How to Perform a DIY Physical Exam on Your Dog

Dogs aren’t like humans – they can’t just speak up and tell you when something is wrong. Regular visits to the veterinarian are the best way to catch health problems when they are in the early stages and still treatable. If you can’t afford to take your dog as often as you like, or if you just want to exercise an extra degree of caution, learn how to perform a DIY physical exam on your dog at home.

Related: What to Expect with a Veterinary Teeth Cleaning

Steps to Perform an At-Home Exam

While you may not have the equipment or capabilities to run blood tests and other laboratory tests, there are some simple at-home things you can do for a DIY physical exam. Follow these steps to perform a physical exam on your dog:

  1. Use a rectal thermometer to take your dog’s temperature. Lubricate the end and insert it no more than 1 inch for small dogs and about 2 inches for large dogs. You are looking for a normal body temperature between 100°F and 102°
  2. Feel for your dog’s pulse and check her heart rate. You can find her pulse by touching the femoral artery on the inside of her thigh. Count the number of pulses for 15 seconds and then multiply that by four. A normal heart rate for a dog is usually between 80 and 120 beats per minute, though it is highly variable with smaller dogs and puppies having higher rates than large and active breeds.
  3. Check your dog’s breathing by watching her chest rise and fall – it should move easily and rhythmically unless your dog is having breathing trouble. The normal rate of respiration for a dog is between 15 and 30 breaths per minute.
  4. Examine your dog’s head including her nose, eyes, ears, and mouth. Her nose and eyes should be clear of discharge, her ears clean and dry, and her gums pink and moist.
  5. Run your hands slowly and gently over your dog’s body to check for abnormalities such as lumps, patches of uneven fur, and painful areas (your dog may recoil or yelp if you find a sensitive spot). You can also check your dog’s level of hydration by pinching the skin behind her neck – if it bounces back quickly she is hydrated, if it stays or bounces back slowly she is dehydrated.
  6. Go over your dog’s belly with your hands to feel for abnormalities. The stomach is located in the left section just under the ribs so you may feel an enlargement there if your dog has recently eaten.

This simple at-home exam shouldn’t replace regular visits to your veterinarian, but it can be a supplement to your dog’s regular veterinary care. In addition to regular veterinary care, you should observe and interact with your dog on a daily basis, getting to know his normal behavior and habits as much as possible. Subtle changes in behavior or eating habits are often the first indication of a problem so, the better you know your dog, the better you’ll be able to identify a problem.


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