Intelligent Choice of the Right Pet Dog (A Case Study)
CANINE HEALTH AND FIRST AID
A HEALTHY DOG
KEEPING A DOG HEALTHY AND CONTENT IS NEITHER AS EASY NOR AS DIFFICULT as many people think. What it takes is an owner who is willing to devote the necessary time and energy to exercise, train, groom, and attend to the other needs of their pet. Conscientious dog care actually begins before you buy the dog, by realistically evaluating the time you have to spend on a dog and opting for a breed whose needs do not outstrip your resources. Good dog care is the dog owner’s responsibility. A healthy dog requires proper nutrition, regular grooming and exercise sessions, training for good behavior, and plenty of love. And don’t forget that even a well-cared-for, healthy dog needs to be examined and vaccinated regularly by a veterinarian.
Although dogs can’t come right out and announce how they feel, the alert owner can always tell something is not quite right by changes in the dog’s normal appearance or behavior. This chapter describes signs of a healthy dog. Other chapters on nutrition, grooming, and training help you maintain your dog’s good health and well-being.
Each dog is unique, with its own characteristics, appearance, and personality. What may be normal for one dog may not be for another; only the dog’s owner and veterinarian know what is normal for any one particular dog. Get acquainted with the way your dog acts and looks from day to day. Changes in appearance or behavior could be clues to possible illness. In general, however, the following describes the physical state of a healthy dog.
Healthy skin is smooth and flexible, ranging from pale pink to brown or black. Spotted skin is normal in dogs with spotted or solid-color coats. No scales, scabs, growths, or areas of redness should be visible. Dogs have seasonal shedding cycles, which may occasionally change. A healthy coat, however, is glossy and pliable, without dandruff, excessive oiliness, or areas of baldness.
Check to see that your dog does not have fleas, ticks, lice, or other external parasites by running your hand against the grain of the coat; some pests are stationary, while others, like fleas, may scurry away as soon as they are exposed. Signs of fleas include itching and the presence of small black and white specks on the skin, which are flea dirt or feces. It’s a good idea to check the skin of longhaired dogs in several places.
A healthy dog has bright, shiny eyes free of excessive watering or discharge. Eyelashes and hair should not rub against the eyeball; this is especially a concern for owners of longhaired breeds. Examine the moist pink inner lining of the eyelids (the conjunctiva) by placing your thumb near the edge of the eyelid and pulling gently upward or downward. This smooth membrane should not be inflamed, swollen, or have a yellow discharge. The whites of the eyes should not appear yellowish.
The dog’s third eyelid, a light pink membrane, is located under the lower lid and is most easily visible in the inner corner of the eye. How much the third eyelid is visible on the surface of the eye varies from breed to breed. Get to know what is normal for your breed, so you will be able to spot any changes that could signal a problem.
The outside of the ear flap is covered with hair similar to the rest of the body. The skin inside the dog’s ears is light pink, clean, and lightly covered with hair. A small amount of yellow, brown, or black wax may be present in the ear canals, but an overabundance of this wax is abnormal. Healthy ears do not emit a bad smell, they are not red, swollen, itchy, or painful to the dog, and do not exude a discharge.
To examine the inside of your dog’s mouth, gently grasp the top of the muzzle with your fingers on one side and thumb on the other. Use the other hand to pull down on the lower jaw. Healthy gums will appear pink or pigmented (black or spotted) and will feel firm. The edges of healthy gums surround the teeth, which are free from soft white matter and hard white, yellow, or brown material. Your dog should not have unpleasant breath.
Young dogs have white, smooth teeth, which tend to darken a bit with age. The average puppy has twenty-three baby teeth with no molars. Normal adult dogs have forty-two permanent teeth, although some breeds have fewer because of the construction of their jaws. Once adult teeth have emerged, the baby teeth should not remain. These sometimes have to be removed by a veterinarian.
A dog may have a scissors bite (the upper front teeth tightly overlap the lower front teeth), a level bite, an overshot bite, or an undershot bite. The type of bite preferred in each breed is described in the breed’s standard.
A dog’s nose is normally cool and moist. Any secretions from the nose are clear and watery, not cloudy, yellow or green, thick, or foul-smelling. Black noses are most common, though a variety of colors and even spots can be normal. The nose should not be red or irritated—the possible result of an injury, disease, or sensitivity to sunlight.
Many people mistakenly believe that the condition of a dog’s nose is the best indicator of its health. A sick dog, however, may have either a warm, dry nose or a cold, wet one, and owners are advised to use a rectal thermometer to correctly determine if the dog has a fever.
The normal temperature range for a dog, taken with a rectal thermometer, is from 101 to 102.5 degrees F (38.3 to 39.2 degrees C). It’s important to keep the dog still while you are taking its temperature. This is best done while the dog is standing, but lying on its side will also work.
Begin by shaking down the thermometer and lubricating the bulb with petroleum jelly, or mineral or vegetable oil. Lift the dog’s tail and gently slide the thermometer into the anus—the distance depends on the size of the dog. Half the thermometer may be required for a large dog, while an inch may do for a small one. Remove the thermometer after three minutes to read the temperature.
The heart rate of a healthy dog depends on its size and condition. Normally, the heart beats 50 to 130 times per minute in a resting dog. It is faster in puppies and small dogs, slower in large dogs or those in particularly good physical condition.
To feel a dog’s heartbeat, place your fingertips or palm (never your thumb, because you have a pulse of your own in your thumb) against the left side of the dog’s chest just behind the elbow, or place your ear against the chest over the heart. To feel the dog’s pulse, gently press on the artery that lies on the inside of the thigh where the leg joins the body.
Urine excreted by a healthy dog is yellow and clear. Most adult dogs move their bowels once or twice a day; the stools are well-formed and generally brown. The amount and color of stool produced by your dog will be affected by diet. Large amounts of odorous, loose, or unusually colored stools are abnormal.
It is most important to regard persistent diarrhea, difficult elimination, or a change in the frequency or amount of urination as signs of possible illness. Any of these signs should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian without delay.
Even if your dog appears fine in every other way, it can’t receive a clean bill of health if it is underweight or, more commonly, overweight. Obesity is usually the result of overfeeding and can be easily corrected by changing the dog’s diet. But a visit to the veterinarian is in order first, to rule out a hormonal imbalance or other physical problem.
An underweight dog, or one that refuses to eat, can have internal parasites or other serious health problems. Again, a visit to the veterinarian is the best way to deal with this problem.