How Can I Test My Dog’s Health at Home?
When your dog is ill, the sooner you intervene, the better. While lethargy and changes in appetite and elimination patterns are easily detectable, other signs of illness may slip under the radar for months on end.
Checking your Dog is Healthy
Dr. Trisha Joyce, a veterinarian at NYC Veterinary Specialists, offers advice on what you should watch out for to ensure your dog stays healthy.
When dog owners call Joyce to ask whether or not they should bring their pet to her emergency room, one of the first things she asks about is the color of the animal’s gums.
Gums that are lighter or darker than normal can indicate a number of problems requiring medical attention.
In general, a healthy dog has pink gums. “If gums are pale, the cause can be internal bleeding, which is especially common in older, large-breed dogs, or it can be due to low blood pressure or low body temperature,” explains Joyce. “Bright-red gums can be caused by a fever and an infection.”
Dog’s Legs and Paws
Your dog should always bear weight equally on all four legs. Both sprains and bone cancer can show up as what Joyce calls “light lameness.” She suggests checking for lumps and bumps, particularly in older large-breed dogs. Asymmetry in the legs can suggest a disease that involves withering of the muscles.
Your dog’s paws are vulnerable to contact dermatitis, and dogs usually lick their paws repeatedly to manage the irritation. Excessive redness between the toes can mean that either a bacterial or yeast infection has set in.
When your dog is hale and hearty, its eyes are bright and clear. The whites are white, and there is no discharge. In contrast, less-than-healthy eyes are red and may be a notable source of irritation for your furry friend. Redness can indicate anything from dry eye to glaucoma to an infectious disease. Discharge may be suggestive of an eye ulcer.
Healthy ears are reasonably clean and don’t smell bad. The floppy part is neither pink nor red. Also, both ears should look the same on the inside. If there’s a difference, the animal may have either a bacterial or a yeast infection.
Abundant earwax can also signify an ear infection. “If your dog is scratching at its ears a lot, check the wax. Normal earwax is pale gray to light brown and is not abundant,” explains Joyce.
Dog’s Skin and Coat
Ideally, your dog’s skin is pink, without patchy areas of hair loss or irritation. “Your dog should smell like a dog. With some skin diseases, the dog will smell yeasty or stinky,” says Joyce. Excessive skin scratching is another way your dog may alert you to skin issues.
A healthy canine coat has luster. “You can see if a dog’s hair is healthy, just like you can with a person,” says Joyce. Hair should not have a lot of dander and should not feel greasy. Abundant hair loss can indicate anything from anxiety to endocrine disease and nutritional deficits.
Dental health is as important in dogs as in people. Good dental hygiene shows up in your pet’s breath as well as its teeth. “Dog owners are surprisingly reluctant to look into their dogs’ mouths,” comments Joyce. However, doing so is important, as dental disease is common, especially in small dogs, who tend to have longer life spans.
“Teeth are a potential source of pain and infection,” notes Joyce. She suggests monitoring your dog’s breath and the amount of tartar on its teeth. When either takes a turn for the worse, it may be time for a cleaning to prevent more serious problems down the road.
“No matter what body part you’re talking about, start off knowing what’s normal for your pet,” sums up Joyce. “Changes in any of the above might be indicative of a problem, at which point it’s time to check with your dog’s veterinarian.”
What Snoring Says About Your Dog’s Health
Is It Normal For My Dog to Snore?
Does your dog’s snoring keep you up at night? “We seem to put up with dog snoring more than spouse snoring,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a Laguna Hills, Calif., veterinarian and nationally recognized expert in companion animal health.
Your dog’s snoring, however, is more than an annoyance; it may be an indication of a wide range of health problems. “Any time a dog develops a new sign, such as snoring, it is a good idea to at least check in with your veterinarian,” notes Dr. Lauren Boyd, a veterinarian and an internal medicine specialist with Michigan Veterinary Specialists in Auburn Hills, Mich. “Any change could indicate a new problem. If it’s not a new problem but is progressing, your dog should also see a veterinarian.”
Why Does My Dog Snore All Of A Sudden?
Any level of snoring indicates something is at last partially obstructing your dog’s airways. Veterinarians say common causes include:
Your dog might have a temporary inflammation in its nose. Dogs can catch upper respiratory infections or even suffer from allergies.
Aspergillosis is a type of fungal disease caused by a mold found in hay, grass clippings and similar environments. Left untreated, this fungal disease can cause discomfort, loss of appetite and serious health problems.
Foreign Bodies or Tumors
Your dog could have inhaled something that is blocking its breathing. Snoring could also indicate a tumor, says Boyd.
Bad teeth can cause your dog to snore, says Cruz. A bad tooth can lead to an abscess that penetrates the nasal sinus passages. Left untreated, dental problems can become a source of infection for the whole body, advises Cruz, which could lead to kidney failure down the road.
Like humans, our dogs are getting plumper. And just as obesity can lead to snoring in humans, it may cause breathing difficulties in dogs. “As your dog breathes in and out, obesity makes the trachea rings slam shut,” explains Cruz.
