seizures. Look for hard skin patches on the feet or nose.

Viral or Bacterial Infection (most notably parainfluenza or bordetella -- kennel cough):


Coughing, hacking, listlessness and poor appetite, followed by a recurring cough


Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects the liver and kidneys. It can be picked up from contaminated urine.


Depression, weakness, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst and urination, mouth and tongue ulcers. This is highly contagious, and can be transmitted to humans.

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Strategies for Giving Medicine
Courtesy of Jason and Allison Robey

If you can't get your dog to eat a pill encased in a piece of cheese, you'll have to drop it down his throat. Grasp his muzzle with one hand and pull his jaw open with the other. Try to place the pill as far back into his throat as you can, then gently force his mouth closed. Massage his mouth, working down to the throat, until you see his neck move in the familiar swallowing motion.

A few drops should do it, but not if you don't know how to give your dog his liquid medicine. Tilt his head slightly upward, then place a dropper or syringe filled with the correct amount of medicine behind the lip fold at the side of his mouth. Squeeze the liquid in a bit at a time to give your dog time to swallow.

When giving eye drops, use the buddy system if possible. Your friend can hold your dog's raised head still while you gently roll back the upper eyelid and drop the medication in. Don't have any help? Kneel beside your sitting dog, then cup his chin and gently tilt his head so his nose points upwards. With one hand, pull his lower lid open. Use your other hand to pull back his top lid while you slowly squeeze out the medicine.

Ears are often hit by bacteria and other invaders, so dog owners should get used to dropping medication inside. Sit your dog down, then kneel beside him as you pull up his ear flap. With the other hand, administer the medication, whether it's in a tube, syringe or dropper, making sure it goes straight into the ear canal. Bring the ear flap back down, then rub it gently to work the medication inside. For erect ears, drop the medicine inside, gently fold the ear flap down to cover the ear, then rub the flap gently.

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