Physical examination

Wouldn’t it be nice if your pet dog can tell you how it feels and can show you something is wrong? Since it is not possible it is your responsibility to recognize an abnormal situation. Identifying a minor abnormality will be left in you hands. These minor abnormalities can develop into a serious illness that can snuff the life of your pet if not detected at once. While some situations would evidently require immediate professional help other symptoms would manifest slowly. Needless to say, early detection is important as it can save the life of your beloved pet. A good physical examination that you can do at home will enable you to detect small abnormalities. Additionally, through the physical examination you will be able to discern if a major organ is not functioning as it should.

Before doing a physical examination take note of the general appearance of the dog. Naturally you will know your pet much better than anyone else, even the vet. At a glance you will know if the pet is under the weather. Start your physical examination by placing the dog between your thighs and run your hands from the head to the tail. You will be able to feel if the dog has lumps or bumps. Something must be wrong if the dog yelps when touched in a certain area. Cases like this would often times need professional attention.

A good hands-on physical examination should cover the following areas:


A healthy dog should have moist and clean nose. Check the dog’s nose for swelling, abnormal discharge or for any unpleasant odor. Breathing difficulties could be related to a respiratory problem. A tumor, a polyp or even a foreign object that get stuck on the nose may be obstructing air passage. Dogs sniff a lot and it would not be surprising if weird things would get lodged in their nostrils. Nasal discharge, bleeding and a nose that is dry and cracked is an abnormality.


Check the eyes for redness, swelling and abnormal discharge. Dirt, hair and other small particles that have managed to enter the eyes may cause the dog to squint and to continuously blink. Check if the eyes appear to be dry. Also take note of unusually heavy discharge. Normal eyes should be moist, bright and clear. Both pupils should be of the same size and should shrink and enlarge at the same time when exposed to dim or bright lights. White of the eyes should have few visible blood vessels. Blood shot eyes with yellowish and brownish colors are indications of abnormalities.


Normal ears are smooth, dry, clean and free from wounds. The ears should also be free from offensive odors. Redness of ears and foul smelling odor is a sign of ear infection. Ear infection usually starts deep in the ear canal and may not be visible. The tell tale sign would be the foul odor. Moisture, crust and ear canal discharge are other signs of infection. While checking the ears, take not of ear mites inside the dog’s ears. If a normally erect ear would droop and the dog would yelp if palpated around the area of the ears it is obvious that the dog has some kind of ear infection. It is common for dogs to suffer from allergies. Recurring allergic episodes could result to skin and ear infections.


Oral hygiene of the pet dog is often times overlooked. The mouth of the dog may be concealing infected gums, loose teeth as well as foreign objects like small pieces of bones and twigs that get stuck between the teeth. A dog whose teeth are brushed regularly would be more cooperative to have the mouth examined. A normally healthy dog would have pink gums and clean white teeth. Dog would also be free from bad breath. Swelling of the lips, bleeding of the gums are signs of abnormalities. Pale or yellow colored gums are an indication that the dog is suffering from jaundice, anemia or hypoglycemia. Bad odor of dog’s breath may be due to poor oral hygiene. If after brushing regularly, the bad breath still exist it is advisable to bring it to the attention of the vet as it can be a symptom of tonsillitis, gum disease and other more serious illnesses.

Capillary refill time (CRT) can be assessed through mouth physical examination. This process is done to evaluate how well the circulatory system and the heart are functioning. To do this you have to press the gum with a finger and quickly release. CRT is normal if the color of the gum return in about 1 or 2 seconds. It is abnormal if the color of the gums would return rapidly or extremely slow.

Neck, Chest and Breathing

Gently examine the chest and neck for bumps and lumps. Most lumps and bumps are harmless as they are only fatty growth on the skin. These hard to the touch bumps are called lymphomas. However, palpation that causes discomfort to the dog is indicative of a serious problem.

The dog’s normal breathing would be difficult to hear unless the dog is panting. Normally breathing movement is confined to the walls of the chest. A rasping or wheezing sound, rapid and shallow breathing, as well as breathing movement that involve the abdomen is an indication of respiratory abnormalities.


Examine the abdomen by gently running the hand from the rib cage to the stomach. Normally a healthy dog would not have bumps, would feel no pain upon palpation and abdomen wall will not be distended. Abnormal swelling of nipples and discharges on female dogs may indicate cancer. Other abnormalities would be distended abdomen, pain when petted and the presence of lumps and bumps.

Skin Turgor test

This test is done to determine if the dog has sufficient fluid in its system. To this you need to pull the skin on the dog’s chest or back. In normal dogs the skin would rapidly return to its normal position when released. A dog is not sufficiently hydrated if the skin remains tented when released. The skin would slowly return to its normal position.

Pulse and heartA responsible dog owner should know where to find the pulse of the dog. This knowledge would be most useful if an accident happened to the dog. The best place to locate a pulse is the femoral artery that can be found in the groin area of the dog. Place your finger on the inside of the hind thigh and slowly move upwards until the back of the hand rest on the abdominal wall. Move your fingers in this area until you find the pulse. Normal pulse would be regular, strong and can be easily felt. Abnormal pulse would be hard to locate, too slow or too rapid.

While one hand is feeling for the pulse, use the other hand to feel the heartbeat. Normally the pulse and the heartbeat should be synchronized.


Often times, a seemingly healthy dog’s illness is detected through temperature readings. For best results it is recommended that a rectal thermometer be used as temperature readings are more accurate. Lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly and slowly insert about 1 or 2 inches to the rectum of the dog. Normal temperature reading is between 101 degrees to 102.5 degrees. The thermometer should come out clean when removed from the dog’s rectum. Abnormal temperature would range from below 100 degrees to above 103 degrees. When taken from the rectum the thermometer would have tar-like stool and blood.

Urinary and Reproductive system

Normally the dog should have no difficulties in urinating. Urine would have the normal yellowish color. But if the dog continuously wants to urinate and little or no amount of urine would come out; when it is obvious that it is painful for the dog to urinate and when there is a presence of blood in the urine then the dog should be taken to a vet immediately as these signs may be indicative of a serious illness.

Perianal area of dogs must be inspected for hernia, for tumors and evidence of discharge. For this you have to check the matted hair on the anal area. This can be a dirty job but it is a necessary one. You can use gloves to work the mats out. You may also prefer to trim the hair from the anal area. Inspect the penis and the vagina for tumors, inflammations and abnormal discharge.

Bones and Joints

Healthy dogs would have normal gaits. These dogs will be able to walk normally without limping. You will notice at once if the dog is limping and if its joints are swollen. A dog that is continuously licking the same area on its leg is an indication that it is in pain.

Most dog owners would pamper their pets with trendy clothes and toys. The important task of performing a physical examination would often take a back seat most especially if the dog seems to be healthy. However, the physical examination is the only way by which illness can be prevented and developing health problems can be given immediate attention. This is the only way by which health of the pet will be ensured.

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