Brachycephalic Breeds – the breeds with very short noses, such as English/French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and Pugs – have a natural tendency to snore. But it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian to make sure the snoring is normal and not an indication of a health issue, says Cruz. For instance, a Pug or Boston Terrier might be born with nostrils that are squeezed almost shut. After surgical correction, “the dogs have so much energy. They’re running around and finally breathing,” says Cruz.
How Do I Get My Dog to Stop Snoring?
Because snoring can be related to so many different causes, Boyd and Cruz emphasize the importance of having your snoring dog evaluated. You can help your veterinarian by being an observant dog owner. Keep a pet diary to note changes in your dog’s behavior and health so a veterinarian can look for patterns. For example, if your dog was snoring and sneezing last May and again this May, it might have an allergy tied to spring blooms.
Use your smartphone to videotape your snoring dog instead of trying to describe the snores. The volume or pattern of snoring isn’t the only information that will help your veterinarian, says Boyd. “It is often helpful to know if the snoring is accompanied by sneezing, nasal discharge or nasal bleeding,” she says. “It is also helpful to know if the discharge or bleeding affects both sides of the nose or just one.” If the nasal discharge is watery, your dog is likely suffering from an allergy or something similar, says Cruz. A mucous-laden or bloody discharge is an indication that your dog needs to see a veterinarian immediately.
Don’t simply tolerate your dog’s snoring. “It can really decrease your dog’s quantity of life and your dog’s quality of life,” says Cruz. “If you’ve ever had that really bad cold and can’t breathe and can’t eat, then you know how hard it is to live with a breathing problem.”
Why Is My Dog Misbehaving All of a Sudden?
The Chappell family was puzzled: Why was their house-trained mixed Poodle, Molly, now wetting her bed during the night? Ten-year-old Molly had never done this before, making it seem like the once well-mannered canine suddenly decided to misbehave.
Is My Dog Being Naughty?
“We couldn’t understand why Molly was forgetting her house-training,” recalls Stan Chappell, who lives in Vienna, Va. “It was frustrating, especially for my wife, who ended up having to launder Molly’s wet bedding every morning.”
What the Chappells didn’t realize was that Molly’s bed-wetting wasn’t a house-training issue at all. “Many cases of behavioral problems have a medical origin,” says Dr. Andrew Luescher, a veterinary behaviorist and director of Purdue University’s Animal Behavior Clinic in West Lafayette, Ind.
Some Common Apparent Dog Behavioral Problems and Their Possible Medical Causes:
What Medical Conditions Can Cause a Dog to Be Aggressive?
Pain or discomfort can prompt a dog to become grumpy toward people or other pets. For example, an older dog that develops arthritis may snap when touched in a newly-painful area. “This happens in people too; you’re much more likely to snap at your spouse or co-worker if you have a headache or feel crummy,” points out Dr. Karen Sueda, a veterinary behaviorist who practices at West Los Angeles Animal Hospital.
Pain isn’t the only physical trigger of aggression. Experts also cite seizures, low levels of thyroid production, brain tumors and liver disease as possible causes of aggression. Another cause of aggressive behavior could be the loss of sight or hearing. For example, a dog that becomes deaf may snap or bite if surprised by a person or animal approaching it from behind.
Compulsive Behavior in Dogs
A dog whose behavior appears to be compulsive and/or harmful, such as excessively licking one spot, biting their fur or other forms of self-mutilation, or constant head shaking, may simply be trying to deal with discomfort on the skin or in the ears. “Many of the behaviors that are directed to the self…are due to dermatological disease,” notes Dr. Luescher. “And repetitive behavior may be caused by neurological disease.”
Why Is My Dog Suddenly Having Accidents in the House?
“Of all the cases that I see, house-soiling is probably the most common problem that has a primary medical origin,” says Dr. Sueda. Endocrine [hormonal] and kidney disease may increase a dog’s need to eliminate. Additionally, older dogs that develop arthritis or spinal cord disease may suddenly find it more difficult to use stairs or the dog door to go outside and eliminate.
Other causes of house soiling can be as simple as a urinary tract infection, or as complicated as an older dog developing a condition called canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is very similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
Because behavior problems particularly behavioral changes in dogs often have physical causes, it’s important for any pet exhibiting unwanted behavior to be examined by a veterinarian, says Dr. Sueda. Generally, if the causes of the behavior are eliminated, the behavior itself will cease.
That’s what happened with the Chappells’ bed-wetting dog. When the behavior persisted, the family took Molly to her veterinarian for an examination. The veterinarian explained that as spayed female dogs like Molly grow older, they lose estrogen. The lower supply of estrogen then leads to a loss of muscle tone in the urinary tracts in these dogs. The result, all too often, is that such dogs wet their beds during the night.
Molly’s veterinarian prescribed a short course of a synthetic hormone called diethylstilbestrol (DES) to replace her lost estrogen. The medicine did the trick. Chappell reports, “After that, Molly never wet her bed again.” In this case, as for many others, the good dog seemingly gone bad was really just a sick puppy needing appropriate medical treatment.