dog exam

Cindy couldn’t exist without pets in her life, but working a 40-hour week to pay for her small apartment, made it difficult to share her life with an animal who would depend on her, so…Cindy decided to become a professional pet sitter, a job she found to be more pleasure than work.  She joined an organization, starting earning certifications in various animal care skills and learned to really tune in to the pets in her care.  Every morning she’d be out on her appointed rounds, checking on animals whose owners were on vacation, working or for some other reason needed assistance with their care.  A three-year-old Dalmatian — aptly named Spot — took a liking to Cindy, so she would schedule extra time with him for long walks through his favorite park.   One day she noticed Spot had an empty bowl of water when she arrived, so she filled it, he emptied it, and off they went on their adventure.  Always carrying water with her, Cindy periodically gave Spot a drink, but a few times Spot nudged at Cindy’s pack requesting more.  Back home, Spot bee-lined for his water bowl and licked it dry.  Knowing she hadn’t over-exercised her canine pal and that it wasn’t a particularly hot day, Cindy felt something else must be making him drink massive quantities.  She called his owners and asked if they noticed their dog was drinking more than usual.  The woman thought about it and said, “Yes, we have been refilling his bowl a lot more often lately.  Could something be wrong?”  Cindy’s suggestion was to take Spot to the vet for a check-up.  Sure enough, the results came back confirming Spot was diabetic – a condition in which the body doesn’t properly use glucose and excessive drinking is often a symptom.  Because Cindy tuned in to Spot and his habits, she was able to quickly notice something ‘not quite right’ and got him the help he needed.  Spot now receives daily insulin injections (which as a professional pet sitter, Cindy learned to administer) and is living a happy and active life.


Really get to know your pet!  Your dog or cat can’t tell you what hurts, so it is important to know what is normal for your unique best friend.  Notice what his body feels like, how he sits/stands, how often he drinks and how frequently he asks to go outside so you will quickly note something out of character.  A weekly Head-to-Tail Check-up (what I often call a Woof-to-Wag when kitties aren’t in ear shot) is one of the best ways to find and treat a problem before it becomes a nightmare.


Gently clean ears of dirt and waxy debris with ear wash and a soft cloth.  If you discover redness, parasites or a foul odor, have your veterinarian assist.  What looks like coffee grounds could be dirt from ear mites requiring treatment.


If eyes tear excessively, flush with purified water or saline solution. Compare one eye to the other for any differences making sure both pupils are the same size.  If not equally dilated, your pet could have a concussion, tumor or other ailment and should be checked out immediately!


Feel the muzzle for bumps and tenderness.  Due to bone and cartilage, it may be impossible to feel a tumor, but if the area appears sore or there is an unusual discharge from the nostrils, get to your Veterinarian for a thorough exam.  This brings up the point that doing an at-home exam is imperative in getting your cat or dog used to human touch.  If they won’t let you touch them, you’re never going to know if something is sore, so start right away and make it a pleasant experience for your pet.


Carefully look in the mouth.  Gums should be a healthy pink (unless your pet has black gums like Chows, Black Labs and many cats) with no bad odor.  Do you brush your pet’s teeth regularly?  It only takes 48 hours for plaque to turn to tartar leading to gum disease.


The rest of your Head-to-Tail Check-up should be a gentle massage looking and feeling for things that don’t belong — abrasions, bumps, tenderness and sores; even parasites, burrs and foxtails that may have found their way onto your friend’s furry coat.  When you reach his chest, you should be able to feel, but not see, the ribs (unless perhaps he is a Greyhound, Whippet, Ridgeback or other super lean breed).  Breathing should be steady, but learn to check respiration and all of your dog’s vitals in a Pet First-Aid class so you know you’re doing your best for your furry family member.


Inspect legs and paws making sure claws and pads are not cracked and nails are trimmed. Be gentle and go the speed that is comfortable for your pet.  Many animals get uneasy when touched, but examine a little and a time, and they’ll come to enjoy this bonding experience.


With your fingertips, stroke the abdomen making sure there are no hard spots or sensitive areas. Check mammary glands, genitals and “under the tail” which should all be clean with no colored discharge.  If your pet is older or arthritic and can’t perform his own hygiene, help keep him clean with a warm wet cloth.  If you notice scooting or impacted anal glands, ask your veterinarian or groomer for help.


Take your pet’s pulse by feeling the Femoral Artery inside the thigh.  Medium to large dogs should have a pulse of 70-160 while small dogs and cats can be as high as 110-220 beats per minute.


Long or short, fluffy or hairless, your pet’s tail too should be examined for bumps and sores remembering that the area right above often harbors parasites.


Throughout your assessment, notice your pet’s skin and coat for flaking or excessive shedding.  The right brush can feel like a massage and help stimulate oil glands.   If you notice anything that is NOT QUITE RIGHT, call your veterinarian for his professional opinion.


Conclude your Head-to-Tail Check-up with a belly rub, game of ball or healthy treat and know you have done a good thing for your four-legged best friend!



Denise Fleck is an award winning author and freelance writer.  After extensive training, practice, more training and more practice, she developed her own Pet First-Aid & CPCR curriculum and has been teaching animal life-saving skills for 16 years with many success stories to share.  Additionally, she developed a 5-month Animal Care course for high school students in conjunction with the Burbank Unified School District and Animal Shelter.  She has demonstrated animal life-saving skills on CBS –TV’s “The Doctors,” Animal Planet’s “Pit Boss,” “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life” and other shows and is emBARKing on a 10,000-mile Southern U.S. Pet Safety Tour this Fall.  Visit to find out if she’ll be stopping in a city near YOU!