7 Ways To Assess Your Pet's Health At Home
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
At RDBK we want to empower pet parents to be their dog and cat's best advocate while feeling confident performing weekly wellness check-ups at home. Not only are these preventative tools quick and easy to perform regularly, they can help you to identify your pets’ ‘normal', which in turn, can help to get ahead of any future health issues before they have a chance to develop. Since your pet cannot communicate directly when they are not feeling well, changes in their external body condition or behavior could quickly let you know that something might not be right on the inside.
While at-home health checkups should not replace your routine vet appointments, understanding your individual pet's body will ultimately help your pet to live their best life, while possibly saving you some stress and panic. Ideally, weekly checks will help you be sure when your pet really does need to visit their veterinarian, and prevents you from missing those subtle signs, as well as prevents you from rushing off to the vet when it is not really necessary. We always recommend consulting with your veterinary clinic for a professional diagnosis if you are ever unsure.
Here’s How to Perform an At-Home Health Exam on Your Pet From Head to Tail:
Sarah Griffiths, Animal Nutritional Consultant and Inna Shekhtman, Founder and CEO of Red Dog Blue Kat discuss the importance of checking your pet at home and walk us through each of the 7 steps to assessing your pet at home.
Getting to Know Your Pets 'Normal'
Inna Shekhtman, founder and CEO of RDBK says ‘If you don't know what normal looks like for your pet, it's really hard to figure out when something is an emergency or just a case of something minor like... indigestion’. Knowing your pet's health baseline is particularly helpful during vet visits since it allows you to communicate more effectively with your vet, who is generally not familiar with your pets ‘normal’, and can only assess the information at hand during a very short consultation session. No one knows your pet as well as you do, so being more familiar with their body can help steer you and your vet into choosing the most appropriate options together. Without knowing your pet’s normal, there's often a risk of vets misdiagnosing your pet’s illness or going in a completely wrong direction.
The best time to assess your pet at home is when your dog or cat is relaxed and sleepy, so you can easily sneak these 7 simple steps into regular play or cuddle time without detection. Take a few moments to intentionally inspect their bodies in a quiet part of your house that is free from distractions (and with lots of their favourite treats on hand, they won’t suspect a thing!)
While your pet is happy and healthy, we recommend checking each of the below to determine your pet’s normal:
1. Weight and Body Condition
Weight is an important indicator of pet health and can be checked at home through a visual and touch inspection - no scale required - to determine if they are an ideal weight, underweight or overweight. Vets follow a body scoring system that rates a pet’s weight out of 5, with 1 being very skinny, 3 being an ideal weight and 5 being obese. Another indicator of weight is your pet's waistline - you want to see a nice tuck by their waist as opposed to a waistline that is closer to lining up with their chest, which indicates weight-gain. In order to assess where your pet's weight falls on the body scoring scale you need to visually and physically inspect your pet, run your hands gently over their ribs, spine, and hip bones. Once you determine their stage on the body scoring system, you can assess their diet and exercise plan from there.
Stage 1 - Malnourished: If you can see and feel these bones
Stage 2 - Underweight: If you can see and feel these bones
Stage 3 - Healthy Weight: If you can’t see these bones but can still feel them with gentle pressure
Stage 4 - Slightly Overweight: If you can’t see these bones but can still feel them when you really stick your fingers in
Stage 5 - Obese: If you can’t see or feel these bones at all.
Weighing your pet on a scale in order to get an exact weight is still important to do, and can be particularly useful for calculating dosage for medications, supplements and meal serving sizes. We recommend weighing your pet on a scale every 3 - 6 months. If you have a smaller dog you can stand on your home scale while holding your pet, and then minus your weight from the total weight. For larger dogs, it’s best to take note of your pets exact weight while they are being weighed during their vet appointments.
2. Coat and Skin
The skin is considered to be the biggest organ on the body so the condition of your pet's skin and coat is a manifestation of what's happening on the inside. Often when there's any sort of illness, irritation or imbalance, the first place where that will start presenting itself is on the skin and coat. You want to check how it looks, feels, and smells, as a healthy coat is generally soft and fluffy in most areas with no odour or oily feeling on your hands. If your pet's coat and skin starts feeling greasy to touch, this may indicate a pore secretion onto the fur indicating a lack of health on the inside.
Soft - unless course coat type is normal for your breed
Coarse -unless normal for breed
Fluffy - unless this it not normal for your breed
Dry, Flaky Skin, Scabs
Little To No Odour
Greasy or Oily
Feeling over your pet's body from head to tail checking for lumps, bumps, swellings, skin abnormalities, fleas and ticks is important to check every month, or more frequently depending on lifestyle. Healthy skin should be soft and clear, not oily, flakey, scabby or bumpy. Checking skin elasticity can also help to recognize if your pet is getting enough water daily. Gently pinch a small amount of skin on your the back of your pet’s neck and release it - If your pet's skin does not snap immediately back in place, this may be an indication that your pet is dehydrated. The best way to maintain healthy skin and coat is to feed your pet a variety of fresh, whole foods.
What goes in, must come out, and what comes out has gone through the entire intestinal tract giving you a picture of what your pet’s digestive process looks like. Check your pet’s poop often during walks, or at the cat litter tray, using it as a daily barometer of how your pet is doing. Sometimes there will be poops that are stinkier and less formed than others which may correlate with your pet not feeling well, this may indicate that their gut may need extra support or they are experiencing some stress.
Poop Health Checklist:
Pets fed a diet of dry processed foods can experience large, stinky, and overly smooth poops, which are not natural for healthy animals. Since poop is composed of food their bodies are not able to digest, the poops produced by kibble-fed pets show just how much indigestible filler has been added. On the other hand, pets fed a fresh whole food diet produce smaller poops that are less stinky and more natural in colour and texture. This is because more nutrients are being absorbed, and without the presence of indigestible filler, what remains is primarily fiber which is required for a healthy gut.
Consistent Brown Colour
Variety of Shapes
Anal Glands: Poop has another function that a lot of people don’t realize, and that is to stimulate the anal glands. In nature dogs and cats will eat bones and other things for fiber, not just because they need it for digestion, but also because it makes the texture of poop bumpy which stimulates the anal glands helping them to naturally release. Poops should not be smooth, and uniform in shape - they should be chunky, with different shapes, which helps to massage the intestinal tract and stimulate the anal glands.
Bones: When dogs and cats eat raw bones, their poops can temporarily become pale/ yellow, crumbly, and dry - this is normal as excess amounts of calcium are naturally released from the body through poop, unlike synthetic calcium. You don't want these kinds of firmer poops every day as it may eventually put some strain on the digestive system but every once in a while it's completely normal.