Observe carefully!

Prevention is always better than cure… you can determine the health condition of your pooch at your home…merely by observation. Here’s how to do so.

It is the responsibility of the pet parents to see the nutritional needs, proper preventative and veterinary care of their pooches. Dogs are endowed with certain physiological constants that can be used by pet owners, pet professionals and practitioners to evaluate health and vitality of our beloved companion. These clues help us in primary diagnosis of normal health of dogs, when they begin to deviate from their usual routine. These are early warning sign of any illness, injury, or other disease condition that may be trying to take hold. Here’s how to determine his health condition:

Check the body condition

Body condition score is an ideal characteristic to identify health. The three body condition scores are Poor, Ideal and Obese. These can be ascertained by observing the dog, when ‘Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all other bony structures are prominent and observed easily without discernable body fat’, this signifies ‘Poor’ body condition which needs to be improved. An ‘Ideal’ body condition score shows that, ‘Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and other bony structures easily palpable with slight fat cover. Tail base is smooth with thin, soft tissue cover. Concave abdominal tuck.’ Further, an owner should be able to feel the indentations of the muscles. There should not be odd lumps in the tissue. Over consumption and faulty food habits may lead to overweight with obesity which can be diagnosed by ‘Ribs and lumbar vertebrae are very difficult to impossible to palpate. Pelvic bones are difficult to palpate with thick tissue cover. Tail base is thickened from fat deposition with thick soft tissue cover. Abdomen is convex with or without a pendulous ventral bulge, back is markedly broadened’ this body condition score is designated as ‘Obese’.

See and feel the mucous membrane

It is the lubricating membrane that lines all the body openings like mouth, nostrils, eyelids, anus and reproductive tract. Normal mucous membranes should be slight pink in colour and have normal capillary fill time (CRT). Pale mucous membranes are a sign of decreased RBCs count which is an indicator of anemic condition (decreased blood hemoglobin % and count of red blood cells). Yellowish mucous membrane due to accumulation of bilirubin is a sign of Jaundice.

Feel the skin and coat

Skin and coat condition is one of the most important indicators of dog health and well being, as well a mechanical and biochemical protector of its body. A healthy dog has a flexible and smooth skin with healthy coat. Although coats vary with the type breeds, but in general healthy coat always shows a shining appearance with good texture and soft to touch. Dogs usually sheds their coat once in a year but more shedding may occur due to many factors like stress, season and breed variations. Extreme shedding with patches of hair loss is an indicator of ill health. Scabby growth and discoloration of the skin may give alarming signals of disease or the presence of ectoparasites (lice, fleas, ticks etc). The pet parents should be aware in regards to normal skin care. The skin should be smooth without areas of redness, patches of hair, open sores, scales, scabs or growths and free of fleas, ticks and other external parasites.

Check the teeth and gums

Like human beings teeth and gums are the indicators of oral health in dogs. Clean teeth without any tartar, plaque or discolouration can be treated as good. Young dogs will have sparkling white teeth where as older dogs will have a darkening. The gums are most often pink in colour but can vary among species. Firm and pinkish gums are signs of good oral health, any bleeding from the gums or ulcers may indicate an underlying illness. In the dog, like the tongue, the gums, as well as the inner cheeks, can have patches (or solid pigmentation) of dark blue to black. Paleness in the gums can be a sign of anaemia. Red, inflamed gums are often a sign of gingivitis or other periodontal disease. Foul smelling or Halitosis is an indication of faulty oral care of dogs.

Check the tongue

The tongue is usually pink in colour. Dogs may have an occasional dark blue-black marking, while certain breeds, such as the Chow, have a totally blue-black tongue. The tongue is covered with taste buds that distinguish flavours. The tongue is also used as a grooming tool.

Look into the eyes

Shiny and bright eyes signs good health, generally, a dog’s eyes should be clear. The area around the eyeball is known as the conjunctiva and should appear a healthy pink. Paleness in this area could be a sign of several underlying problems. Crust and mucus around the eye and eyelid are a normal occurrence in some dogs but there should not be thick, green or yellow discharge from the eyes. Inflamed or swollen eyelids, cloudiness in the eyes and coloured discharges around the eyes are all potential indicators of a health issue. Certain breeds such as Poodles tend to have a “watery” discharge that can often be considered normal.

See the nose too

A dog’s nose should be moist, cool and clear of any discharge. Dry and crusty growth around nostrils with excessive nasal discharge along with sever redness may indicates respiratory infection or allergy. Any yellow, green or foul smelling discharge is abnormal and often be a signal of canine distemper in younger dogs.

Check the ears

Ears should be clean with neither dark, bloody discharge nor should there be any foul odour emanating from the ear, redness, or swelling. And the excretory waste (stool and urine) too An excretory product (stool and urine) gives an idea about what’s happening inside the digestive or urinary tract. Firm stool with brownish appearance is an indicator of good bowel condition. There should be no worms, whole grains or blood cells in the stool. Pale yellow coloured urine without debris signifies normal urinary tract and good health. Contrary, dark blackish stool, diarrhoea with watery consistency as well as dark yellow urine with blood stains may signifies gastrointestinal as well as urinary tract infection. Drastic increases or decrease in urine volume can signal towards kidney failure, stones, crystals or even diabetes.

Measure the body weight

A dog who appears healthy in every way may still be over or underweight. There may be problems of over or under weight; it may be due to inadequate or over abundance of diet, some diseases like diabetes, thyroid insufficiency, metabolic disorder and conditions like lethargy. Overweight dogs can develop issues relating to breathing, fatigue and general illness.

How’s the appetite

Illness of any kind may directly affect the appetite or food intake and is an important indicator of initiation of the disease. Anorexia or lack of appetite is one of the first sign of health problems. Decreased intake of one or two meals is not usually cause for concern, but a sudden drop in food intake or complete refusal of food or water may indicate illness or disturbed normal homeostatic mechanism.
If all these factors are kept in mind, you can analyse your pooch’s health conditions way before any contingency. Happy rearing!

(The authors belong to College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry, Navsari Agricultural University, Navsari.)