How to do a dog health check

As your dog gets older, you can play your part in keeping them well with regular health MOTs at home. Find out how to check them over with expert tips from Petplan vet Brian Faulkner.

In addition to essential annual dental check-ups and booster vaccinations, it’s a good idea to have your dog looked at by the vet at least once a year, if not more. Taking your dog for their annual vaccinations means if any conditions that your dog is vaccinated against did arise, PetPlan can cover the cost of the treatment. Dental treatment for illness or injury may also be covered under your insurance policy providing your dog has an annual dental check-up and any recommended treatment is carried out within six months. Regular health check-ups are more important than ever as our dogs get older (even if they’re not always keen on going!). You can also do your bit to look after your dog between veterinary visits, by carrying out a simple dog health check at home.

It’s helpful to get your dog used to being examined on a regular basis – perhaps once or twice a month. You might like to combine a dog health check with a grooming session. Follow our video tips for giving your dog a health MOT, or read on for our step-by-step guide to dog health checks.

Check your dog's eyes

Healthy dog eyes should be clear, moist and bright. Redness, excessive blinking or streaming tears can all be signs of eye problems in your dog. Look out, too, for the pupils of their eyes turning cloudy as they age – this can be a symptom of cataracts.

Check your dog's ears

While stroking your dog, gently examine their ears. The inside of their ears should be clean and not too red or inflamed. A little earwax in dogs is not a cause for concern, but excessive waxiness or a black build-up can be a sign of health issues such as an ear infection, ear mites or allergies.

Inspect your dog’s nose

Check that your dog’s nose is free of nasal discharge or sores. A runny nose or sneezing, often accompanied by coughing, could be a sign of kennel cough.

Check your dog’s gums and teeth

Gently lift your dog’s lips to get a better look at their teeth and gums. Watch out for plaque and tartar on the teeth, or for reddened gums, which can be a sign of gum disease. This is a very common problem in older dogs, which you can do your bit to prevent with regular tooth brushing.

Try moving your dog’s legs

Gently flex your dog’s legs. A healthy dog should be able to lift their wrist up to their shoulder, and their knee up to their belly, in comfort. Signs of pain or lameness as they age could indicate a joint problem like arthritis.

Check your dog’s coat and skin

Gently run your hands through your dog’s coat and over their skin to feel for any lumps, injuries or dandruff. In long-haired dogs, you’ll need to part their hair to examine them properly. While you’re doing this, you might also like to assess their body condition and make sure their weight feels healthy.

It’s not glamorous, but if you’re doing a dog health check, it’s important to not forget their rear end! Have a look for any lumps, bumps and sores near your dog’s bottom.

Don’t forget your dog’s paws

Although some dogs find having their paws touched rather tickly, it’s important to check their feet and claws regularly. Make sure their nails don’t become overgrown – which can be a problem in older dogs. Pay particular attention to their dewclaws on the inside of their front legs. You don’t want to allow these to get so long that they bend when your dog makes contact with the floor, causing them discomfort.

Bear in mind that doing a dog health check at home isn’t intended to replace a proper veterinary check-up. But it will help you get to know your dog better than ever, and spot any issues that require further investigation. If you notice any of the symptoms described here, or other physical or behavioural changes as your dog ages, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with your vet.

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